Aero Warrior Reunion, 1994
The Talladega Superspeedway (formerly Alabama International Motor Speedway) at Talladega, Alabama is the largest and fastest track on the NASCAR Winston Cup schedule. The 2.66 mile oval and its attendant facilities sprawl over more than 1,800 acres of rural Alabama earth. Construction began on the legendary facility May 23, 1968, with completion shortly before the first Winston Cup (then Grand National) race on September 14, 1969. The Talladega Superspeedway has accumulated a rich racing history over the years, with its share of good and bad times. Buddy Baker's record setting 200 MPH run there in a Daytona in 1970 comes to mind, as does the death of the former #55 Daytona driver Tiny Lund in 1975.
To celebrate the track's 25th anniversary in 1994, a variety of events were scheduled throughout the year. One of the most elaborate of these events was a "reunion" of some of the drivers, automotive engineers and cars (street versions, actually) that did battle on the speedway in its early years. This Aero-Warrior Reunion was hosted by Tim Wellborn (a Chrysler guy), John Craft (a Ford guy) and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum (the fame and museum guys). As such, Dodge Charger 500, Dodge Charger Daytona, Ford Torino Talladega, Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II and Plymouth SuperBird owners and their families and friends converged on Talladega, Alabama on the last weekend of April, 1994. This was also the weekend of the Winston 500, the biggest race of the year at Talladega. What better time to celebrate the men, the cars, and the time that gave birth to the legendary speedway?
A majority of the aero car owners arrived Thursday, April 28. The Birmingham Sheraton Hotel hosted the reunion participants, setting aside two beautiful tree-lined parking lots for use throughout the event. Thursday evening served as R&R time for those who had traveled a long distance to the reunion, of which there were many. The more well rested could be found in the parking lots late into the night swapping stories and reliving some of the legendary early days of NASCAR. A NASCAR driver or two was rumored to have made an appearance in the lots that evening (and throughout the weekend).
rare site. After arriving at the speedway, the convoy was directed to a covered pavilion area adjacent to the museum. The cars remained there throughout the day for all to enjoy. Concours judging was conducted in the morning, with noted Mopar restorer Roger Gibson taking the lead in the winged car judging. Although the pavilion area is several hundred yards from the track, cars could be heard throughout the day doing laps around the speedway.
A televised press conference had been scheduled for late that morning in one side of the pavilion area where the cars were parked. The few hours between when the cars arrived and the beginning of the press conference allowed car owners, museum visitors and NASCAR notables to mingle.
struck a chord with Mr. Craft, as astute readers will notice a retort in a book authored by Craft soon after the event. In the book Legends of Stock Car Racing, Baker and his #6 Daytona are pictured early on, with the caption "...Though he [Baker] spent most of his time during the Aero-Wars getting a close look at the back bumper of his Talladega and Spoiler II rivals, he later won several major races after joining Bud Moore's Ford team".
Immediately following the conclusion of the press conference, drivers were available for autographs and discussions with the aero fans crowding the pavilion area. After speaking with the drivers, many of the aero car faithful walked over to the track to view practice and qualifying. Most of the Aero-Warriors were back at the Birmingham Sheraton by early evening, just in time to begin reminiscing in the parking lots late into the night about the exciting events of the day.
Saturday evening, Larry Rathgeb, Larry Knowlton and Gary Romberg spoke at the hotel about their involvement in Chrysler's NASCAR program, and then entertained questions from the crowd. Later, 16mm racing movies were shown, permitting the Aero-Warriors to race yet again. This was a very memorable evening for all involved, and a rare opportunity to re-live a little NASCAR history with some of the people that helped make it.
impression that anybody could drive a car around it at 150 MPH. It's that increment between 150 and 200 MPH where the drivers really earn their spectacular salaries. After completing the circuit, the cars were parked adjacent to the back stretch with their passengers then beginning the long hike back to their seats. It was especially enjoyable viewing the race after just having been on the track - you could more fully appreciate what the drivers were experiencing.
This was arguably the most memorable event ever for the winged car faithful and their Ford and Mercury counterparts. The chance to see and talk with the men who contributed so significantly to this very colorful era in NASCAR's history is the stuff of which life long memories are made. It was unquestionably the largest such meet ever held, with almost 40 of Henry's cars and close to 70 Chryslers coming and going over the four days. Plans are already in the works for another Aero-Warrior Reunion in the Spring of 1999. Its going to be hard to top 1994's celebration, but it will be a lot of fun to try. Stay tuned for the details!