At the Bonneville Salt Flats
K & K Insurance owner Nord Krauskopf and his crew chief Harry Hyde liked the idea of setting records. On a very cold and windy Tuesday, November 24, 1970 at the Talladega Superspeedway, Bobby Isaac drove the #71 K & K Insurance Dodge Charger Daytona to a new closed course lap record of 201.104 MPH, breaking the record set by the #88 Chrysler Engineering Daytona just eight months earlier.
Ironically, while the #88's run (masterminded by Dodge VP Frank Wylie) was a major Dodge Public Relations event, the K & K record run at Talladega was just the opposite. By that time, as far as Chrysler Engineering was concerned, the winged cars were a dead issue; we were busy getting the 1971 Charger and Road Runner to run as fast as possible. Dodge Public Relations just wasn't interested in the Daytona any more. I'm sure that Frank Wylie put out a press release, but it wasn't a big deal. The Daytona had done what was required of it, and since it was effectively outlawed, there was no real interest in it any more.
So although Chrysler showed little enthusiasm for Isaac's Talladega record run in the K & K Daytona, Krauskopf was not done with the Daytona yet. Soon after the K & K's visit to Talladega, Krauskopf started looking into taking the #71 Daytona to the Bonneville Salt Flats to set some stock car speed records there. This was a side project, not something that would interfere with the race program. Isaac and K & K had won the NASCAR Grand National championship in 1970, but did not try to repeat this in 1971 because of the cutback of the Chrysler race budget. After Ford cut way back on their race budget during the 1970 season, Chrysler decided to have only two fully factory backed cars in 1971, a Plymouth for Richard Petty and a Dodge for Buddy Baker - both cars were run by Petty Enterprises. The other teams, K & K Insurance, Nichels Engineering, Cotton Owens, etc. were given parts budgets, but very little money. As a result the K & K Insurance car did not run the whole series of 48 races, only the 25 races that paid bigger purses. Richard Petty ran all of the races and won the championship, and was funded by Chrysler to do so. Baker only ran nineteen races.
The salt at Bonneville is usually best for high speed running in August and September. There was a gap in the Grand National schedule in September. Darlington was to be run on Monday, September 6 and the next race was Martinsville on Sunday, September 26. As it turned out, Isaac was fourth at Darlington and won at Martinsville, so Bonneville didn't interfere with the race program. Harry Hyde made reservations with the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce (who at that time scheduled the salt) for the week starting Sunday, September 12, 1971. Harry also arranged for the United States Auto Club (USAC) to sanction the runs and for Joe Petrali to time them. Petrali was the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) International Timekeeper and USAC Certification Committee Chairman who presided over all world record speed attempts at the Bonneville Salt Flats for years. His son Dave took over from him and is FIA timekeeper for land speed records today.
Nord Krauskopf asked me if I would go to Bonneville with them to help with the car set up, at K & K's expense, not Chrysler's. I had always been interested in Bonneville and jumped at the opportunity. I took two weeks vacation to go to Bonneville. I had taken two weeks vacation earlier in the summer and did not need the remaining two.
The car that Harry took was his Daytona/Talladega race car, the one that set the record at Talladega and had been on the pole for both the April and August, 1970 Talladega races. Harry put his Daytona/Talladega qualifying engine in the car and took along five or six more engines. When you build up a series of engines that are as identical as possible, there is usually one engine that has more power than the rest. You could measure everything and never explain why this engine is good. But when you find an engine like that you hang on to it. This engine had never raced, it was only a qualifying engine. It had the single four barrel carburetor that NASCAR required on the Hemi engine. Production Hemi engines always had two carburetors and USAC always allowed two carburetors in their stock car racing circuit. The two carburetor package was worth about 40-50 horsepower over the single carburetor. While this additional power was available Harry never felt that it was necessary to change the manifold to get this power. The single carburetor was fast enough to get the speeds he wanted. The car was run in what was supposed to be its normal NASCAR configuration, although (among other things) it looked to have about an inch less ground clearance, and the gas tank held a bit more than the allowed 22 gallons.
