Shepard adds, "The time had come where small-blocks were the future of racing." He went on to say that the ban of Hemi power led to the use of 426 Wedge engines in NASCAR's premier series. "If you go back 30 years ago to about 1972," he says, "up to that point the Winston Cup program was based solely on big blocks, but the factors made the Wedge and Hemi nearly uncompetitive. The actual beginning of our NASCAR small-block development began with the P69 Indy program and continued with the 1970 Trans Am AAR 'Cuda and T/A Challenger. This was our first small-block racing activity with the main engine building conducted by Keith Black."
At the end of 1970, NASCAR basically said no more Superbirds and Daytonas by placing a 5-liter displacement limit on the wing cars. However, this didn't deter the motorsports guys at Chrysler Performance Parts. The thought was, "Let's take the Superbird with a 305ci Keith Black Trans Am engine to Daytona." So, Dick Brooks, driving Mario Rossi's No. 22 Superbird powered by a KB Trans Am engine, qualified eighth, and led laps 60, 61, 64, 96, and 98. An incident involving Pete Hamilton on lap 98 put Brooks two laps down, but he finished the race in eighth place. It was the last time a wingcar ran in a Grand National race, but it proved that Chrysler's small-block had the power and the durability for stock car racing.
"There was no formal NASCAR development of the small block Rossi's car ran at the 1971 Daytona 500," says Shephard. "That success of the only small-block in that race led Chrysler to consider that they could race the small block. As we went racing into 1972 and 1973 with the Pettys, so did Chrysler's small-block."
Perhaps simultaneously, Chrysler Performance Parts determined there was a need for a short track small-block program to equal the small-block efforts being accomplished in drag racing. Shepard says, "The parts program drove the deal. Direct Connection looked at the marketplace and determined where people were spending their performance money. Direct Connection went to talk to personnel at Petty Enterprises and other racing teams. We talked to the circle track sanctioning bodies, and after some time to figure it out, Larry Rathgeb and Bill Hancock took the years of racing experience that we had in support of our programs and made it happen."
Hancock concludes, "The Chrysler Kit Car was a scaled down Winston Cup car. It had all of the features that GN racers had. It was our goal to give the racer a car for less than $10,000. We built the prototypes down at Petty's and tested the combinations on both asphalt and in the dirt."
Testing proved to be an interesting scenario. At Petty's, they were too busy chasing Winston Cup championships and their own Petty Enterprises business. Hancock notes, "Petty Enterprises recommended that we contact Pete Hamilton who would handle our asphalt testing. As for the dirt, it would be a young phenom's first paid job in a race car.
"We wanted a very good, local dirt track racer," says Hancock. "We wanted a driver who was a good test driver and represented the kind of customers that we were seeking with the Kit Car program. We went to Harry Hyde and he suggested a name and we got the driver's phone number." The driver-Dale Earnhardt. "Earnhardt drove and tested for us for $100 per day," he says.
Hancock speculates that the car that Hamilton and Earnhardt drove was given to Pete Hamilton. "The car was a 110-inch wheelbase car, a Challenger."
However, don't speculate that the Skanes car shown here-which is also a 110-inch Kit Car-is that car. Suffice it to say that there were Kit Cars in Challenger bodies. Hancock says, "We tried to get every rule book we could and by doing so, build a universal car for circle track racing."