In 1971, NASCAR banned Chrysler's winged cars, forcing teams like Bobby Isaac's K&K to park their fastest rides. K&K owner Nord Krauskopf decided to take the team's Charger Daytona to Bonneville for one last romp. They'd end up setting 28 world records.
(Jalopnik's resident historian Steve Lehto takes on one of his favorite subjects, NASCAR champion Bobby Isaac, in this tale of Bonnevillle salt glory 40 years after the fact. Check out more about Isaac here and in Lehto's book Bobby Isaac: NASCAR's First Modern Champion. — Ed.)
They arrived at the Flats on September 12th, with a few others in tow. An engineer from Chrysler, George Wallace, used vacation time to be there. There was also a USAC official named Joe Petrali.
The entourage spanned a tarp between their trucks for a makeshift garage on the Flats. They drilled holes in the salt with a power drill and stuck in doweled markers to lay out a course. K&K crew members Buddy Parrott and Harry Lee Hyde found the work went faster if they drank beer while drilling. The truck driver also had a beer or two. Things were fine until Parrott looked back and saw that the stakes they'd recently placed – to mark a straightaway – snaked out wildly to the horizon. They went back and carefully re-marked the course, paying more attention as only drunk men can do.
Parrott and Harry Lee slept in a tent on the salt, keeping an eye on the car and all of their equipment. Along with the car and tools, they had another half dozen Hemis – just in case – as well as fuel and extra tires.
The weather was good but the salt conditions were poor. The K&K team was hard pressed to find enough room for their runs without using areas where the salt was less than an inch thick. Originally, they had wanted to run a 12-mile straightaway for the "flying" records.
There wasn't enough smooth salt for that, so they marked off a ten-mile stretch. This would allow Isaac five miles to build up speed, and then four miles to slow down. USAC records required a car to make the same run once in each direction and then the average of the two would be official. The first goal was to break 200 mph in the flying mile in a stock-body with a regular carburetor feeding a gasoline engine. The record when they arrived was 188.173, set by Mickey Thompson.
Isaac made a couple practice runs and Parrott watched in awe. "It looked like a great big ball of fire coming through the air." Petrali set up the USAC timing devices along the course, to measure the one-mile straightaway, as well as a one-kilometer distance.
The Charger Daytona flashed across the distances at speeds just under 217 mph for both distances. These were new records, burying the old ones by more than 25 mph. Wallace stood a quarter mile away. "We heard the car before we saw it. It sounded great, but it didn't look very fast with nothing to judge it against."
Going in a straight line at over 200 mph on a bed of salt was harder than it looked. Isaac said, "It wasn't just a matter of driving straight. When you are running for a record, you can't lift to straighten the car out. If it starts to drift, and it does, you have to keep the gas pedal on the floor and make corrections in your steering to prevent a skid. You end up running from one side of the course to the other."
The next records to fall were for the standing-start ten-mile and ten-kilometer distance. Both would be run in a straight line: down and back. Isaac accelerated across the Flats and soon the Hemi was roaring, pushing the red streak ever faster, a white roostertail of salt whipping up behind it. After crossing the finish, he encountered a problem.
"There was about a mile of good salt for braking before I hit the soft stuff, and that wasn't enough. Pretty soon I was in it and heading toward the highway. I thought I'd turn a little to the right, but that put me up on this dike." The car had spun wildly out of control before coming to a stop. "[H]e just let the wheel go and set there and crossed his arms and said to the car, ‘When you stop, we'll be fine.'"
The crew raced to help Isaac unstick the car. Soon, Isaac launched back. The Charger Daytona thundered to two more records: the standing start 10-k at 172.483 mph, and the standing start 10-mile at 182.174 mph.
For longer distances, they ran ovals on the salt. Wallace accompanied Isaac on a few practice runs, to see how the car handled.
"I rode with Bobby while we were setting up the car a little, and he was probably the ideal driver because he was a dirt tracker who wasn't afraid to go fast. He was basically driving it like a huge dirt track. He'd get up to about 205 or 206 mph at the end of the straightaway and he'd never lift. He'd throw it into a turn and from the inside it felt like it was going out about 30 percent. The tail end would hang out, but he would drive it just like you would on a dirt track."
Isaac floored the accelerator and merely pointed the car where he wanted to go. Sometimes the car would get completely sideways going around the curves. Petrali was in awe. "I've never seen any driver dirt-track around the 10-mile oval before."
After setting a couple of dozen speed records, Hyde and Krauskopf agreed to bring the K&K Charger Daytona home. Isaac meantime had to go back to the trenches of NASCAR and do battle with the more pedestrian 1970 and 1971 Chargers, slower cars on asphalt. Isaac and the K&K Charger Daytona had set 28 USAC-certified records, many of which still stand today.
This story originally appeared in Bobby Isaac: NASCAR's First Modern Champion and was republished with permission.
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Photos Courtesy of Steve Lehto