Harry took two trucks plus one race car. At that time all of the NASCAR teams used a box body truck and towed the race car on a trailer. He took five or six mechanics. Nord Krauskopf was there of course, as well as Bill Brodrick of Union Oil. Bill then had red hair and beard and in later years they were gray. He is the man we used to see on TV in NASCAR winner's circles organizing the picture taking, etc. He got the job by being there and doing it. For years he was a NASCAR fixture until there was a reorganization at Union Oil in 1997 and he was fired. Bill came out to generate publicity for Union Oil in conjunction with the run. Harry was running Goodyear tires, but Goodyear had not sent a tire engineer. The tires had been mounted and balanced in Charlotte before they left. They were basically a Talladega tire.
I flew from Detroit to Salt Lake City on Sunday, September 12, 1971, rented a car and drove west about an hour and a half to Wendover, Utah. It was around 8:00 or 9:00 PM when I got there. I checked in at the motel, which was very basic as I recall, and told Harry I was there. They had gotten in on Friday or Saturday and had set up their operation on the salt. The two trucks were parked about twenty feet apart and a canvas cover was stretched between them, as it was needed for shade. The race car and the two trucks stayed on the salt and at least one crew member stayed out there to watch them at night. On Sunday they had made some preliminary runs for the flying mile and kilometer runs and were planning to make the official runs Monday morning, when Petrali had the clocks set up.
At about 7:00 AM or so we had breakfast and headed out to the salt. By the time I got there the car was ready to run. Bobby took the car to the end of the available straightaway and headed north. We were all standing at least 1/4 mile away from the straightaway. We heard the car before we saw it. It sounded great, but it didn't look very fast with nothing to judge it against. After Bobby stopped the crew went down to check over the car. I don't think that they even changed tires. FIA rules required that the return run be made in less than 60 minutes after the first run. Bobby came back much sooner than that. After a few minutes Joe Petrali came out of his timing trailer with the numbers: 216.946 MPH for the flying mile and 217.368 MPH for the flying kilometer. These numbers were arrived at by averaging the times in each direction.
The mile and kilometer records are the only ones that the FIA recognizes with flying starts. All others are standing start. Records are recognized for 0.5, 1, 10, 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 25,000, 50,000 and 100,000 kilometers and miles from a standing start. There are also records for 1, 6, 12, 24 and 48 hours, standing start. For records over ten miles a closed course must be used, and since this type of track runs in all directions, two-way runs are not required. Where the record distance does not come at the end of a lap, the time is interpolated from the time for that lap. For the flying mile and kilometer one end of both time traps is at the same point with the other end one kilometer or one mile away.
The layout of the salt for both straightaway and distance runs depends on the condition of the salt that particular year. In 1971 the salt was not very good. The pumping by the chemical company was making the salt worse and worse every year. Fortunately, in the succeeding 30 years, the Bureau of Land Management has changed the brine pumping and in most years the salt is much better now than it was then. Under the best of conditions, which I donít think have happened since the 1930's, there can be a fourteen to sixteen mile straightaway. This is particularly important for wheel driven land speed record cars.
The Summer's Brothers Goldenrod car with four Hemi engines, which held the wheel driven speed record for 30 years, set the speed record at about 409 MPH in 1966 with about twelve miles of straightaway (5.5 miles to accelerate the measured mile and 5.5 miles to slow down and then the same thing in the other direction.) Based on calculations, the car would have reached 475 MPH if it had a sixteen mile straight and about 525 MPH with a 24 mile straightaway.
In 1971 we had about a twelve mile straight. For the Dodge Daytona this was quite adequate. It could probably not have gone much over 225 MPH on a much longer straightaway.
As I already mentioned, for distance runs they use a circle at Bonneville, typically of ten mile circumference (16,807 foot diameter, 3.18 miles). In very good years they have had eleven and twelve mile circles. In 1971 they could not lay out a ten mile circle and keep it all in solid salt. They had to make a ten mile oval. The turns had a radius of one mile and the straightaways measured 1.858 miles (9,812 feet).
After Bobby had completed the straightaway runs, I think he went into Salt Lake City for some TV interviews and such. I don't think that we saw him until evening.
Work was then started on marking the ten mile oval. The Utah State Highway Department did the actual layout, marking and grading of the course. The straightaway is marked with a black line down the center to guide the driver and at the timing lights there are markers to keep the driver between the light source and the photo electric cell.
