In with fast company at Goodwood...
In with fast company at Goodwood (that is the original '55 Kiekhaffer '55 Hemi 300).
One person who gets a lot of credit for this project was Harry Lee Hyde, Harry Hyde's son. He was able to answer a lot of questions, became a good friend of mine, and had a lot of the information still in his dad's files. In fact, we took the car up to North Carolina and he still had the little black books his dad had kept, showing every setting for every track this very car had run on. Spring pressure, tire pressure, shocks, camber, you name it. We were able to set the car up for the Europe trip using that data. Harry Lee also prepped the car for a simulator ride that is on the current Dodge City NASCAR road show, which we did at a small track near Charlotte last winter.
We had taken Buddy Baker's No. 88 Daytona to Europe in 1998, and since I was the only one allowed to drive it due to the museum's insurance, when we got back, it seemed only logical that the K&K car would be even more popular. So in October 1998 I took the now-running K&K car out onto the speedway and did about 35 laps, nothing serious, just getting a feel for it, how it handled. This was on the original biased-ply Goodyear tires! One of the television shows did some filming, and we did a few more faster laps after they left. Though we had no way to calculate speed, these were in excess of 100 miles an hour. Since I had already driven some cars on the speedway, pace cars, plus about 100 laps in a Mercedes V12, I had a feel for the track, but we wanted to be very careful since the car was irreplaceable.
At Talledega, you don't steer into the banking. It transitions from 18 degrees, then to 33 degrees, and a car basically steers itself if set up correctly. It's fun, and all it takes is the weight of your left hand on the steering wheel to direct it where it needs to go in the curves. Ironically, the K&K had never forgotten where it had been, despite the land speed changes made to it for Bobby Isaac to drive it at Bonneville in 1971. It handled beautifully; it was like it woke up from a deep sleep, and after 10 or 15 laps, it really wanted to go.
With Viper tamer Justin Bell...
With Viper tamer Justin Bell at Nurburing.
At about 90 miles an hour, you begin to feel the effects of the aerodynamics, especially the wing. The rear of the car begins to plant itself; you feel like you couldn't spin out, almost an honest feeling of safety. Despite this, at higher speeds, the 528 Hemi still wants to break the rear wheels loose, and on that Third gear-to-Fourth gear shift at speed, the car still tries to go sideways from the unbelievable torque. Once in Fourth, however, there is absolutely no question the car wants to run; 200 miles an hour would be no problem. Without a restrictor plate, it goes far above that margin; in Fourth, you have to let off of it or you'll certainly go that fast. In its present form, it is by far the most powerful NASCAR machine ever-wing car, 528 inches of Hemi and no restrictor plate.
We took it to the Louis Vuitton Classic Car Show in New York City, and I was able meet in person some of the best-known people from the factory, like Bob Lutz, Robert Herlitz, Jim Julow and Tom Gale; this is a very prestigious event. Plans were made to take the car to Europe for some exhibition racing in 1999, and we also had an invitation to bring it to the Goodwood Festival of Speed in Chichester, England.
To get the car over the Atlantic, we prepped it, and Chrysler picked it up at the museum and took it to Atlanta. There, it was put on a platform and went into the belly of a 747. My wife Pam and I would then fly over for events, seven times between 1999 and 2000. The first was a big static car show in Barcelona, Spain. I never did understand fully what the reaction to the giant American car was; I don't speak Spanish! Needless to say, they were excited. The main reason we were at this event was because Chrysler wanted to show the Europeans that we had a long history in motorsports. It was the first year the Vipers were racing at LeMans, so having the K&K car there was part of the factory's racing heritage.