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© 1996-2008 by
Ken R. Noffsinger
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What Really Happened During The NASCAR Aero Wars
By Ken R. Noffsinger

First of all, what exactly were the Aero Wars again?

Aero Wars: That period in American stock car racing history when Chrysler and Ford's appetite for victory led to escalating levels of wretched excess in automotive aerodynamic design. Normally refers to part or all of the 1969 and 1970 seasons in NASCAR's Grand National division.

Please, tell me more!

If you insist. As chronicled in numerous automotive books and magazines, as well as on other pages within the Aero Warriors site, Chrysler's Aero Warriors were born out of the competition between Chrysler and Ford on the nation's major stock car racing tracks. Stock car engine development at both factories had reached a feverish pitch during the '60s, finally stabilizing to some degree in the late '60s thanks to NASCAR mandates. Chrysler would have to live with its 426 Hemi, and Ford would have to make due with the Boss 429 (or in some cases its 427). Development work did continue on these motors throughout the late '60s and early '70s, but it was becoming more and more expensive to extract smaller and smaller horsepower gains from them. So, the factories began to explore other, hopefully more cost effective methods to get speed out of their automobiles. Aerodynamics became the next frontier to be aggressively explored - one that might offer relatively large gains per cubic dollar spent when compared to motor development. The brute horsepower focus of NASCAR competitors was being expanded to understand the benefits of aerodynamics. Thus, the Aero Wars (that's right, the ones we're talking about here) were born.

At this point, something more needs to be said about aerodynamic development in NASCAR. Although the argument could rightly be made that aerodynamics had actually been a factory consideration before 1969 (such as in Ford's design of the '68 Ford Torino and Mercury Cyclone), the Aero Wars were characterized by the degree to which aerodynamics became a design consideration. This new-found factory focus on aerodynamics manifested itself through the production, in extremely limited quantities, of the cars we now call the Aero Warriors. And as every good Aero Warriorphile (you heard it here first) knows, these limited production runs were aimed squarely at satisfying minimum production numbers mandated by NASCAR. Cars produced in excess of these stated minimums (and meeting other NASCAR technical standards such a specified wheelbase) were considered "stock" by NASCAR. And what's a "stock" body to do? Why race in NASCAR stock car racing, of course.

So, which cars were actually Aero Warriors?

The 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona and the 1970 Plymouth SuperBird were Chrysler Aero Warriors. In addition, the 1969 Dodge Charger 500 is normally included in this elite group. From the Ford camp, we find the 1969 Ford Torino Talladega. It should be noted that this car was often identified as a 1969 Ford Torino Cobra when competing with other than a Boss 429 power plant (in NASCAR, the Boss 429 wasn't "legal" until late March of 1969). The Mercury camp provides the final Aero Warrior, the 1969 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II.

Well, if that's the case, isn't your site missing some information?

Yes, the Aero Warriors site has focused almost exclusively on only two of the five aero cars. This is necessary given the interests and expertise of the author. Future plans call for more information to be presented about Ford's aero cars, but for now, this site will maintain a decidedly Chrysler feel. But let's get back to the main topic at hand.

OK, so why are we having this big discussion about the Aero Wars anyway? After all, we all know what happened - Chrysler kicked-butt and NASCAR banned their aero cars because of it. What else is there to tell?

Well, there is a lot more to tell, and it may go "against the grain" just a little bit, at least in the Chrysler camp. Not surprisingly, pro-Chrysler publications seem to paint an especially rosy picture of Chrysler's aero car exploits, often having the reader imagine that they absolutely dominated the NASCAR tracks in 1969 and 1970. This is not really the case. The story continues that because the winged cars were so dominate, NASCAR banished them from the tracks through engine size rule changes for the '71 season. Although this is correct to the extent that rule changes eliminated the cars, it must also be said that those rule changes were promulgated by much more than a fear of Chrysler's supposed dominance. In addition, it is often forgotten that the aero cars were not the only cars "banned" by NASCAR. The rules mandated, by name, the cars that were relegated to 305 c. i. engines for the '71 season. Along with the Daytona and the SuperBird, NASCAR identified the '69 Ford Torino Talladega and the '69 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II. It is important to remember that NASCAR wasn't singling Chrysler out, or their supposed dominance.