The oval is marked by wood lath strips put into holes drilled in the salt. Monday afternoon I spent several hours with the highway crew installing these markers for the oval. The actual survey work had been done previously since there were markers nailed into the salt every 100 feet marking the inside of the oval course. I don't know when they were put out or by who.
To put the wood lath pieces into the salt, a hole was drilled with a heavy duty electric drill. The hole was one and a half to two inches in diameter and about six inches deep. The lath was stuffed in the hole and within an hour the salt had flowed in and filled the hole, securing the lath in place. A highway department truck with a generator went along with us. There were three of us working on this and we could do about one marker a minute or so. Working out these numbers, it would have taken almost nine hours to do the whole track. I think that the parts of the oval that were not near the straightaway had been done before I got there.
The salt is a good hard surface, but it is soft enough that it was easy to drill into. As the salt dries out from the winter rains it forms a completely flat surface. As it continues to dry it shrinks, cracks develop on the surface and soft salt is squeezed out from underneath. They would run a road grader over the track surface to smooth out these soft salt ridges and make a smoother track surface. The ridges were about 1/4 inch tall and were quite soft - they would not damage a racing tire. The salt was four to six inches thick in the good areas and got down to less than an inch near the edges. There was mud under the salt.
Meanwhile the car was being checked over and was gotten ready for the 100 mile standing start record run. Late Monday afternoon Harry Hyde took the car out to see how it was running. I went along, holding onto the roll cage. Harry got the car up to about 210 MPH from the tach reading. This I think is the fastest I have ever ridden in a race car, but it didn't even seem like it was moving fast. I didn't even have to hold on tight. Harry was happy with the car, so we parked it for the night and went back to Wendover.
There are actually two towns of Wendover side by side, one in Utah and one in Nevada. The major difference is that there were a couple of casinos in Nevada. We were staying in Utah, but we went over to one of the casinos in Nevada for dinner and a bit of gambling.
On Tuesday we started running the car on the ten mile oval. At first Bobby was worried about running on the oval at these speeds and what would happen if he lost the car. Harry and I pointed out to him that this was the safest place in the world to spin out, since he could spin for several miles and not hit anything. The coefficient of friction of the salt was so low that the tires couldn't get enough of a bite while spinning to trip the car and turn it over. Bobby was wary of the whole thing most of the day Tuesday, until he did overdo it going into turn three on the oval. The rear end got away from him and he did a couple of revolutions and ended up about a half mile outside of the course. He had wiped out seven or eight of the lath markers and had put a small dent in the nose cone. The laths were replaced and after that Bobby really got with the program and didn't let the track worry him.
Looking at it from today's point of view, I don't know what would have happened if a winged car got backwards at Bonneville or on a regular race track. The air flowing in the reverse direction over the wing would develop quite a bit of lift and might be able to start one of the tumbling type of wrecks that happened at higher speed NASCAR tracks before they developed the roof flaps. I can't recall any wrecks of this nature with winged or non-winged cars during the period I was involved with NASCAR racing. Of course the race cars were almost 1000 lbs heavier and therefore needed 1000 lbs more lift to loose contact with the ground.
As Frank Moriarty says in his wonderful book "Supercars", I rode with Bobby for three or four laps while we were setting up the suspension.
George Wallace of the Chrysler Special Vehicles Group had a history of going along for observation rides during Charger Daytona and SuperBird testing, so it shouldn't have been a surprise that he joined Isaac in the cockpit as the number 71 car was being set up. To Bill Brodrick, however, it was a big surprise.
"They had some problem and George wasn't happy with it," Brodrick recalls. I'll never forget this because he got in the damn car and he rode with Isaac! He had his feet up, wrapped around the bars -- they had instruments in the car and he wanted to check those instruments. He hung on and they took off and I said, 'That man is out of his mind!' They ran that circuit with George hanging on reading pressure gauges or whatever to see what was going on. Then George got out and he was like, 'Oh well.' And I'll never forget that as long as I live -- he got out there and ran 200 MPH in that thing!"
The low-key Wallace has particularly vivid memories of preparations to run on the ten-mile Bonneville course.
