WINGED WARRIORS/NATIONAL B-BODY OWNERS ASSOCIATION SPECIAL FEATURE
CHARLIE GLOTZBACH GUEST APPEARANCE AT WW NBOA 2005 FALL MEET
TAPED AND TRANSCRIBED BY SUE GEORGE
Charlie Glotzbach, NASCAR, USAC, and ARCA driver from the 50s, 60s and 70s is best known to us as the guy who sat behind the wheel of the Ray Nichels owned, Dow Chemical sponsored purple #99 Daytona stock car. Charlie was the special guest at our Fall Meet in conjunction with the Monster Mopar Weekend in St Louis in September. He is quick-witted, very pleasant, has a sharp memory of his racing years and we very much enjoyed having him as a guest. I participated in an interview held with Dwayne Liebrandt and Charlie while he was videotaped sitting with Wayne Perkins' #99 Hemi Daytona at host Rich Bolzenius's home, which I taped and have transcribed here. Charlie also spoke to our group Saturday night at the Holiday Inn conference room, which I also taped and transcribed.
What do you have now for cars? Just a couple of street rods. A Ford and a '46 GMC pickup chopped, a '48 Chevy coupe, a '51 Mercury and a '50 Ford.
No Mopar street rods? You weren't a Mopar guy, just drove them? I drove all kinds of them. Nah, I never did get into that kind of stuff.
What do you have for engines in your street rods? The '48 Chevy has a 283, .060 over, it's got air; and the '50 Ford has a Chevy 327 in it and an automatic, and the Mercury's got a flathead, two carburetors, it's a full custom.
Charlie brought one of the autograph sheets I made over to me and pointed out the 1966 white #6 Charger and said: That's not me. I didn't drive that car on asphalt. It's David Pearson driving in that photo. I did drive that car, but not on asphalt that I ever remember.
Okay Charlie, introduce yourself while I zoom in on the car and tell us a little about yourself and tell us some stories. I'm Charlie Glotzbach and I'm from Edwardsville, Indiana and I used to drive these cars and helped Chrysler develop them along with Larry Rathgeb, he was the head engineer on these cars, I think, and George Wallace. We were testing them at the Chrysler Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Michigan. We went 243 mph on the five mile oval up there. I sat on the pole with the #99 car at Talladega, well actually it was the #88 car. I normally drove the #99, and the #88 was the Chrysler test car and so they were going to race it. And then they decided not to race the #88 at Talladega because the tires were coming apart in under five laps. All the main drivers didn't race so therefore I didn't run long in the race the first time. Richard Brickhouse drove my car, the #99, and won the race.
Did you get to drive them later on? Yeah, I drove after that. I won a couple races in the #99 car. I ran at Florida and at Daytona a couple times in them. I ran the #99 engineering car that whole year. It was a factory race car and drove like no other one. Larry Rathgeb was the chief engineer and he said, "You know, if you get it sideways just let go of the steering wheel and it will straighten back up." I thought you're crazy; it was kind of hard to make myself let go of the steering wheel. But I tried it and it did straighten itself back up. It was really flying.
Where was that? At Daytona.
What else did you do in the development of this that had a lot of your input? Well, you'd go out and run, I mean I wasn't the only driver there. They usually had Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison or Bobby Isaac, one of the other drivers. But I was there for ALL of the tests. I'd go out and run for maybe ten laps and come back in and they'd change the wing or the handling--they just tried different things. Like at Talladega, they tried these ribbons on the hood, stuck all over there with tape, and George Wallace, he wasn't the Governor of Alabama--at the time it was George Wallace, the Governor of Alabama--but he was Chrysler's engineer, he would get over on the right floorboard and he'd sit over there and we'd go out there and run 200 mph and he'd watch those ribbons and see how they were blowing and the positive air intake on the windshield or negative, all that kind of stuff. I really didn't know that much about what they were looking for, but I do remember some of that kind of stuff. And they had gauges over there too, getting the air speed over the front end and different things like that and he [George] was sitting over there reading those things and sitting there with a note pad writing everything down, out there running 200 mph and it didn't even bother him.
Was he strapped in or just sitting there? No, he was just sitting there on the floorboard and had his arm wrapped around the Petty bar, and he'd sit there with a pad and write. He was a real cool guy.
So if you'd have put that thing in the wall, he'd have been hurtin' for sure. He'd be dead, probably! But you could go up within inches of the wall, just playing around, you know, and he'd never blink an eye. Never turn his head.
It didn't phase him the slightest bit? No, not one bit. He was down at the winged car reunion last year at Talladega and he's still just like he always was.
He liked driving the cars at fast speeds? Yeah, he did.
So do you know much about the nose cones and some of the other stuff they came up with, the engineering? Well, just like those things [scoops] on the fenders there. Everybody thought that was for cooling the tires but it wasn't. It was for giving more clearance so they could get it lower to the ground. That was all cut out underneath of that and it would make the tire go up in there a little farther so the car could be lowered. And of course, the nosecone and other stuff made the car aerodynamically good so it would get through the air.
They always used to tell me the Daytona had a little bit better aerodynamics on the nose than the Superbird? Yeah, I think so. I drove them. I tested them both. They both drove real well.
This would be in 1969 or 1970 season? Well, we did a lot of testing in '69. They developed the car pretty quick.
You actually didn't start driving them until the 1970 season? Uh, I think Talladega was in the fall of '69.
So they were like nothing else out there? Was there much difference between them and the [Charger] 500? Oh, there was no comparison in the aerodynamics. They [Daytonas] stuck to the track. They were easy to drive. About anybody could have driven one.
I've heard somebody say that you could put just about anybody behind the wheel of one. Yeah, especially around Talladega or Daytona. Now on the Charlotte track, the aerodynamics still worked good but you had to have a little skill to drive one on the Charlotte track.