Oh, and in the interest of fair reporting, it should also be made clear that publications sympathetic to the Ford cause are often as guilty as their Chrysler counterparts in presenting a decidedly "optimistic" view of the Aero Wars for the Ford faithful. That being said, let's take a quick aside and look a little more closely at some of the factors that actually contributed to the rule changes for the '71 NASCAR season:

  • NASCAR experienced growing concerns about safety throughout the decade of the '60s, due to the increased speeds. The miles-per-hour had grown faster than the safety technology, exposing drivers to increasingly greater risks. Several well known drivers lost their lives on the tracks in the '60s, and several more notables retired, apparently at least in part due to safety concerns. Deaths and serious injuries on the tracks were not good PR for the sport, and ironically, those were the kinds of happenings that often received the widest press coverage. The aero cars were bumping against the 200 mph barrier, and a reduction in engine size (such as that mandated for the aero cars in the '71 season) was one logical way to slow the cars. Incidently, the now infamous restrictor plate was first introduced in the heyday of the aero cars, as another speed control measure. Along with safety, a reduction in speed would also reduce wear and tear on equipment, which would lessen expenses for the teams.

  • And speaking of expenses, as the racing equipment became more exotic, so did the cost of fielding a team in NASCAR. This, especially during the Aero War years, had a tendency to reduce the number of teams that had a reasonable chance to win on any given Sunday. By effectively eliminating the most exotic of the factory equipment, NASCAR moved toward greater parity between competitors. The greater the parity, the greater the number of ticket buying spectators that would also be interested in buying sponsors' products.

  • NASCAR was increasingly concerned about the escalation of factory involvement within the Grand National division, as personified in the extreme by the aero cars. NASCAR had its roots in competition between pure stock cars - those cars that the average person could purchase off the dealer showroom floor. This competition between "stock" automobiles captured fan interest, because they could identify (and even buy) the autos they saw racing. By halting, or at least slowing the tendency for the cars to evolve into sophisticated and exotic race machinery, this "stock" legacy would be allowed to continue. Keeping the cars less exotic assured continued fan identification and interest with the models competing. And interested fans pay to see races and support sponsors' products.

  • Generals Motors was then, as now, the largest auto maker in America. They played no significant role (through direct factory involvement or otherwise) in NASCAR after 1962, when Chevrolet and Pontiac were forces to be reckoned with. NASCAR recognized the need to get GM back into the fold (along with its legion of fans) and this seemed much more likely if Chrysler and Ford were discouraged from continuing with their exotic research and development. After all, everyday that Chrysler and Ford continued their exotic efforts, the longer it would take GM to catch up if they ever did decide to get back into NASCAR. This was a bit of a balancing act, as NASCAR wanted a competitive GM, but not one with a too-powerful factory presence, as was the case with Ford and Chrysler. NASCAR forced the aero cars out, and GM returned soon after. Soon after the Chrysler and Ford factories had all but abandoned NASCAR.

  • Frank Moriarty, in his book Supercars, The Story of the Dodge Charger Daytona and the Plymouth SuperBird, included the following give-and-take in his book:
              "Why was NASCAR so determined to remove the exotic wing cars from 
         Grand National racing?
              Larry Rathgeb believes France made the prohibitive rules because 
         he was losing control. 'He couldn't cope with the factory
         representatives there at his races. He had to get rid of them. Not only 
         that, but we had control over the drivers because they were under 
         contract to the manufacturers. So he finally pitched us all out.'
              'It would have been nice to continue,' says Dodge public relations 
         director Frank Wylie. 'We spent a lot of time trying to get a fair
         shot, and then when we caught up they changed the rules. We felt
         strongly about that, and that's why we essentially went elsewhere. We 
         put a greater emphasis on drag racing.'
              'Detroit was controlling NASCAR,' believes Richard Petty. 'Every 
         week they came down with a new gimmick on a new car or something, and 
         NASCAR couldn't keep up with it. They decided they didn't want to keep 
         up with it. They said, Hey -- it's our ball game. We want you to play 
         with our bat and our ball, and we're going to tell you what that bat 
         and ball are going to look like instead of you telling us what they're 
         are going to look like.'
              'It started in 1949 as a stock appearing series,' Petty continues, 
         'and here were these cars with wings and these sloped noses and these 
         sloped back ends. If they didn't write Plymouth or Dodge or Ford on the 
         side people wouldn't even know what they were! So they got to be 
         prototype cars, and Bill France knew it was getting away from the stock 
         deal and he didn't want that.'"
    Although this excerpt specifically concerned ideas from "Chrysler personalities", it seems reasonable to conclude that the thoughts expressed here could apply to Ford and Ford cars as well.