"The condition of the salt that year was such that rather than the ten-mile circle that is the preferred track at Bonneville, they had to run a ten mile oval," Wallace says. "They were basically two-mile straightaways and three-mile turns. I rode with Bobby while we were setting up the car a little, and he was probably the ideal driver because he was a dirt tracker who wasn't afraid to go fast. He was basically driving it like a huge dirt track.
"He'd get up to about 205 or 206 MPH at the end of the straightaway and he'd never lift. He'd throw it into the turn and from the inside it felt like it was going out about 30 percent. The tail end would hang out, but he would drive it just like you would on a dirt track. At first I was a little anxious about it, because we had to point out to him that if you lose the car you could spin for five miles."
I actually said that it felt like the tail was hanging out at 30 degrees. It was actually less than five degrees but at that speed it felt like much more. Bobby got up to about 205 MPH at the end of each straight and would throw the car into the turn without lifting. In the turn he was constantly working the wheel like he was on a dirt track. On paved ovals the drivers, both then and now, put in very small steering inputs while in a turn. The yawing of the tires increased the power needed to drive the car and it would slow down to about 190 and then would get back up to about 205 MPH on the next straight. Bobby was an excellent dirt track driver. That's where he started, but he also wasn't afraid to go fast, so he was an ideal driver for this course. The total lap time on the course was about 185 seconds - approximately 35 seconds for each straightaway and almost a minute in each turn.
While Bill Brodrick thought I was crazy to ride in the car, I felt that it was the least dangerous ride I had taken in a race car on a race track. Bill didn't know that I had ridden for over 100 miles at Daytona at 180 MPH taking test data before we had developed our race car instrumentation package. Compared to running right next to concrete walls with the high G-forces of a banked track, the wide open spaces of Bonneville were just a Sunday drive. And I wasn't reading any data at Bonneville, I was just observing the tach readings at different track locations and assessing the handling of the car.
Because of the one mile radius of the turn, the car was developing .53G side force as it entered the turn and this dropped to .46G at the end of the turn. By comparison, at Daytona at 180 MPH on the 31 degree banking the car develops 1.3G force parallel to the banking and 1.9G force perpendicular to the banking.
For the 100 mile run we ran something close to the maximum angle on the wing, which allowed us to get as much down force as possible on the rear tires. For the straightaway runs, the wing was almost flat.
Bobby was able to turn practice laps in the 194 MPH range, which was fast enough to get the 100 mile standing start record. But we were seeing tire tread chunking on the outside edge of the right side tires, particularly the right front. Since we did not have a Goodyear tire engineer with us, I spent quite a bit of time on the phone consulting with the Goodyear race people in Akron. The closest phone was in a booth at the motel in Wendover. The problem was caused by the abrasive quality of the salt, which was tearing the rubber loose. Goodyear had several suggestions for tire pressure and camber changes on the car. We also had Goodyear buff down several sets of Grand National dirt track tires so that they could run at 200 MPH without throwing the tread, but would still have enough of the block type tread pattern to give a better bite than the slicks we were running (there were still some dirt track races in the Grand National schedule as recently as the year before, so dirt track tires could still be located). Goodyear air freighted these tires over night to Salt Lake City, but we did not have to use them. With different combinations of air pressure and suspension settings we got the tires to live for 100 miles.
Wednesday was taken up with preparing the car for the 100 mile run, which we were ready to do first thing Thursday morning when the air was cooler and the engine had more power. Because of the poor traction of the salt, it took almost the whole first lap to get the car up to full speed. The overall average speed got higher with each lap.
For the 100 mile standing start run we were aiming at the world's unlimited record, not just the US stock car record that the other runs were breaking. I believe that Mercedes held that record at the time. FIA rules required that you break an existing record by at least one percent to be recognized. Our 193-194 MPH speed was just enough to do this. On the first try at the 100 mile run, Bobby didn't accelerate away from the start as quick as he had in practice. After two laps, he was not running a fast enough average so we waved him in for another try.
On the second try he did start well and kept ahead of the old record. He averaged 194.290 MPH for the standing start at 100 miles and 193.168 MPH for 100 kilometers. These were new world's unlimited records, independent of class. Bobby ran out of gas part way around the slow down lap. If Harry had been using only a 22 gallon tank we could not have run the full 100 miles. I don't know with certainty what size the tank was, but it was probably about 24 gallons.