Did you still drive the wings and nosecones on the shorter tracks or when you put them on the shorter tracks did you take them off? Well, on the half-mile tracks they ran the regular cars. Anything a mile and above they ran the winged cars. Atlanta, Charlotte, Rockingham, Michigan, any of those tracks they ran these cars.
Out of the tracks that you raced, driving the Daytonas on, which one would you say probably was your favorite track to race on? Well, you know, I liked them all. I can't really say I had a favorite track. They [winged cars] drove good at Michigan, they drove good at 'Talladega, they drove good at Daytona, and I liked all of those tracks.
What about road courses? I never did run road courses.
They didn't have road courses that year? Yeah, they had them but they didn't let me drive them. They let somebody else drive them.
Driving that car during the road courses? Well, they didn't even run that car.
I found some notes out of a little black book that Gary Romberg kept during the aerodynamic testing and whatnot and these notes were with you and Buddy Baker at Daytona, testing the Daytona, and there was a little diagram of a hood scoop; at one time Gary devised this little hood scoop and put it on top of the Daytona. And then he took you out on the track. It said, 'Glotzbach driving', and I can't remember what time of day it was but it was in the afternoon, and it said the hood scoop came loose and blew up, and so you brought the car back in and they removed the hood scoop and you took it back out. Do you remember the incident? I don't remember that. I don't remember any hood scoops. It could've happened....that's been a long time ago!
Do you remember all of those days you went out on the track and tested for them? You went out for two or three laps and came back in and they checked the temperature, adjusted the wing? Oh yeah. That's the way they did all the testing, though you might go out and run thirty laps sometimes. But most of the time it was five laps or something like that, or ten laps, and then they'd come back in and whatever they were testing that day, you know, like springs--a lot of times they'd put different downforce on these cars than on regular Chargers so they had to run different springs. So they had to get that all ironed out also besides all the other aerodynamic stuff. Just like the nose...they changed the pressure of the car and also where the intake was, they changed all of that. 'They changed everything so they had to test all of that.
What did you do during all of this testing for your own comfort? Obviously it would have been horrendously hot out there and you would have been sitting in the car. You wouldn't get out of the car. You didn't usually have time unless they were changing the engine or something like that, you know, then you could get out and sit around and wait.
So while they were checking all of these gauges and the temperature and all of that, you just sat in the car? Oh yeah.
With a different kind of suit and helmet than what they're wearing today, right? Well, the suit is basically the same but everybody wore an open-face helmet back then. Now I think it's mandatory to wear a full-face helmet. You didn't have those cool suits then. Well, they had cool suits but very few people ever wore them. I tried them one time at Rockingham. That thing didn't work and I had to get out of the car; I was driving Cotton [Owens] car at the time. So I never did wear one after that.
Did they actually have many different nosecones that they brought out there and try or did they just adjust the sheetmetal on one nosecone? They just adjusted the metal on one nosecone. You know, originally they didn't have those bars on the wing in the back going down to the floorboards. They put it on there after it got bent back. It folded the quarter panels up and then they realized that they had to have a little more reinforcement there! And they put the bars going down to the floorboards [in the trunk].
You said you won a couple of races driving the Daytona? Yeah, I won a qualifying race at Daytona with the Daytona. And at Michigan the first time we ran a restrictor plate. They were actually restrictor rings. They made rings to put in the intake to restrict it down instead of an actual plate. First time they ran them.
Did you ever have a race where you were out there and you just know, you know, like they talk about now where Tony Stewart is in a zone and he gets in there and he just knows he's going to win. Maybe one that you drove in and actually won and it was just a real lot of fun, you just knew you were going to win this race. Well, usually any of them that you won, that's the way the car was that day. Like at Michigan, we started on the pole and we won the race. Actually I think every race I won in NASCAR I started on the pole. You know, we were in a lot of races, run good in a lot of races, and something would happen. At Daytona, I know I would have won that race in that winged Dodge in February 1970 but they left the gas cap off. Back then they had a gas cap that you just flipped it on instead of the quick fill they got now. Well, what they done, they figured out it was going to be quicker if, when I came into the pits, they'd leave that gas cap off just fastened with a chain and the guy would have another one and just jamb it on there. Well, NASCAR saw that cap dangling so they black flagged me. And it actually had a gas cap on it but they were afraid that one was going to fly off, I guess. So I ended up running fourth in that race and I know I would have won that race because the car was faster.
So when you came in for the black flag, you still had to catch up with the field and still have to pass all of them. Yeah, and we still ran fourth.
You told me once about going 200 mph, what's going through your head? What do you see at 200 mph? You don't see anything any different than when you're running 180. You can't tell the difference, you know, once you get up there and get used to it, too. It's no problem unless you have a problem and then that's when you realize you're going too fast!
So when you're running in a pack of cars at 180 mph, is it like going down the interstate at 70 because everyone's going the same speed? On ice! Yeah, because the car is moving around.
Not quite as stable as we've been led to believe? Oh, they move around. Did you ever get behind a semi going down the interstate in a van or something like that and how it buffalos it around. Well, these do the same thing. They move around. That's any kind of race car.
The wind's coming inside, outside or what? No, the wind 's coming over the front tire, that's what's moving it around. It's like getting behind a semi going down the interstate, the wind comes off that trailer and it comes down on your car and shakes the car around. I ran into that coming down here the other day, got behind one in that van and it moved it around.
If you had a motor that just didn't seem right, could you tell that it was going to blow up on you? Would you kind of nurse it along? If it didn't run right, I'd hope it did blow up! But usually they would run all day. Yeah, you could tell the difference. If it was a strong motor you could tell the difference. You might turn lower rpms going down the straightaway than you normally turn and if it was getting bad, it would turn less rpms, it was tightening up a little bit. I always watched the tach, I don't know about everybody, but I did.
