From the inception of NASCAR in 1948, GM, Ford, and Chrysler waged an ongoing, full-fledged battle for stock car supremacy. But the war reached fever pitch in the 60s as engineers, designers and even aerospace experts were drafted by the manufacturers to pursue the ultimate racing machine.
Stock cars, of course, are just that: cars offered both to race drivers on the circuit speedway and to ordinary folks on city streets in identical packages. As racing fans demanded more and more speed, stock car manufacturers, conscious of both target audiences, responded with cautious creativity.
Until 1969, that is, when Chrysler took caution out back and shot it.
At the time, team Ford was pushing for the unveiling its Torino Talladega and the pressure was on Chrysler to create a fiercer, faster stock car than anything seen before. So the Chrysler engineers took their old Dodge Charger 500 to the laboratory… and created a monster.
The 1969 Dodge Daytona was a different animal altogether from the muscular-but-acceptable stock cars of the past. It was so ugly that everyday consumers hated it as much as racing fans adored the thing. It was built for speed and, on the racetrack, the Daytona cut through the pack with a speed and stability never seen before killing the competition and shaking NASCAR to its core.
The Daytona was an engineering marvel. A protruding 18 inch fiberglass nose was added to the front to combat drag, The shark-like snout lowered the cars drag factor to near zero, allowing the beast to attain unheard-of speeds. But there was a problem: The faster the Daytona ran, the less traction the rear wheels had.
Keeping the rear end of the test model down became the number-one factor in getting this baby out of the gate and past the checkered flag. The issue was resolved with a visually striking addition, one which was both counter-intuitive and, by most accounts, even uglier than the cars snout. A massive two-foot wing was positioned on the backside of the Daytona. Sure, it was awkward and unappealing to a lot of people, but the results on the speedway soon quieted critics.
On its virgin run at 1969s inaugural Talladega 500, the Daytona shot through the pack to victory, its high tail sticking up like a big middle finger to every other car on the field. It was the first refined stock car to reach an unimaginable 200 miles per hour on the superspeedways. After winning that first race, the Daytona became the stock car of choice for Bobby Isaac during his championship run the following year.
Officially the fastest stock car in U.S. competition, the Daytona would hold that title for more than a decade.
Riding the momentum of the Daytonas success, Chrysler developed a sister model, the Plymouth Superbird. Like the Daytona, the Superbird would win its first race out of the blocks, seemingly confirming Chryslers reign as the premier breed of stock car.
The racing world was changed forever by the introduction of Chryslers devastating Daytona. And thats exactly what NASCAR couldnt abide. NASCAR sensed a dangerous new age of development where monsters of speed would eat up the competition by virtue of the science behind the machine instead of the skill behind the wheel.
Beyond the philosophical argument was the fact that Chryslers design advances were miles ahead of tire manufacturing feats, and NASCAR felt something had to be done to delay the uneven distribution of engineering expertise. So they killed off the most exciting thing to ever happen on the NASCAR circuit.
NASCARs method of execution was stringent new regulations for stock car manufacturers, including smaller engine size and increased consumer purchasing requirements. Where manufacturers once had to provide only 500 cars to the public, now one stock car had to be created for every two U.S. dealers. The result is whats come to be known as the modern era of stock car racing, a homogeneous field of like-size and strength. A battle of the bland.
The 1969 Dodge Daytona lived and died in one short year. Just 505 of the cars were ever distributed. But the Daytonas place in NASCAR history is cemented for its record-setting speed and forward-thinking design. It is the car that changed the game and, ultimately, was burned at the stake for its devilish creativity.