Here's a view of the bottom of my boots. Photo by Don Hunter
Another advantage I gave up was using nitrous oxide. In the beginning, the rule about gasoline was that you had to use pump fuel-period. Additives, however, were permitted. So I used to spend hours mixing that stuff-nitrobenzene, ethane, and alcohol. Then it came to me. Who was going to dispute whether or not nitrous oxide, the most volatile stuff I could imagine, was an additive or not? First, I tried mixing it with gasoline, trying to get it into the carburetor. Eventually, I found that you didn't have to do a damn thing except stick the nitrous into the engine compartment in its gaseous form and turn it on. Sure enough, it'd always find the carburetor. For a long time, that was how my cars qualified for races. I put a hand valve under the car seat, cut a hole in the seat so the driver could operate it, and let it rip. Just a small amount of that stuff was enough to jack the power to the moon. But when the rule book unequivocally declared, "no nitrous oxide," that was the end of it. I quit using it.
I once surrendered another advantage that had to do with NASCAR's minimum ground clearance rule. A car had to pass over a certain height block before it could go out to qualify. But once it got out on the track, it'd very mysteriously drop down a couple of inches. That's when the piece of wood or whatever had been propping it up would pop out on the first bump it hit. But I'd always considered that a somewhat clumsy way of doing it. Rather than go through all that, under each of the front springs I put hydraulic pads which could be operated off the power-steering pump. Those pads pumped up the car and let it clear the block. On the track, though, my driver could crank a valve to let the front end settle an inch or so. After the qualifying run, while tooling down the back-straight, he'd pump the pads up again before coming back in. In a race, each pad could be controlled independently to vary the wedge in the suspension to suit handling and track conditions. Really, those pads had quite a few advantages. However, when NASCAR declared hydraulic pads and "jacking weight" to be illegal, out they came.
We didn't have any computers monitoring how an engine was performing. The best way to do t
I always wanted to win races as much as anybody else-more than anybody else. Before a start, I'd hitch up my belt, look at the competition, and think, OK, you sumbitches, let's go. But you had to do it with some style. And there was no style in, say, running a 450ci engine when the rules plainly called for a 427. That was just cheating.
I felt the same about those clowns who used to meet NASCAR's minimum weight by carrying 200 pounds of water onboard inside the frame. Watching them creeping around on the pace lap, dumping it out on the edge of the backstraight, I used to think, What the hell you sumbitches doing, watering the grass? The only time I'd resort to something like that was in self defense, when NASCAR was permitting other teams to get away with it and it was either do it or lose.
Did my cars always make it safely through NASCAR's tech inspections? Hell, no! I went through a whole generation of tech inspectors who knew me by reputation and put me through pure hell. I particularly remember a 1967 hassle at Atlanta, when cut-and-channeled Chevelles that looked like swaybacked horses were passing through NASCAR's template with ease, while my Chevelle-which looked as high as a Mack truck by comparison-was rejected. In frustration, I borrowed a Chevelle from Hertz and made NASCAR test it. It was rejected, too. The tech inspector still thought I was trying to trick him. Finally, I proved to him that his own template was goofed up.
But what I went through at Darlington all those years ago, which is where this story started, remains one of the wildest ever. I still wonder what made Buddy Shuman lower the boom on me and refuse to let me run. All I knew was I wasn't going to run. My Hornet and I were going home to Daytona Beach. I was plenty bleeped off and didn't give a damn about the race anymore. It was Bill France himself who had thrown out my engine; couldn't Herb Thomas and I replace it with another one? Herb had a Hornet. All we had to do was take the block out of Herb's car and put it in mine. We could change it right there in the inspector's station. It was a dirt floor, but what the hell.
Well, I still didn't want to do it. But people from the Hudson factory were there putting on pressure. Racing successes had doubled Hudson's yearly sales-from $26,000 to $52,000. The year before, Herb and I had come within eight laps of winning the Southern 500 before snapping a crankshaft. Hudson wanted a win. After I agreed to do it, I found there was a slight catch. Buddy Shuman and his secret Kiekhaefer cam expert still didn't trust me. They wanted to watch me put the new engine together.
Accordingly, they got some workmen to nail together an actual goddamn grandstand-right there in the inspection station-for themselves and their friends to sit in and watch me while I worked. By then, I was tired-bone tired. I'd been up the previous 24 hours. I had a sizable hangover (these were still my drinking days). And I had Buddy and his mob watching every move I made, dying to find me "outside the spirit of the rules." If I was going to pull off what I needed to do, it would be the sleight-of-hand job of my life.
I took the engine out of my Hornet, and I took the replacement engine out of Herb's. Then I put Herb's engine in my car, minus the cylinder head. I still was bleeped off and drinking seriously while I worked. Pretty soon, I was starting to feel no pain. About then, I realized the predicament I was in. Half drunk, I still had all those jeering sumbitches in the grandstands watching me. And I also had some very important parts to take off my original race engine and put into Herb's. My audience didn't know about them. But I doubted hugely any of them would regard those parts as being within "the spirit of the rules."