Did you have time to look at all of your gauges when you were running? Oh yeah.
Even on a short track? Yeah. You get used to it. When you first start racing, you don't have time to look at all of them. But once you get settled in you have plenty of time to look at everything. You can even look at people up in the grandstands! Especially at Bristol, you'd see them up there fightin'. You do down the back straightaway, they'd be up there fightin! Fighting for their favorite driver.
Back then, how much input did the driver have in the way the car was set up? They'd change whatever you wanted changed. You know, you'd sit and talk to the crew chief and discuss it and they would usually agree with you on some changes. You'd try it out and if it didn't work, you'd come back in and try what they'd want to do.
You hear them talking about putting in two turns say in the left rear or taking out two turns, and actually that's not very much. Can you tell that when you go back out on the track? Oh yeah. You can feel one turn....if it's loose or tight or whatever.
Communications on your pit stops and stuff back years ago, I mean, now they're wired with a mic and everything like that, but when you guys were running... You had a pit board.
Yeah, pit boards, but how did you communicate back with them then? Well, you know, if it was pushing you would tap on the roof, or if it was loose you'd tap on the door. It was just signals back and forth; you couldn't really communicate too much. They would put on the pit board a lot of times what they wanted you to do. That's the only communications we had.
But when you got into the pits? Oh yeah, you'd tell them something.
It used to be a lot longer pit time? Well, not that much. They'd get there quick. Usually somebody would run up to the window, you know, and you'd tell them.
About how long was your pit stop, somewhere around the 20 second range? Probably 20, I don't even remember, but something like that.
You were talking about tapping on the roof or tapping on the door. I know if I stick my hand out at 80 mph or 90 mph that thing's wanting to go backwards pretty fast! Well, you just stick your fingers out like this.
You're not sticking out your whole arm? No, just enough to tap on it. If it's running hot, you stick your finger up like that and they know it's running hot.
Were there ever any races that made you real nervous? No, I never did really get nervous about anything that I can remember. Darlington is a hard track to run, as far as any of the tracks that we ran.
It's just such a short period and you're really active? Yeah. And you were running that close to the wall all the time.
Everyone has focused on the superspeedways. Prior to the superspeedways, what did you do on the dirt tracks? I just ran around locally, there at Jeffersonville, I ran at the Sportsdrome. You know, I'd go out and run places like Salem which is a high bank, about like Bristol really, and Dayton, Ohio. I even ran at Milwaukee back years ago, a guy had a car and I drove it at Milwaukee. He took me there and we ran Eldora, just around locally more or less.
So when you ran at Milwaukee, was that a paid race, he paid you to drive for him? If we made anything. If we didn't make nothin', No!
If you placed or won at Milwaukee, what kind of paycheck did you take home? Well, I never did win it, so.....I didn't take much home! I got a hamburger and a Coke.
Did you cut your teeth mostly there in Southern Indiana and Northern Kentucky area? Yeah, Southern Indiana.
Had you always been driving Dodges or whatever ride was available or what? No, I just ran whatever was available. Now I did run Plymouth cars at the Sportsdrome and around most of the time. In the later years I ran Chevy's and then, you know, I got back into Dodges. I had a '65 Dodge that I ran locally and then I ran ARCA a little bit. I couldn't afford to go out and race out of town too much but when I could, I'd go. I went to Texas with my own car in 1966 and I ran an ARCA race out there where they had three of them and I won two out of three of them. I had to win them because I didn't have enough money to get home, that's what it amounted to.
Did you start off driving stock cars or open wheel or dirt? No, I started out on asphalt at the Jeffersonville Sportsdrome there in Jeffersonville, that's asphalt and I did run some dirt but not very much. I won some dirt races, I won at Marksburg, Indiana. That's dirt and ARCA, well, it was ARCA back then and I had a Ford then.
You made a comment once, in the article I was telling you about earlier in the Stock Car Racing magazine, you told them that driving on dirt was fun while driving on asphalt was more like work. Can you elaborate on that? Well, you know, driving on dirt, you're sideways all the time. You just go down there and throw it sideways. And that's fun. And on asphalt you gotta keep it straight. Little asphalt tracks are fun. When you get on bigger ones, that's more like a job. It's more nerve-racking than it is work. When we're running Darlington, you're right on the edge all the time. But like Talladega or Daytona or something like that, the tracks are long.
What got you started racing? You know, I always liked cars. When I was probably sixteen, we used to drag race all the time down on the local highway down to the river. And I always liked cars and I always messed with cars. I had a car when I was probably fourteen, I didn't even have a driver's license. And I couldn't drive it. I had an old '35 Ford.
Is that the first car you ever owned? Yeah. And I had to keep it in the driveway because my dad, you know, he wouldn't let me take it out and drive it. Every once in a while they'd be gone and I'd have to sneak it out. But the state cop lived right there and he'd usually call and tell him I had it out! So I had to quit doing that. Finally I made a race car out of it and that's when I took it to the Sportsdrome and started racing it. That's about when I was sixteen. But I always just liked cars and I always had my own race cars until I started running big-time stuff, NASCAR
Did you build those cars then? Yeah, I built my own cars, made my own wheels....you had to make everything then, You couldn't buy things like that, like now you can buy everything. But then, you had to make everything.
So when you weren't racing, you said when you made enough money you went racing, what were you doing for a living other than racing? I had a garage where I'd work on cars.
There in Jeffersonville? Well, I lived in Edwardsville, Indiana then.
And your bulldozers? Well, that was later years. That and my dump trucks.
How did you get your cars to the track? Did you have a flat bed trailer or did you flat tow them or what? A '48 Buick, I towed them. Flat towed them. Flat towed them for a long time when I finally built me a trailer. And then I had an old '49 or '50 Ford pickup, a 3/4 ton pickup and I towed them with that. I put a late model motor in it and took the flathead out and that's what I towed with for a long time. I had an old Dodge Coronet Hemi I towed it with.
