Annual Meeting, 1996
The largest gathering of Aero Warriors in any given year is almost certainly the joint meeting of the Daytona-SuperBird Auto Club and the Winged Warriors/National B-Body Owners Association. The 1996 meet directors were Milt and Pam Wood, who along with the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, hosted over 40 winged cars and their owners and families. The weather man must have been promised a ride in one the cars, as he arranged for fabulous weather all four days. Considering how damp the Spring had been in the mid-west up to that time, this was quite a feat. This photograph was taken during the car show Saturday afternoon. The Ann Arbor Sheraton had set aside an entire parking lot for the show, which helped cut down on unnecessary traffic and made for more spacious accommodations for the participants.
There is absolutely no better way to spend a Saturday, unless of course you could visit Chrysler and talk to some of the people that were directly involved in the development of the winged cars. And that's just what about a hundred winged car enthusiasts got to do Saturday evening as they convoyed the twenty miles to the the Chrysler Proving Grounds at Chelsea, Michigan. Much of the engineering work on the Dodge Charger Daytona was done there, along with testing of the winged car prototypes on the concrete, five mile high-banked oval at the facility. The Aero Warriors were hosted at the Proving Grounds by none other than John Pointer, aerodynamic engineer and one of the "fathers" of the Dodge Charger Daytona. John and his wife videotaped all of the Aero Warriors as they entered the Grounds, and both seemed very excited at the prospect of so many Warriors returning to where they were hatched. John was heard to say on more than one occasion that evening that "my babies are back in the cradle."
After forming a line of automobiles along the entrance drive to the Proving Grounds, the winged car faithful were escorted inside the main building. John lead the group to large a conference room, where he traced the evolution of the Chrysler NASCAR program from 1964 when he joined Chrysler until 1971 when their NASCAR program was winding down. The two and one-half hour talk seemed to take about 30 minutes, and was very well received by all. A lively question and answer period followed his presentation, as well as an autograph session. It was then time to leave the Grounds for the flight back to the hotel, but the Aero Warriors would return again soon!
Sunday morning did see a return to the Proving Grounds for the winged cars and their flight crews. A great deal of anticipation was in the air, as Chrysler had graciously agreed to suspend testing on their test track for about an hour so that the Warriors could do a lap.
Participants fell into single file and passed by a guard station and under the Chrysler Proving Grounds sign visible in the photograph. No photographic equipment of any type was allowed past this point. Just after moving under the sign, the convoy passed a small group of Chrysler employees gathered to see the cars. A Prowler was spotted, along with some other interesting vehicles which were inhabiting the building near where the employees were grouped. At least one SuperBird acknowledge the workers by sounding the "beep-beep" of its Voice-of-the-Road-Runner horn. Most looked too young to have been at Chrysler when the prototype Daytona rattled the tinted windows of the facility over 25 years ago.
The track itself is quite some distance from the guard station, and is accessed from inside the main straightaway by what is best described as an interstate over pass with an on/off clover leaf type ramp. This is where the shear size of track first becomes apparent; you can look each direction on the top of this over pass and the straightaway seems to go almost forever until gradually turning and banking into a large group of trees. This track dwarfs any NASCAR track, including Talladega or Daytona. Those who have been to major race facilities are struck with a very eerie feeling, due to a lack of almost all things human. There are no grandstands, no signs or banners touting the latest racing products, no public address system filling the air, and no people milling around.
Once the convoy had entered the main straight and the lap began, it soon became clear that participants would be permitted some latitude in determining the speed at which they would tour the test track. Many opted to attain speeds necessary to safely take advantage of the banking. The gigantic concrete oval has several lanes, and as these lanes transform from straight to curved, each take on a fixed degree of banking. Because this track was designed for testing rather than side-by-side racing, a smooth transition in the banking was not desirable or necessary. In fact, discrete lanes with a constant, known degree of banking facilitates some of the testing at the track. Crossing from lane to lane at high speed with these abrupt changes in banking would definitely best be left to very experienced professional drivers.
Exiting the first half-mile banked turn and heading into the two-mile back stretch at high speed leaves an impression that is not soon forgotten, especially when up ahead (but not too close) are a colorful rainbow of other winged cars. The wind whipping though the car almost obscured the sound of the 426 Hemi, which seemed so at home on this huge oval. The two-mile back stretch passed by in an instant, and the world again began to tilt as the Aero Warrior began battling with the next turn. The car was "tight" all through the turn, and was launched onto the front stretch with no loss in speed. The unpleasant process of slowing to exit the oval was signaled by the lurch forward and the little noticeable noise from the Hemi disappearing momentarily as one of the two Carters was deprived of the racing fuel it had been furiously gulping for the last few minutes.
A left turn took the Warriors off the main stretch and onto the road course, a snaking trail of concrete which made very good use of the oval's infield. It was definitely not to the Hemi winged car's liking however, at least not when compared with the oval where it could really spread its wings. After exiting the road course, the convoy retraced it steps back to where it began, the front lawn of the Chrysler Proving Grounds. A photo session followed, with all of those wanting to get pictures of their cars in front of the Proving Ground sign being able to do so.
More than ten minutes after the cars returned to the lawn at the front of the facility, there was still a noticeable difference in temperature between the front right and left rear tire on the Hemi SuperBird that did a fast lap. Not surprisingly, the banked turns put a lot of stress on the right front tire, which bore the brunt of the abuse as the 4000 pound Hemi car plowed through the turn.
The sights and sounds associated with circling this very historic oval were truly memorable and were over much too quickly. It had been 19 years since the winged cars had last visited the oval as a group, and hopefully it won't be that long again before they return. This annual meeting will certainly go down as one of the most memorable ever!
One of the "fathers" of the Daytona and our host at the Proving Grounds,John Pointer. John was loaned a SuperBird for his use on the oval while the meet participants were lapping the track. This was a neat way for the man to come full circle; he had also on occasion driven the prototype Daytona on this same track a quarter century before. John now works on another interesting project - the Viper. He declined to answer some aerodynamic type Viper questions posed by the winged car group, as many of the things he now deals with are trade secrets. This man was a wonderful host and was truly happy to see his "babies" again!