Yesterday: The No. 88 Daytona at Talledega during the 200-mph run. That's Larry Rathgeb ta
Dodge's Legacy Machine Discovered!
While it might seem likely that credit would go to some open-wheel beast, it was a '69 Dodge Daytona that turned the first closed-course lap with a speed exceeding 200 mph. In a well-publicized test session at Talladega on March 24, 1970, Chrysler testdriver Buddy Baker took a No. 88 Dodge (similar to the car campaigned by Cotton Owens) to a 200.447 world record. While a No. 88 car has resided for years in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at the fabled Alabama track, it has now come to light that the car that actually achieved the glory had been forlornly sitting out behind former circle track racer Don White's race shop in Keokuk, Iowa, for almost 25 years!
How did the real deal show up? Credit DaimlerChrysler technician Greg Kwiatkowski for a fine job of sleuthing. Long before he went to work in Auburn Hills, a 13-year-old Greg had talked his dad into taking him to Michigan International Speedway in 1970 for the Motor State 400. That day he saw the winged warriors firsthand, which left a lasting impression. In fact, Greg's been a NASCAR fan ever since, accumulating factory race car photos for the past 16 years, some depicting the No. 88 Chrysler test car which supposedly had been on display at the IMHOF Museum for decades.
Fast forward to about 1985. Now employed at Chrysler, Greg met Larry Rathgeb, supervisor of the Special Vehicles Group during Chrysler's stock car program in the '60s and early '70s; Larry still worked for the company.
"We'd talk on and off about the winged cars," recalls Greg. "At the time, I had a street Daytona and a street Superbird. I'd go over to his house and on occasion would buy stuff from him: documentation, race tires, memorabilia. One day, he mentioned the No. 88 car in the Talladega Museum wasn't the real thing; it wasn't the car that set the record."
This was surprising news, and if the Daytona at the museum wasn't the car that first cracked the 200-mph time, where was the historic automobile? Larry explained that automotive musical chairs had occurred and the real No. 88 car went to Don White, who was actively racing on the USAC stock car circuit in the early '70s.
In fact, No. 88 was still a very good race car and, with wings still flying high on the USAC and ARCA circuits, Don received the good car and NASCAR received a similar test vehicle for their historic collection. The car NASCAR received was formerly painted red and numbered 71 like the Harry Hyde-owned, Bobby Issac-driven machine. Chrysler repainted it Corporate (Petty) Blue, lettered it, then donated it to the sanctioning body. It hadn't gone 200 mph.
Backing up this information was an inter-company correspondence memo written by G.W. Porter and dated July 31, 1970, which was uncovered by Tim Wellborn (director of the Talladega Museum) in 1997. Key parts of this memo include the following: "In May, we received a request from NASCAR relative to the possible donation of the subject car to NASCAR for their speed museum.... Contingent upon your approval, we will take our old No. 71 car, DC-74, paint it to look like the Engineering car No. 88 car, which we used in breaking the 200-mph speed record, and present it to NASCAR. This No. 71 car has outlived its usefulness and would be scrapped in the event we weren't to use it for this purpose."
Greg, full of erudite information on these test vehicles, explains that both cars were used as development mules at the Chelsea Proving Grounds in Michigan. The red one (No. 71) was called the "low-speed" car and the blue one (No. 88) was called the "high-speed" car.