We used to race on some of the small dirt tracks and we'd flat tow but if you got into an accident, you'd run into a problem. What did you do? I did that one night. I went to Mitchell to run dirt and I had an old '50 Plymouth that I raced then and they didn't like me coming up there, I guess. I went up there one Sunday night and I was leading the race and this one guy, I guess he won about everything up there, and I was actually passing him. And there was a dirt wall on the front straightaway and he ran me up in it and I went flipping end over end. We had a heck of a time getting that thing home because it tore it all to pieces. I think we blowed out every spare we had getting it home.
What if you could get that thing back out there, a 426 Hemi Daytona like that, now with the newer technology, tires and all that other stuff, no restrictor plate, what do you think you guys could get out of that? Probably 250 mph at least.
So what do you think was the biggest holdup in getting anywhere in that range back then, mostly the tires? Tires. We had little narrow tires. They wouldn't hold up. They are about like them really [points to the tires on one of the street cars], they had tread on them. They came out with slicks, I guess, about that time, probably 1970, maybe. But I know we ran treaded tires for a long time.
So they were similar to street tires? No, they were race tires but they had tread on them.
Did you do much of the mechanical work on your cars. You said you worked in your own shop and started out that way. Yeah, originally. But when I started racing NASCAR, they had their own guys who worked on cars. There were occasions I would help them do something, change an engine or something like that.
Not because you didn't want to, but that just wasn't the way the system was set up? That's right.
Did you ever get hurt, broken bones or anything? Never did. My feelings. I had them hurt once in a while.
Every time you didn't win? Yeah!
Was there a big camaraderie amongst drivers, good friends? Well, I think pretty much, you know. You had certain guys who were friendlier than others. But they were all pretty nice guys.
I remember a couple of incidences back then, old wrecks and various things, where guys would come out of the cars with fists flying, they were a little irritated, a little hot under the collar. Yeah, well you can expect that kind of stuff. Now NASCAR fines them.
Tell me the story about the "big controversy", when you got pissed off at NASCAR. Who, ME?! Well, that was maybe at Atlanta, when I was driving Cotton's car and I came in the pit and I ran over the jack because they didn't get the jack out. When they drop the jack, you know, they're supposed to jerk it out and you take off. That was one incidence and another incidence I think I ran over the air hose because they didn't get it out of the way. Well, NASCAR, both times, black flagged me. Well, I believe it was either LeeRoy or Cale Yarborough had the same thing happen to them and they didn't do nothing about it--same race! So I kind of felt like they were picking on me, and which they were. And of course, I was never too much to hold back words, I told them what I thought. They didn't like that so I just quit for a while. I probably should have kept my mouth shut, but I didn't. I have to say what I think.
How long were you out? You know, I don't even remember how long it was. But I was out for a little while that summer, then I finally went back.
What do you think was the real reason they were being that biased against you? Because I lived in Indiana.
You think that really? Yeah. I lived on the wrong side of the Mason Dixon line.
You were a Yankee! Yep! Back then, that's the way it was. I don't think it's that way anymore. They tried to get me to move down there, when I was driving for Cotton. And I would never do it. I should've, that's what they wanted. NASCAR is kind of, well you know, you do what they say.
Did you like Bill France? Oh yeah. He was a good guy. Both the Bills, I got along with both of them just fine.
Was there anybody in the organization that really rubbed your fur wrong? Nah, not really. They all had a job to do. They were just doing what they were told to do, what they'd make you do.
How much did you have to do with the "tire controversy" in the fall of '69? Well, I'd go out and I'd test the tires for Goodyear and Firestone at Talladega during that time. The Goodyears would run five laps and the Firestones would run three before they'd come apart. That's at 200 mph. And then we also broke the lower control arm on one of these. We were breaking stuff....and it just wasn't safe to race. I mean I'm sure if we'd have raced there'd be some of us who wouldn't be around.
They did end up running the race? Yeah, slower. They didn't let them run as fast as they could run. They had Camaros, they had Mustangs. It wasn't really a race. It was just a show.
How did they keep the speeds down then? Caution flags. They'd throw a caution every so often. And they just didn't go out and race as hard as they could race.
But they didn't have restrictor plates? No.
When you ran second in the Daytona 500 in 1969, that was with the Charger 500. How mad did the Chrysler guys get when they didn't win that race? That kind of prompted them changing the Daytona from a 1970 model into a 1969. Did you hear the Chrysler execs griping about that? Oh, no. There was nothing I could've done. I got slingshotted on the last lap, you know. There just wasn't nothing, I mean, I could've wrecked. But I'd rather run second than I would wreck.
How did you and Buddy [Baker] get picked to test for Chrysler? Well, Larry Rathgeb said I could tell him what he wanted to hear, you know, about the tires, because I was a little more mechanically inclined than most of them. Bobby Allison was mechanical but I don't think Bobby wanted to test all the time.
Was it a paying job--testing? Oh yeah. For tires they had different drivers. They would have me and maybe Bobby Isaac, maybe Buddy and maybe Bobby Allison. They usually called one or the other of the Chrysler guys to test, but I went to ALL of them.
Would you say you made a decent living racing? Back then, yeah. It was better than a job.
But not as good as today? No, no.
In testing, did you ever do any straight line stuff like Isaac at the Salt Flats and stuff like that? No. Just down River Road at home there.
One hundred miles per hour at a time? Yeah!
Did you ever land your plane at the test track? In Chelsea, Michigan, yeah. We'd go up there and land on the front straightaway. Uh, you're supposed to get clearance to do it and one time I didn't. I just landed and here come all the guards flying in there. Luckily Rathgeb and them were there and got them off of me! Then one time up there we were testing tanks and so they let me and Buddy take them tanks and run through them little hills, down there in the middle. We had a ball running those things! A V16 Allison engine in them, I guess they'd run about 50-60 mph. They'd about leave the ground when you'd go over a bump.
