Much has been said and written about the historic 200 mph record setting drive of NASCAR legend, Buddy Baker, at the Daytona Speedway back in March of 1970 in a 1969 Dodge Daytona race car. A terrific article in Hot Rod by Jerry Heasley in March of 2015 provides some terrific insight into the mystery behind that historic vehicle. We have edited down the original article below. To read the entire article (and I strongly suggest you do) simply click here.
However, from the perspective of another famous NASCAR driver, Bobby Allison, that historical moment should have been his but was stolen from him by some Chrysler Executives. I will start with an abbreviated version of the search for and the ultimate finding of the Baker record setting car. In Part 1 we told you what Allison has to say about that record.
Here is the greatly edited Jerry Heasley article from Buddy Baker’s perspective.
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 Chrysler 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
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.”
“A few years later, I wanted to get in touch with Don White and find out what happened to that car. I called him in Iowa, told him who I was and that I knew Larry, then simply asked him if he knew the whereabouts of the old No. 88 car. When he answered ‘Yes,’ I almost dropped the phone. I said, ‘OK, do you know what happened to it?’ White goes, ‘Well, yes, it’s sitting here behind my shop.’ Just like that.”
After its tour of the bullrings and the asphalt playgrounds, Don parked the old Dodge outside behind his shop in 1976, where it sat for the next 22 years. Don retired from driving in 1984 with an estimated 400 wins during a 35-year career, including four USAC season crowns. Greg posed the obvious question: Was the car for sale? He then received Don’s standard answer, “No.” Don had already turned down at least 25 people who’d asked to buy the car throughout the last 20 years, whether they knew the legacy of the vehicle or not. Moreover, when Don parked the car for good, the old No. 88 was hardly recognizable as a Daytona, since it was now fitted with a ’73 Charger body.
In July 1998 Greg called Don and the first thing Don said was, “I’ve decided to sell the car.” Up to this time, Greg had only seen photos it. The ’73 Charger body was on the original chassis; the big question was what happened to the ’70 body.
Luckily, Don had held on to the original front clip-the fenders, nosepiece, and hood-which were simply laying in the woods behind the shop where the car was. Though the front clip was corroded, Greg could see Don’s yellow repaint coming off and the original Corporate Blue showing through plain as day.
Don saved other parts of the car in his shop, including the unique rear wing (different from any other wing) and the original Plexiglas rear window, which was oversprayed with Corporate Blue. Unfortunately, after Don rebodied the car in the ’70s, he discarded the quarters, roof, and doors.
The remaining parts of the original were rough. Like most race cars, there was no side glass, so the yearly Iowa rain and snow badly rusted the floorpans. Except for its heritage, this car would literally be history today. Its one saving grace is that it’s probably one of the single most historical Chrysler racing vehicles.
The number on this car is DC-93. It has no VIN on the dash, like a stock vehicle. It has DC-93 under the dashboard, which is the number noted NASCAR builder Ray Nichols of Highland, Indiana, assigned the car when it was built. The Chrysler guys called it “093” and vintage photos show this. The car has no title because it was strictly a race car. Don’s close connection with Ray, whom he drove for several times during the ’60s, may have played a role as to why he ended up with this particular machine.
Obviously, Greg has a hard job ahead of him to restore this weathered Daytona back to its former configuration. Some pieces will need to be fabricated and others will probably have to come from a donor car. However, the unique rear wing, rear window, front end, chassis, and accessories that it wore as it topped 200.447 will be back in place. Larry is involved in the restoration process, meaning it will be as correct as it can be given the circumstances. Engineering car 93/88 has found its place as one of the most significant racing cars in Chrysler history.