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© 1996-2008 by
Ken R. Noffsinger
All Rights Reserved
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Aero Warrior Reunion, 1994
By Ken R. Noffsinger

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).

[Automobiles Parked In The Museum's Pavilion Area] Friday morning saw a convoy form at the hotel for the 40 mile trip on I-20 to the speedway. Over 90 Dodges, Fords, Mercurys and Plymouths eventually snaked out of the hotel, creating quite a stir on the highway. The cruise to the speedway seemed to pass far to quickly for a 40 mile trip. It was not uncommon to see cars stopped along the route, either because they were sent ahead by convoy participants to get pictures, or because they were simply out driving and decided to stop to take in this incredibly
Parking space was at a premium Friday in the museum's pavilion area.

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.

Among the racing notables viewing the Aero-Warriors prior to the start of the morning's press conference were Buddy Baker and the engineer in charge of Chrysler's stock car racing program, Larry Rathgeb. Buddy was the most easily recognizable of all the celebrities in attendance, and was in high demand. Larry Rathgeb took time to talk to many about the more technical aspects of the cars. Each seemed anxious to talk to the crowd, and both posed for photographs and signed many autographs. [Buddy Baker and Larry Rathgeb Viewing the Cars]
Larry Rathgeb (second from left with red and white hat) and Buddy
Baker (right) viewing the automobiles before being recognized.

[Press Conference At The Museum] The televised press conference got under way at about 11 am. It served as the kick-off for the opening ceremonies of Talladega Superspeedway's 25th anniversary celebration. Several drivers or their relatives were on hand, and each was given the opportunity to briefly address the crowd and the cameras. Buddy Baker took a good natured shot at the Ford and Mercury drivers, saying that until that day, he had never had a chance to see the back of any of the Ford or Mercury aero cars. As expected, the crowd came alive with cheers (and some jeers). Apparently this
From left to right:Pete Hamilton, Buddy Baker, Richard Brickhouse,
museum director Don Naman (standing), Wanda Lund (widow of Tiny
Lund), Ronny Robbins (son of Marty Robbins) and Butch Hirst.

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 saw an all day car show at the Sheraton Hotel, with almost 100 Dodge, Ford, Mercury and Plymouth participants. Spectators ranged from the well informed aero car owners to persons who wondered in "off the streets", never having heard or seen of such cars before. Trophies were awarded in various non-concours categories, and noted Mopar documentation guru Galen Govier gave a mini-restoration seminar, using a Daytona badly in need of a full restoration. [Sheraton Hotel Car Show]
Although fierce competitors on the tracks, the Aero Warriors seemed
to get along famously at Saturday's show. Only a portion of the nearly
100 Aero Warriors on display can be seen here.

[3/8 Scale Charger Wind Tunnel Model] Among the many Chargers on display at the show, probably the rarest and most unusual was the 3/8 scale Charger used by Chrylser in wind tunnel testing. This model was much easier to fit into the small wind tunnels available at the time, and temporary changes for testing could be more easily affected on it than on a full size car. Chrysler donated the model some years ago to the Winged Warriors/National B-Body Owners Association, and it always generates significant crowd interest whenever it makes an appearance.
The 3/8 Scale Charger model. You could fit this Dodge in your garage
(or wind tunnel) with room to spare!

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.

Sunday, many of the reunion participants again convoyed to the track to attend the Winston 500. Prior to the running of the race, owners of the Aero-Warriors were permitted to take a lap on the legendary race course. The lap was at a slow pace, not only for safety reasons, but also to allow the thousands of people in the stands and along the track a chance to get a great view of the cars. Like each drive to and from the track, the lap seemed to go by far too fast. The track is huge, and gives the [Automobiles Parked Below the Banking at Talladega]
The mountain of asphalt that makes up part of one turn at Talladega.
After viewing these turns from the apron, you know where the
"Superspeedway" in Talladega Superspeedway came from.

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!