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© 1996-2008 by
Ken R. Noffsinger
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The Little Engine That Almost Did
By Ken R. Noffsinger

Sandwiched between Pete Hamilton (#6) and Fred Lorenzen (#99), Richard Brooks (#22) pilots his Mario Rossi Daytona during the 1971 Daytona 500. On lap 98, Brooks let the car get out of shape. As he was regaining control Hamilton struck him, effectively ending Brooks' hopes for a win, which would have been one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history. Ironically, Hamilton won the previous year's race in a winged car, a SuperBird owned by Petty Enterprises.

Photo courtesy of Greg Kwiatkowski.

On Sunday afternoon, February 14, 1971, Richard Brooks finished NASCAR's 13th annual Daytona 500 two laps down and six places behind winner Richard Petty. Brooks' seventh place finish was arguably the most memorable of his sixteen year NASCAR career - not for where he finished that day, but for what he finished, the NASCAR Aero Wars.

Brooks' car, a Dodge Daytona, was the last of its kind in NASCAR. The 1969 and 1970 seasons saw a number of exotic factory race cars appear on the NASCAR tracks, much to the dismay of NASCAR's man-in-charge, Big Bill France. Tired of the many problems (at least from France's perspective) brought to the series from a quickly escalating Chrysler/Ford duel, France penned rules for the 1971 season to kill the factory aero cars. These ultra low production racers, the Dodge Charger 500, Dodge Charger Daytona, Plymouth SuperBird, Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II and Ford Torino Talladega were limited by France to a 305 cubic inch power plant in 1971 - more than 120 cubic inches less than legal for all other bodies eligible to compete.

NASCAR car owner Mario Rossi had previously fielded a 426 powered Dodge Daytona with Bobby Allison at the wheel. For 1971, Rossi decided to start the new year right by thumbing his nose at France - he would enter a Dodge Daytona in the 1971 Daytona 500 with the impossibly small 305 engine. This time second year driver Richard Brooks would be at the helm and well known engine builder Keith Black would assemble the engine.

On Thursday, February 11th, Brooks started fifth and finished third in the second Daytona 500 qualifier, leading one lap during the race and pocketing $550. Three days later, starting eighth in the 40 car Daytona 500 field, Brooks managed to lead five laps at various points through the race. Things were looking good for the Daytona until it suffered serious injury after a collision with Pete Hamilton's car. Brooks eventually finished seventh, $3,125 richer for the effort, while also gaining the distinction of being the last to drive a 1960's era factory aero car on the NASCAR tracks. The Rossi Daytona never raced again, but if not for Brooks' collision with Hamilton, it might have been remembered as the Daytona with the little engine that did - did win the 1971 Daytona 500, that is.

Frank Moriarty interviewed Richard Petty for his book, Supercars - The Story of the Dodge Charger Daytona and Plymouth SuperBird. Petty talked about using a 305 engine in his SuperBird in 1971. Perhaps his answer was as good as any as to why the 305 Daytona never competed again: "We never even considered it...Well, I don't want to say we didn't look at it initially, but we looked at the horsepower of the 305 engine and the horsepower of the 426 and I said, 'Hey, I don't care how good that body is, it can't overcome that.' So we just passed on it."

With just two race appearances in a career spanning four days, not much information was recorded and even less remains about the 305 Daytona. The photos that follow provide a rare peak at this car and its 305 engine, as well as their owner Mario Rossi (wearing sun glasses).

Click On A Photo To View The Full-Size Version

Frank Moriarty also interviewed Dick Brooks for his Supercars book. Brooks talked about the 305 Daytona:

"From the beginning it didn't seem like it was going to work...but Keith Black's organization had pretty good engine builders. They'd used smaller engines and they knew the motor. It was a whole lot lighter -- a small block, light rods, light pistons. It was a little bity motor they nicknamed the 'lunchbox'. When somebody walked up they'd say, 'Hey man, somebody left their lunchbox under your hood!"
"I got a really good line through turns one and two...I looked down and it was turning about 9,800 RPM about halfway down the straightaway! I just couldn't keep my eyes off the tach! I was just watching it and at the same time wanting to get my foot out of it. You're just thinking of the thing coming apart and cutting you all to pieces, but I got it a little over 10,000 RPM...It sounded funny...In those days with those bog old thumpers this had a little more of a whining sound. It sounded funny, but that little sucker sure would run. Running by itself it didn't do anything, but what a hoss it was when the race started!"

Photos courtesy of Greg Kwiatkowski.

In an article for the Fall, 1988 issue of Classic Chrysler Quarterly, Tom Quadrini wrote about the engine and outlined a few of the problems with campaigning it in NASCAR:

"The 305 cu in. engines were being run on the 'Trans-Am' circuit and were quite developed at that point, putting out around 450 hp, which was somewhat less than the typical 430 cu. in. NASCAR G.N. engine. The drawback was that the small 305 cu. in. engines were no where as reliable as the 430 cu. in. big blocks. On a road circuit where there was alot of gear shifting, acceleration and slowing down the engines stood a good chance of surviving. Turning continuously in the range of 7000 to 8000 rpm in a long, hot, 500 mile speedway race, the experts predicted that there would be severe reliability problems, without a lot more development and expensive special parts.
In addition to the change in powerplants there was the matter of money. With no parts being interchangeable from the big blocks the teams with aerodynamic cars would have to buy complete new engines at a cost of at least $4,000 per engine. With a minimum of at least three engines, per car this became a pretty ... expensive proposition."

Photos courtesy of Greg Kwiatkowski.

Photos courtesy of Greg Kwiatkowski.

As reported in the February, 1994 WW/NBOA newsletter, Mario Rossi was asked soon after the 1971 Daytona 500 about whether the car would run again:

"Mario said he doubted that the car would be used again unless he could find another 20 or 30 horsepower. 'We were fine in drafting situations,' Mario said, 'but coming off the corners we were missing some push.'"