So, what really did happen during the Aero Wars, if Chrysler wasn't man handling the competition?

OK, we'll take a look at some numbers and see if we can get a better idea of what was happening on the NASCAR tracks in '69 and '70. First though, let's set down some ground rules and state some assumptions about the Aero Wars, just to make sure we all start this discussion from the same point:

  • For the purposes of this study, the location and period of time over which the Aero Wars took place will be considered the NASCAR Grand National division during the 1969 and 1970 seasons, or parts thereof. It should be noted that the first two races of the 1969 season were actually run in 1968, therefore it was impossible for an aero car to have participated. It should also be noted that the #22 Daytona driven by Richard Brooks appeared in two races in 1971, and those races are not considered here. First, because there were no Ford or Mercury aero cars in those races, and second, because the Daytona did not win either race. In fact, as far as can be determined, no races in the '69 or '70 seasons saw a victory by one factory aero car where the other factory did not have at least one aero model on the track.

  • The statistical information presented here is based on data in Greg Fielden's fine text, Forty Years of Stock Car Racing, Volume III. The data, where possible, has been verified by at least one other source, such as Stock Car Racing Magazine. Verification normally involves viewing photographs, or finding text which specifically calls out the make and model of the winning vehicle. Regurgitations of data in contemporary sources that consist solely of results tables are sometimes flawed, if for no other reason than NASCAR sometimes made errors in statistics released to the press. A few errors have been identified in the Fielden text, but not to a degree that should bring into doubt the main thoughts presented in this page. More on this below.

  • Even though the discussions here are limited to NASCAR, it is important to remember that the Aero Warriors also did battle on the ARCA and USAC tracks. The ARCA and USAC races are not normally discussed when the Aero Wars are talked about, and in case you are interested, here are some of the most important reasons why:

    • NASCAR was a much larger sanctioning body (at least for stock car racing) than either ARCA or USAC, and as such they had much more of a following in '69 and '70. NASCAR's greater popularity back then translates to more interest in their Aero Wars now.

    • NASCAR's schedule in 1969 and 1970 included many different superspeedways (tracks of one-mile or more in length, excluding road courses) than did ARCA or USAC. The superspeedways were where the aero cars really showed their stuff, and thus there were many more races where "battles" could take place. NASCAR's shear number of superspeedway events assured that these Aero Wars would be bench racing fodder for years to come. Incidently, for the purposes of the discussions that follow, the road course events have been included in the superspeedway count.

    • Due to the lesser size and popularity of ARCA and USAC stock car racing (at least in comparison to NASCAR), information about what cars raced in these series is relatively difficult to locate. Fewer record keepers were employed, fewer records were kept. And it's hard to bench race 30 years later when information about your favorite car is impossible to find. Although far from perfect, NASCAR documented their races well enough that results can be found and fairly well relied upon.

      In a related matter, all sanctioning bodies seem to suffer from a lack of model specificity in their race statistics. As an example, a '70 Plymouth SuperBird is often referred to as a '70 Plymouth. Determining in some cases (especially in ARCA and USAC) which particular car models competed is sometimes difficult. The much more expansive NASCAR print coverage (which often included photos) makes it much easier to determine the specific models not completely identified in NASCAR press release statistics.