They didn't let you shoot it, did they? No, we didn't let it shoot! Buddy's thing was, up there they said, "Well now, you know there's deer here so you gotta be real careful or they'll run out in front of you." You know, I don't know how you can be careful running 200 mph out there? Luckily none of them ever did, though you'd see them in there moving around.
I can't imagine hitting a deer at 200 mph. Well, I hit a bird running over 200, I think it was when I was running 243 mph up there, at the Proving Grounds. It bent the A-post back right here and busted the windshield, I mean there was blood everywhere! It just splattered. But it vent that back an inch.
A big old bird? No, just a regular little bird.
We had a meet in Darlington in May and Joe Frasson came down as our guest and he was telling us a story about somebody shooting through the walls at the motel and shooting through Bibles and you were on the other side of the wall, do you remember that incident? No. It wasn't me. It was probably him!
Ray Nichels told us something about when you were in Michigan racing, the last time you drove for him, and you just got out of the car, just decided that was going to be the end of it, is that right? You won the race, but he didn't know it because you had quit after that or something like that? No, I didn't quit. It was hot, it was terrible. And I just wanted to take a little breather. So I just didn't go up to the press box, you have to climb all the way to the top, and I didn't go up there right that minute, you know. I waited maybe 15 minutes and then went up there. I had just started driving for him then.
Oh, maybe that was it...Paul [Goldsmith] got out of the car and quit and you took over for him and you won the race and he didn't realize it was you? That was in Charlotte that Paul got out of the car and I drove for him. That's actually how I ended up getting the ride. Paul was going to retire. At Michigan, I think what you are referring to, they had hired me and Nichels didn't know nothing about it. And I won the race there, and I think Don White won one somewhere and Ramo won....all of his [Nichels] cars won that weekend. And he didn't even know I was driving. I guess Goldsmith didn't tell him he was retiring.
So when somebody would get tired or sick or whatever, they would just pull their car in and if you didn't have a ride that day you'd just sit in for them and drive the rest of the race for them? Yeah, if you blew up or something and were still there you would fill in for them.
So when it came time to pay, who got the money? Well, most of the time they'd just do it to help out. You know, what went around comes around.
And the owners didn't care that you guys were just swapping off like that? Well, usually all of them would go get a certain driver, somebody they'd want to put in the car. If there wasn't anybody they wanted to put in the car, they'd put in whoever was there.
Are you still active today, Charlie? Do you do any testing or anything for anybody? Nah, I haven't done any testing since 1995. I went to Daytona and tested for Childress, the car that Skinner was going to drive. Then he came back and set it on the pole. He wasn't even there.
When was the last time you saw 200 mph? Probably in '92 in Talladega when I ran an ARCA race and I was qualified in sixth place. In NASCAR it would probably be '67 when we qualified at 201 mph. They changed that [qualifying] the next year.
Do you miss that, those days of going fast? Well, I miss racing but I don't miss being gone all the time.
How did you decide today's the day I'm going to quit racing? I didn't. That's just the way it worked out.
It's not like you mentally made that note that you were going to quit that day? No, I never have retired.
Oh, you would still go out if you had the opportunity? If I had the right car, I would!
So if Ray Everham came up and said 'I got a car for you', you'd be there? Yeah, and I think I could do better than they do on a bigger track. I have more sense!
You've seen more than they have. Yeah.
The guy that won last weekend was 20 years old. Yeah. He's never been hurt.
They say once you hit the wall, especially if you get hurt, you're a little more cautious. Is that true? I guess. I never did get hurt.
Did you see that in other drivers? Yeah.
When they ran the restrictor plates, did that cause the cars to bunch up as bad as they do now? On superspeedways, it seems they all just run in one big pack. It seems as first they did. They ran that restrictor plate back, actually they started putting the plates on like in '71, I think, then they ran the rings before that. They didn't know that much about them back then, and everybody just kind of caught up now and that got them bunched up.
I've always had a theory that instead of doing the restrictor plate, why don't they just do other things to keep the cars from going that fast? The main thing would just be to make a narrower tire so they have to drive the asphalt track more like a dirt track and let the drivers be more in control. Well, I'm sure there's a lot more sensible ways they could do it.
Gear ratio? Well, I don't go for them telling you what gears to run. I mean, they're doing that now but I really don't care for that. I think racing is about how fast you can go and who is the best mechanic and the best driver. Now they take all of that away from you. The way it is right now, they take every bit of it away. All it is now is a show.
If you can design a car like Chrysler did with the Daytonas and Superbirds, that were much better than the Fords and Chevrolets....that's racing! That's right! That's the way it should be. The way it is now, Ford, Chevy, Dodge....they all look the same. The only way to tell is the emblem. You know, they could slow the cars down if they'd just go back to the way things used to be. Like the Dodge, if they didn't have a rear wheel drive, they'd run a front wheel drive. Run what they're supposed to be.
What would you have done if they held up your pit board and said, 'Let Pearson lead two laps'? It would have been tough! Well, they do that because they're team mates.
But you would have never done that back in the old days. No.
You were out there to win, period. Yep. You know, Pearson might have been my friend, but it didn't go no farther than that on the racetrack. I mean, everyone respected each other; now they don't.
What about the Hemi drivetrain? Well, they had the Hemi down where no other cars did have that. I drove the Hemi Ford, like the relief driver for, I think it was LeeRoy Yarbrough, in Atlanta, and I drove a Smokey Yunick car in Atlantic. Now that was an extremely different car, Smokey Yunick's car. It ran real well. Like the Hemi, you know, when they were testing like at Daytona, they tried running a 180° crank where it powered on two cylinders at one time. I never will forget that. Bill France came over there and he told the Chrysler guys, he said, 'Boys, you might as well take that motor out because you're not going to race it.' He knew just from the sound of it that it wasn't a regular Hemi. And it was a real strong motor too.
