Volume III, Issue 1, Page 8

The Tape Caper…

It was 1966.  NHRA Super Stock class cars were required to run on 7-inch slicks.  If you don’t think this requires some knowledge about drag race suspension, ask Jere Stahl who was campaigning a 426 MoPar Hemi.  His closest rival (they traded NHRA Super Stock Eliminator titles throughout the ’66 season) was Bill Jenkins, having similar traction issues with his small-block Nova. We’ll talk more about these two bandits a bit later.

I was the editor of Hot Rod and intrigued with some of the aerodynamics antics being explored by Smokey Yunick in his infamous “15/16th scale” NASCAR Grand National Chevelle (the one Curtis Tuner piloted) and subsequent ’67 Bonneville record-setting Camaro (currently residing in Vic Edelbrock’s toy barn).  Plus, Richard Petty’s brother and crew chief, Maurice Petty, and I had previously discussed how certain aerodynamics principles might help a Grand National “stock” car. Later, I learned that Stahl and Maurice had been discussing the same topic.

There’s an aerodynamic concept employed in the design of a golf ball surface.  The dimples on these objects are intended to provide stability during flight.  Else you think otherwise, see how stable a ping-ball is when projected through air, minus the effects of spinning or comparable rotation.  Actually, it’s unstable.  Moreover, more drag is created than if the surface is designed to produce the effects of more stabilizing eddies or small vortices in the air, particularly in the trailing area.  Given a dimpled surface, data shows drag reduction when these eddies or Von Karman rings (as they are known) are produced by the dimpled surface.  One off-shoot application of this can be found in the “landau” tops (complete with leather-like “grain”) installed on certain domestic hardtop coupes and sedans of the ‘60s.  And while most NASCAR cars are known for their aerodynamic slickness, you’d perhaps not think this little wrinkle worth exploring.  Well it was, at least in the mind of Maurice Petty.

The result?  King Richard showed up at the season-opening Daytona 500 with a landau top on number 43. The car, Richard notwithstanding, was very fast and part way into the race, the top material began to peel away, slightly at first and then to the extent NASCAR flagged the car into the pits. Maurice and crew removed the remains so Richard could finish the race. But the point had been made. The rough surface of top appeared to be of distinct aerodynamic benefit.

During this same period, I’d been exposed to some of Smokey’s under-car tactics, whereby he’d elected to build some of his racers (particularly the previously-cited Chevelle and Camaro) on a rotisserie, thus enabling him to spend as much time slicking-up the bottom of the car as he did the top. One of his under-car approaches was to seal off every non-functional hole he could find, and by doing so, he reduced the amount of under-car turbulence and correspondingly increased down-force while both stabilizing and freeing the car to penetrate the air. It was free horsepower. I had shared this latter notion with Stahl.

Now let’s turn to the NHRA World Finals in Tulsa. The spectator-side grandstand began just to the rear of the starting line and extended to about the 1,000-foot mark. At that point, anything traveling toward the finish-line would become exposed to the Oklahoma flat-land breeze (quite strong more often than not) over the final 320 feet of the track.  Generally, these cross-winds had a tendency to reduce trap speed, but sometimes, they more severe. More than one Funny Car went on its head (or lost a body) from the sudden wind blasts that awaited it beyond the sanctuary of the first 1,000 feet.

When Jere arrived in Tulsa, he’d applied the Smokey treatment to the under-side of his Super Stock Hemi Belvedere and to camouflage his work, he’d speckle-painted the entire belly of the car. At first glance, which was about all the NHRA staff afforded this part of the car during tech-in, it wasn’t apparent that all the holes had been covered with small pieces of 200-mph tape.

On Thursday, the speed of both Jere’s and Bill’s car was pretty much on a par with what they’d seen during the season. The early autumn cross-winds were clearly having an effect on all the cars. But during Friday’s qualification, when the wind came up, Jere’s Hemi was consistently a couple of mph faster than that his nearest competitor, notably Jenkins. And while I don’t recall the ET improvement, memory says it was also a bit better. The differential got Grump’s attention. So while his competitors wrenched and rooted around to find Jere’s advantage, his car was parked for Sunday’s eliminations on his inclined-bed race car hauler.

Saturday night after dinner, I was in Jere’s motel room and we were about to break for the night when there was a banging on the door. It was you-know-who. Jenkins had a piece of speckle-painted 200 mph tape in his hand. “Either you remove all the tape from under your car or I’m going to tape up mine, and it won’t be painted,” he grumbled. “When the NHRA makes me take off all my tape, I’m going to point to your car. You got a choice,” he snapped.”  Stahl stripped the belly of his car. Jenkins didn’t put tape under his…and took the Eliminator final round for the S/S Championship the next day. Legal cheaters, right?

Jr. Johnson once told me about cheating in NASCAR. It went something like this: “When them inspectors is looking at the front end, you work on the ass end, and when they’s looking at the ass end you work on the front.  It’s just plain hard for them to watch ‘em both.” Well, in Tulsa, it was neither. Jenkins was wearing a Tech hat. 


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