OK, enough already! Let's get to it! So how did Chrysler really do in the Aero Wars?

Take a look at Table 1 to get a bird's eye view of the fabled Aero Wars. This table accounts for all NASCAR events held in 1969 and 1970, where a victory was recorded by one of the five cars previously identified as an Aero Warrior. "All Events" includes races held on short tracks (less than a mile), superspeedways (a mile or more) and road courses.

1969 & 1970 - Wins In All Events
Car 1969 All Events 1970 All Events Total
69 Ford Torino Talladega 25 4 29
69 Dodge Charger 500 19 3 22
69 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II 4 4 8
70 Plymouth SuperBird * 8 8
69 Dodge Charger Daytona 2 4 6
Total 73
What does the colorful Table 1 tell us? It reveals a tight battle between Chrysler and Ford during the '69 and '70 NASCAR seasons, with Ford (including Mercury) recording 37 victories to Chrysler's 36. So, when looking at total wins by all aero cars in NASCAR in 1969 and 1970, Ford appears to have won the Aero Wars by the thinnest of margins. But please, read on!

And a reminder here. There were 102 races run in the NASCAR Grand National division during the '69 and '70 seasons, although only 73 are accounted for in Table 1. The remaining 29 events were won by non-aero models. If you really must look at the statistics for all 102 events (and nine out of ten doctors are dead-set against it), you'll find them here. By the way, when the '69 and '70 NASCAR Grand National seasons are viewed as a whole, Chrysler came out ahead, winning 62 races to Ford and Mercury's 40. But that includes all models, not just the aero cars, which is really what this page is about.

Well, if you are a Chrysler enthusiast, Table 1 seems kind of disappointing, especially if you remember reading in those Chrysler publications just how dominate the aero cars really were. Just remember, don't believe everything you read (except here, of course!) Anyway, let's move on to Table 2. It should look strangely similar to Table 1, but now we are getting a little more concerned with the venue in which the cars appeared. After all, the aero cars didn't really see the full benefit of their aerodynamic design until they reached higher speeds, so this table reports on competition on tracks of a mile or more (including road courses).

This score just in: Ford 22, Chrysler fifteen. Unfortunately for the Chrysler faithful, things don't seem to be getting any better. In fact, they have really taken a turn for the worse! Ford cleaned house (or is that track?) in '69 and '70 on tracks a mile in length or greater. Strike up another one for the Blue Oval boys.
1969 & 1970 - Wins In Events Of One Mile Or More
Car 1969
Mile Or More
Mile Or More
69 Ford Torino Talladega 11 3 14
69 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II 4 4 8
70 Plymouth SuperBird * 8 8
69 Dodge Charger Daytona 2 4 6
69 Dodge Charger 500 1 * 1
Total 37

OK, so on to yet another way to look at this whole Aero War thing. Table 3, in a blatant attempt to copy Table 2, also lists victories on tracks of a mile a more. The key difference, making Table 3 eligible for its own table number and everything, is the fact that it begins calculating victories by Chrysler and Ford aero cars after the introduction of the Dodge Charger Daytona. This allows comparison between the auto makers when all of their aero cards were on the table, so to speak. And what do we observe when such a table rears its ugly header?

1969 - 1970
Wins In All Events Of A Mile Or More After Introduction of Dodge Daytona
Car 1969
Mile Or More
Mile Or More
70 Plymouth SuperBird * 8 8
69 Dodge Charger Daytona 2 4 6
69 Ford Torino Talladega 2 3 5
69 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II * 4 4
69 Dodge Charger 500 * * *
Total 23
It took a while to get here, but it does look like Chrysler got things under control when "the wing became the thing" in NASCAR. Chrysler eventually boasted fourteen victories to Ford's nine, after the winged cars finally found their way to the tracks. Still, it's not the dominating performance so many are told that it was.

In case you haven't gotten enough of the tables, we have just one more. Our Table 4 illustrates Chrysler and Ford records on short tracks after the introduction of the Dodge Charger Daytona. Although not really providing the most important information of the day, it does none-the-less illustrate an interesting point, at least to the Chrysler enthusiast.