So in place of powering four times, it powered two pistons at a time? Yeah.
So did the Hemi make a big difference in racing? Well, I don't know. It probably did. In the early days, I didn't run a Hemi back when they first came out. Richard Petty and them did. They won about everything going because they were so much better than anything else. But I think in the later years, the rest of them kind of caught up with them when I was driving.
What were you driving before that, before you got into a Hemi? When I ran NASCAR, that's what I drove, a Hemi. Now I did run NASCAR for a year for Ford that one time. I think it was '62, I ran Daytona in a Pontiac and I think I finished 15th, the first time I'd raced there. Then I didn't race there no more until 1967, and it was a '65 Dodge that I drove.
I know I saw, I think, the other week on Smokey....it was really kind of interesting to hear from the mechanics point of view, you know, the guys who build the cars, and motors and drivetrains and stuff, you know, from their perspective on these cars. Who was your mechanic during your NASCAR years? Well, I drove for Cotton Owens, and then Goldsmith-Nichels, I drove for Junior Johnson, I drove for several different ones and they were all real good guys and they were all real smart.
Smokey seemed to be kind of unique. I drove for Smokey one race at Atlanta. I was between rides. I was supposed to go in this car and Goldsmith was supposed to quit and I don't know, there was a race or something in there that I didn't get to run, and Smokey asked me to drive his car. He wasn't racing that race and I ran in to Atlanta, then I left there and went to Daytona and tested one of these [Daytonas] and Ford pulled out after that race. That was the end of it. Course Smokey never did race for Ford and I was driving this one [#99].
Each one of the different engineering guys you've worked for, they had their own uniqueness to them that you liked? That's true. Junior [Johnson], he would try anything. He was constantly trying stuff and I really like that. And Cotton is a pretty good engineer himself.
Cotton made mostly Chrysler products. He did all Chrysler products. Even today. I think he's got his grandkids running four cylinder Chryslers now.
He already got into trouble with the racing organization for altering things that shouldn't be altered. Yeah.
I think I saw on Smokey, too, same thing. He would come up with something great and NASCAR would say, 'No, you can't do that.' But the rule book doesn't have anything in there saying we can't. Yeah. Like the time he was standing there and his car wouldn't pass inspection and he had the gas tank sitting out at Daytona. They'd had the gas tank out checking it. So he just threw it in the car and got in, started it and drove it back over to the shop. No gas tank in it! He had rollbars full of gasoline, I was told. That's a rumor!
Yeah! But I do know that he got in the car and drove it out of there without a gas tank.
How many of the tricks of the trade were you aware of, or how much of that did they tell you about? Well, they really didn't tell the drivers too much about what they did, as far as the cheating stuff went. Hoss Ellington did have that trick restrictor plate, I did know about that because I had to screw a rod into it to pull it back out. We had a rod laying down in the door and after he qualifies and is slowing up, he takes that rod and screws it back in there and pull it and it makes the holes open. Then finally someone told on him, that's the only way he got caught. No counting how much that cost GE. A guy that worked at GE built it down there in Wilmington.
Did they get fined when they cheated and got caught? Not then. They'd just take the part. If it was an illegal motor, they'd keep the motor. I think that restrictor plate deal is in the museum at Darlington now.
You know where they're selling a whole bunch of those [illegal Hemis] cheap, those old motors they confiscated? Cotton used to have a whole pile of those Hemi motors and he got rid of all of them. I was down there a while back and I think he said he had enough to build three. He used to have about seven or eight or ten of them sitting down there he wouldn't get rid of. I guess he decided to get rid of them.
You really enjoyed the years you were driving for Cotton Owens? Oh yeah. Cotton is kind of like family, you know, him and Dot.
How many drivers did he have on a team, just you? Yeah, David Pearson drove for him for several years and then they split their ways and then he hired me to to drive for him in '68.
You were driving for who before that? Frieken Enterprises. Bill Ellis. I just ran two races. I ran Daytona and Rockingham and I drove one more after another. Cotton came to Rockingham and he didn't have a driver. And he talked to me down there. So the next race was Richmond, Virginia, so I went to work for Cotton. I quit them. Went to Richmond and ran second in Cotton's car.
When you're talking about working for these guys, did you have a contract that said you made X amount of money for a year or was it a percentage of purses? A percentage was all you got back then. There wasn't no up-front money...you know, you had to do good or you didn't have any money.
Who paid meals, lodging and so forth? Me!
You ate what you killed, right? Yeah.
That's probably why the, you know, tempers and other things were a little different back then. Because that was meat off your table. Yeah. But like I said earlier, everybody respected each other, too, out on the track.
You weren't out to hurt anybody. No, not like they do now. I mean, you weren't out to spin somebody out. Now they do, you know. "Rattle your cage" or whatever Earnhardt called it.
Now that was another guy I can't stand. All he did was cut your corner off to pass; he couldn't pass any other way. Yeah, but he was a good guy. I liked Dale.
They always talk about the chrome horn. Did you guys use the chrome horn or was that something that was accepted? If somebody got hit or spun it was usually an accident, it wasn't nothing worse. I mean, you know, you might get mad and run up behind them down the straightaway and bump them or push them, but you'd turn them loose when you got to the corner.
You made a comment to a magazine one time, that when you were driving for Bill Ellis, that part of the reason why you left them so soon was because you were tired of the two-car operation. There wasn't enough time or money to actually have two cars in good condition. Right. I just ran two or three races for him. He had Grant, Jerry Grant driving the other car. Like I said, we went to Daytona and we blowed I don't know how many engines. He did too, blowed both of them. Then we went to Rockingham and started blowing them again. And I just couldn't handle that.