It took almost eight years for these records to be broken. At the banked 7.8 mile Nardo track in southern Italy, Mercedes Benz used a specially built C111-III race car powered by a turbocharged three liter five cylinder diesel engine putting out 320 HP to increase the records by just a few MPH. The following year (May 5, 1979) Mercedes Benz broke their own records using the C111-IV powered by a 4.8 liter 500 HP turbocharged V-8. The speeds were 233.335 MPH for 100 kilometers and 228.196 MPH for 100 miles. These records stand today.
There were two more records we wanted to go for, the standing ten mile and ten kilometer stock car records. These were conducted on the straightaway and took a total of three runs. One end of both the ten kilometer and ten mile sections were at the same point, near the end of the straightaway. The other end of the ten kilometer section was 6.1 miles from the start and the end of the ten mile section was at ten miles, of course. The procedure was to start at the end of the ten mile section for the first run, and get the northbound standing start time for ten miles. The second run was southbound and would get both the ten kilometer and ten mile times. The third run was northbound again, starting at the end of the ten kilometer section this time. The only problem with running for these records was that with only twelve miles of straightaway available, there was only a mile slowdown length at each end, not nearly enough for the car running at 200 MPH with the poor traction of the salt. So the driver would have to start getting on the brakes before the end of the ten mile section. If you overran the end of the course on the north end, you got into softer salt but had nothing to hit. At the south end, beyond the soft salt, there was a dirt dike for one of the brine evaporation ponds that you did not want to run into.
Bobby didn't think that he would be able to slow down quickly enough to avoid running off the end of the track, particularly at the dike end. He didn't want to start braking before the end of the ten mile section. On the first northbound run, he was able to get the car stopped, ending up in the softer salt, although the car did not sink in. We got him turned around and ready to go southbound. Bobby told Harry that he didn't think that he was going to be able to stop before the dike. Harry told him to start slowing at the nine mile post and then he would be OK.
We watched Bobby accelerate away from the end of the ten mile and ten kilometer sections, and then followed with the chase cars, keeping outside of the timing lights so we wouldn't upset the timing. It took seven or eight minutes to get to the end of the course, and there was no race car in sight. After a few minutes we found Bobby sitting in the car on the other side of the dike, reminding us all the while about what he had said about not being able to stop in time. He had gone over a low spot in the dike and bent the under nose spoiler, but hadn't done much other damage to the car. We found a way through the dike about a half a mile away and guided Bobby through it and back to the end of the ten kilometer measured distance. We changed tires and got him ready to go in a little under the allowed 60 minutes. Bobby completed the second half of the ten kilometer run and posted stock car records of 172.483 MPH for the standing start ten kilometer record and 182.174 MPH for the standing start ten mile record.
It was about 3:00 PM on Thursday, September 16 when we finished these two runs. Nord decided that he had enough new speed records and we would quit, rather than go after any other records. Joe Petrali said that he would check the car out for stock status later at a gas station in Wendover rather than on the salt. So the trucks were packed up and everything was moved into Wendover. Petrali checked the engine displacement and a few other things and said that the car was stock. Joe said that if it complied with NASCAR specs, that was good enough for him. He did not check the gas tank, but Harry had had time to change it before the car was checked. I'm sure that the tank would have measured 22 gallons, even if USAC had sealed the tank right after the run. Harry had ways to do these sorts of things.
Nord bought us all a very good dinner at a casino and gave each of us $100 to gamble with. I played Blackjack and ended up about $60 ahead at the end of the evening.
I still had a week left of vacation, so Friday I flew out to Los Angeles and spent the week with B & M, helping them on some projects that they were working on for Chrysler. During that week I also accepted the offer made to me to go to work for them. With the way Chrysler was cutting back on its race programs, it looked like I might have to go back to working at a desk on production cars, which sounded pretty dull after spending four years getting paid to design and develop race cars.
Six weeks later I officially left Chrysler and moved to California. The Bonneville visit was the last race project I was involved in while at Chrysler, and a good way to end my career there.
George Wallace has had a long and distinguished career in the automotive engineering field. Below are excepts from his resume, as well as some additional commentary included for the readers of this page.