The Chrysler Aero Warriors don't appear to have done so well on the short tracks, which is understandable, since they rarely appeared there. But, as the very astute reader will probably notice, Chrysler more than doubled Ford's wins here. So, while the Aero Wars were fully underway with the introduction of the Daytona, Chrysler's Charger 500 "aerodynamic failure" was finding another road to success. The Charger 500 really was a winner, especially with short track driver Bobby Isaac at the wheel. And when the Charger 500 wasn't winning on the short tracks, '70 Dodge Chargers and '70 Plymouth Road Runners were.
1969 - 1970
Wins In All Events Of Less Than A Mile After Introduction of Dodge Daytona
Car 1969
Less Than Mile
Less than Mile
69 Dodge Charger 500 5 3 8
69 Ford Torino Talladega 2 1 3
69 Dodge Charger Daytona * * *
69 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II * * *
70 Plymouth SuperBird * * *
Total 11

All right, so what have we really learned then?

That it's really easy to get carried away making grotesquely colored tables. But I guess you mean what have we learned about the Aero Wars after viewing these tables, so let's quickly review:

  • When considering only aero cars over the two seasons, Ford holds a slim lead in wins, 37 to 36. Ford had its aero body styles in place (as well as Richard Petty) from practically the start of the '69 NASCAR season, which was critically important. Because Ford came prepared, the lead they gained in victories while Chrysler was struggling on the long tracks with the Charger 500 (and without Richard Petty) was insurmountable, even after the debut of the winged cars. As already mentioned, a few errors have been located in the statistics found in Fielden's text, Forty Years of Stock Car Racing, Volume Three, which is the primary source of data for this discussion. Among other things, these errors bring into question whether a few of the victories credited to Bobby Isaac in a '69 Charger 500 may in fact have been accomplished in a '70 Charger. If more errors are identified, this could obviously further damage the Chrysler position in a comparison of total aero car wins, as is being discussed here. Research is in progress to verify the balance of the Fielden data as correct or to identify any remaining errors in it. It is also important to mention that there is no indication of more than just a few possible errors, and to reiterate that those are relegated to model/model year issues of a few different cars driven in short track events. You can visit the portion of the statistics page here which discusses this issue in more depth.

  • Ford's domination of the Aero Wars becomes even more pronounced when races of a mile or more are the only ones considered. Their seven win advantage (22 to fifteen) over Chrysler in this scenario clearly demonstrates that Ford had prepared their troops well for battle, especially in 1969.

  • Things look up for Chrysler when events of a mile or more are considered after the introduction of the Dodge Charger Daytona. That, along with the later debut of the SuperBird and the re-introduction of Richard Petty to the Plymouth fold, was too much for Ford. Chrysler's five win advantage over the period when all five aero cars shared the long tracks is, however, not the dominating performance that is often reported. So, after Ford seized the initiative for the first several furious months of the Aero Wars, Chrysler re-grouped and came back for battle again, stronger than ever. Let's finish with a look at another excerpt from Supercars, The Story of the Dodge Charger Daytona and the Plymouth SuperBird:
               "The wing cars had been amazingly successful given the rushed 
          debut of the Dodge Charger Daytona in September 1969. In 1969 and 1970, 
          the Daytonas and SuperBirds had 14 wins on tracks of a mile or more in 
          length compared to 10 for the Fords and Mercurys. The figures become 
          even more one-sided when you look at the top-five finishes for the 1970 
          season. On tracks of a mile or more in length, the wing cars placed in 
          the top-five finishing position 61 times compared to 38 top-five 
          finishes for Ford and Mercury. These figures include the two 1970 
          125-mile qualifying races for the Daytona 500 (Ford had one win and 
          three top-five finishes compared to Chrysler's one victory and seven 
               Even more outstanding than the wing cars' racing record is their 
          qualifying record. Ford was the fastest qualifier at only three of the 
          1970 races on tracks over one mile in length, while the Chrysler cars 
          started on the pole a commanding 15 times that season. The Charger 
          Daytonas driven by Charlie Glotzbach and Bobby Isaac were the fastest
          qualifiers five times each. The wing cars were clearly the swiftest
          and strongest of the aero warriors."
So, who really won the Aero Wars?