They just didn't have the money to really put into two cars? Well, Frieken Enterprises had the money but they just had a lot of problems trying to run two cars. I think if they'd had one car and run it....in the years past he'd ran one car and he'd done real good. The two-car team just wasn't my thing.
So when you ran for Nichels, were you it? Yeah, I mean as far as NASCAR. He had teams....USAC.
And that worked out better for you? Well, yeah. It didn't interfere with what I was doing. I know I got the best stuff. I got the best stuff down there and the other guys might not have. They got all they needed, what they needed to do.
Ronney Householder made sure of that. Yeah.
When you were driving the Charger 500 and Daytona, did any strange or unique things happen or whatever, like you said, you were talking about the bird hitting the windshield at 200 mph, anything else that would be interesting that maybe not everybody knows as common knowledge? Well, I broke a left front wheel at the Daytona race the year I ran Fords. The left front wheel broke coming through three and four. It started shaking and I was right there so I just dove into the pits and came in and just made a pit stop, actually, and they put tires and wheels on and I went back out. So I really didn't lose out, about a half, I did half of it. Probably people don't know that. But those wheels would break every once in a while or crack.
Where the rim.....:Yeah, it'd start shaking where the lugs go on. But it all worked out real good because I was right at three and four when it did it and I just dove into the pits. There wasn't a speed limit then.
Would you say that the older style Charger was one of your top ten favorite cars in driving? Well, the winged car was. As far as I'm concerned, it was one of the best cars I ever drove for a racecar.
Was it easy to handle? Right. We didn't have power steering back then and they were 4,000 pound racecars and now they're 3.500 pounds with power steering.
Basically, a lot of what you're talking about is that they were almost like a "stock car" other than the roll cages. The heavy duty hubs and stuff like that. They were basically the stock cars and they put the bars in them to reinforce them. The roll bars and stuff like that, they're framed back to basics.
So it's basically like what they'd give the race car guys, what they called a white body, where you'd get a unibody frame and a body to make the car off of? Yeah. And they'd put the bars in it and that was basically the frame of the car, was roll bars. Kind of like a bridge, you know. All the structure is above, well that's the way these cars were.
Same structure as a regular car on the outside but on the inside, the roll bars and stuff is what gave it it's strength. Right.
We talked to you earlier about the gauges, when you're running 180 mph, how fast is that engine cranking then in high gear? Well, we usually turn them around 7200 rpm.
And you had more that you could use if you needed it? Well, no, 72; that was enough. Sometimes now, at Charlotte, I won that race in Cotton's car and then we could run two 4 bbls. And it had two 4 bbls on it. Then right after that, the next year they made it so you could run one 4 bbl. It was turning 7500 and Cotton said, "We'd better change that gear. It's going to blow up." And I said, "Nah, it won't blow up. If it's going to blow up at 75 [7500 rpm], it's going to blow up at 72. If it's good, it ain't going to blow up" So we went out and won the race with it and turned 7500. So they kind of, after that, didn't worry about it too much.
So when they were building the engines, did they do anything other than the normal balancing and blueprinting? Did they do anything for lubricants, anything special that you know of? I don't really know about that.
Also the interiors of the cars back then, it wasn't into comfort or anything else for the drivers. They were very, very basic, simple seating. Hot! It was hot.
So it was a very exhausting experience to go like 500 miles, even at Daytona? It was hot, yeah.
What did you do to cool down? Poured water on you when you come in for a pit stop. You had a thermos bottle behind the seat that had ice in it, you'd fill it with ice and no water. And it would melt and and you'd just let it run out in front of you and it would kind of cool you off. Then when you'd come into the pits, they'd turn a hose on you and they'd just spray you with water.
So were very much of the in-racing accidents attributed to just flat-out driver fatigue? Well, you know, I don't really know about that. I'd say it might have contributed to that.
So it wasn't that much of a deal that you know of? No. Most everybody was real fit. They have a lot of jockey strap cars nowadays.
It's like the guys working out there in the fields today. They have air conditioned tractors and stuff....it's not like it was when I was out there. Yeah, they're not as tough as the older bunch, as far as heat and stuff like that goes.
You guys raced like all those guys that used to have the cars years ago. We didn't care what the car was worth, we just liked the car. We just liked racing and maybe make a living on top of that. We weren't trying to be a millionaire. Trying to get by and have fun. That's exactly right, that's the way it was. You raced because you liked to, not for the money. That's what it basically started out to be.
When did you see it really start to change over? Did you really kind of notice it or it just kind of snuck in? Well, I think it started changing, really, in about the '80s.
So still all up through the '70s it was still kind of old school. It might have been starting to change in the '70s, but not that much. It's like car sponsorship goes, I think probably Nichels was the first one to really have a sponsor, with Dow Corning. And then after that, they started getting other sponsors. But through the years, the motor companies were the ones who really put the money out on the cars.
Richard got STP and the sponsorship money started coming in. Yeah, that's right. Now it's big.
What kind of money would, like Dow, have put into Nichels' cars back then? I don't have any idea. I think Cotton said it cost like $150,000 to race back then for a year in 1968.
That wouldn't even buy an engine now! That was a lot of money. That was big money back then. Yeah, everything just escalated. And it's going to keep going.