As almost any lawyer would say about almost anything, "It depends". If you consider wins over the entire '69 and '70 seasons on the superspeedways, then Ford appears to have come out ahead. But, if you prefer to wait until each factory's best were on the long tracks, then Chrysler becomes the victor. As to which is the more correct, well, Ford seems to have a pretty persuasive argument. After all, the Dodge Charger 500 was a purpose built attempt on Chrysler's part to field a superior aerodynamic car. It failed (on the superspeedways) and Chrysler was forced to create the Daytona in rather hasty fashion. The majority of the '69 season was lost to Chrysler, however, and this gave Ford an insurmountable lead in victories for the two years where the aero cars worked best - on the superspeedways.

So these were the NASCAR Aero Wars. As already mentioned, there was apparently significant Aero War activity in ARCA and USAC. Chrysler winged cars won eleven events in these series, but it's unclear at this time precisely how many races were won by Ford and Mercury aero cars, or even which races both Chrysler and Ford aero cars appeared in. The Aero Warriors site is researching those lesser known battlefields, and when an understandable picture of them emerges, it will be presented here. Stay tuned!

Is there anything else I should know?

Yes, there is. Let's just finish by touching on a few topics for you to ponder in your spare time.

  • Throughout this analysis, victories have been used to measure success. Is there a better choice? How about top three or top five finishes, as mentioned in the Supercars quote above? After all, the name of the game in NASCAR was product exposure for the factories, and this exposure often came to more than just the first place car. What about driver's or manufacturer's championships? Well, that looks to be a dead heat - David Pearson was driving champion in 1969, and Bobby Isaac did the same in 1970. Ford was the manufacturing champion in 1969, and Plymouth got it done in 1970. The point here is that the choice of success criteria for this study is not written in stone, but is the one that seems most logical to the author. After all, America loves a winner, and rarely does anybody remember who finished second.

  • And what about factory size and the resources each had available to it? Ford was a larger auto manufacturer than Chrysler, and one could reasonably assume that they had a larger NASCAR racing budget throughout much of the '60s. So was it a "fair fight", with the larger Ford going up against a less well endowed Chrysler? This type of argument has apparently not been lost on at least one current Ford author and aero car enthusiast, as he often mentions that Ford's budget was slashed by 75% in 1970. The inference here being that Chrysler did well in 1970 at least in part because of Ford's reduction in its racing budget.

  • When considering resources, an interesting way to look at this might also be in shear numbers - how many cars did each manufacturer actually have on the tracks throughout the two NASCAR seasons? Certainly, there is some advantage in shear numbers. Over the two years that were the Aero Wars, a total of 1463 Fords and Mercurys appeared in 102 races; there were a total of 1193 Chryslers in those same races. Ford was able to place about 20% more of its product in the 102 races - was this an advantage? Probably. Would the outcome of the Aero Wars have been different with 20% fewer Fords on the tracks? Maybe. Just one scenario that serves as some interesting food for thought.

  • Also to be considered in the "who won the Aero Wars equation" are the relative skills of the drivers and crews. Who had the most talent? Was there a great excess of talent at one factory at the expense of the other? Petty's stint with Ford in '69 (nine aero car wins, ten total wins) and Chrysler in '70 (five aero car wins, eighteen total wins) makes an interesting study. Would the Aero Wars have come out in a much more lopsided fashion if one factory or the other had held onto Petty for both years? Probably. Stick this in the "What Might Have Been" file.

  • Speaking of what might have been, rule changes occurred during the Aero Wars in the name of parity (as they frequently do today), so that the racing would be closer, and therefore more entertaining for the fans. How might the battles have been different if NASCAR had tinkered less with the rules during the '69 and '70 seasons?

Those were the Aero Wars - men in their racing cars trying to get to the finish line first by slipping through the air better than their competition. It was hard fought by all, and in the end, it was a lot closer than people on either side, then or now, might want to admit.