Someone showed Charlie a stack of old race photos and he reminisced about them: Oh, that's Arrington. Buddy Arrington. He was an independent. And that's old...I can't remember his name. Jabe Thomas. I drove his car one night at Merryville, Tennessee on a short track down there and it blowed up. And that's Soapy [Neil] Castles. I think he run every race he could run....they always had a consolation race and he'd always run that. He wouldn't want to make the other races. He could win that. But he'd make more money doing that then he would, you know, qualifying. That's Jimmy Vandiver. He had a good looking sister! I don't know who that is? [The name on the back is Bill Shirley]. I don't know him. Don't remember him. That's Iggy Katona there. He was a big hunter. Hmmm, don't think I know this one. [That's Joe Ford. He was a USAC driver.] Oh, he got killed. He got killed at Daytona here five years ago probably, in a little dash car. He lived in Lafayette [Indiana]; he was a farmer. That one's Les Snow, wasn't it? Yeah, he was from Bloomington, Illinois. He was a hard one....I remember him turning over at Daytona and sliding down the back stretch on his roof. And I can think of his name.....[Frank Warren]....Yeah. I saw him down at Daytona two or three years ago. That one's Ramo. He hasn't changed much. That's Bobby Watson! He's from Louisville....I couldn't recognize him. That was Ranier's car out of Kentucky, they were coal mining people. [Was he the same guy--that Harry Ranier that owned Cale's cars?] Yeah, it was his daddy actually. He died down there in a motel room with several....three or four....women. He had a heart attack. [Yep, that can happen!] That guy's from California....I can't think of his name. [Ray Elder.] Ray Elder, yeah. That one is Doc [Don] Tarr. He used to give me my physicals for my pilot's license. He'd send them in the mail. [So he didn't really see you, huh?] No, but I'd see him at the racetrack!
This begins the recording made from Charlie's informal question and answer session in our hotel meeting room on Saturday night:
Now I've heard this story many times, that in races where the winged car was rear-ended and the wing came off and went into the crowd and they put a cable in it. Where and who and what was that? I don't know.
After Buddy Arrington wrecked. In a test, they buckled the quarter panels down and they didn't have the pipe in there, the brace in there. They did that out testing and then they had to start running that because it just buckled the quarter panels down.
Was that just from the downforce? Yeah.
And that was before they ran the tubes down [in the trunk]? What kind of downforce are we talking about here? I have no idea.
700 pounds. Yeah, that's why they did that. They put reinforcement braces in there because the quarter panels just folded down. As far as the cable, I don't remember anything about that. I didn't really work on them too much, but I was there watching a lot.
What kind of gear ratio did they run at the race tracks, did they run like a 3.55? They ran like, say at Daytona, maybe a 300, and Talladega, in that area. You know, you might run different gears basically but either a little higher or a little lower than that.
Did you guys always run an 8-3/4? Did you ever run a Dana under any of those old cars? No. I think they were always a Chrysler rearend with the third member, you know, because, so we could change them quick.
What was the biggest 'rules stretch' you were involved in? I don't really know, because that wasn't my department! All I did was drove!
What about the tires? What was your rubber compound compared to today's racing? Probably, basically, they run the same compound but of course now they run steel radials. We ran bias ply back then and they were a whole lot narrower than they're running now.
Did they make them for you special, with a special compound, like Goodyear does now, they supply the tires? They supplied the tires. Well, we had Firestone too. You know, some of the guys ran Firestones and some of them ran Goodyears, which I ran Goodyear most of the time. But a couple times we switched.
What was the most fun track you ever raced at? Well, when the car was running good and you could run out front, they were all fun! But you know, I like the bigger tracks. I like Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte, and I really like Atlantic too. Darlington....that was kind of strenuous running. You were always right on the edge there, running right up against the wall.
What about Smokey Mountain? Smokey Mountain? Was that down there at Merryville?
Merryville. Yep, I ran there in Jake Collins' car one night and that was a real good track but they ended up closed. It didn't run long. That's about the only time I think I ran there. Don Neiman was running that track at that time.
Where did that flywheel come apart at? Uh, North Wilkesboro. A little one hit me, a little slag. The flywheel came out of Cotton's car, it exploded. It went up and tore the dash out and the windshield and luckily, you know, it didn't get me more than just a little piece of metal in my leg. And the week before that, the oil filter blowed off of it at Martinsville so it got wrecked two weeks in a row.
So you didn't actually wrench on the cars after you started driving for other people? Very seldom. You know, I might do something at the race track. Now when I was running the K&K car for Harry Hyde, I did a little bit on it at the race track, because I usually hauled it to the race track for him. That was the deal. That's how I got to drive! That was a '65 Dodge. Bobby Isaac ran a '67 Charger, and I had an old '65 Dodge, which was probably a better car than the one he ran. I think it was "cheated up" a little more--they told me! NASCAR didn't have no templates for it because they had thrown them away.
Tell them what you told me about your yearly salary. My yearly salary? Well, that's the reason I eat a lot of bologna! Well, back then there was no contracts, it was just whatever. You got a percentage of what you made, so if you didn't make nothing, you didn't get nothing!
But they didn't dock you for broken equipment, right? No.
What's the best owner you ever drove for? It would be hard to pick one out, you know, because I drove for all of them, really, that were good owners. The only one that probably....well, he was a good owner, but he'd get drunk every night. Hoss Ellington. He loved to drink. And Cotton, Junior, and of course Nichels and Goldsmith....they were all A-1 people.
When and where did you get your start at? Jeffersonville Sportsdrome in Jeffersonville, Indiana. It's about three or four miles from Louisville.
So you've lived in that area all of your life? Yes, I grew up in Edwardsville, Indiana.
Were you driving for yourself then? Yeah. I started out with my own cars. I started out there at the Sportsdrome and I had a 1950 Plymouth. And the way they did it, they had an 'A' and a 'B' class, and I started out as a 'B' and if you won three races, well then they'd put you in the 'A', which they were all real good cars. I had this little six cylinder Plymouth and I won three pretty quick, and then I had to start running against the V8s and stuff that year. So then the next year I got me a '57 Plymouth Fury, it was wrecked. I fixed it and run it.
Who was the first team owner that actually came along and gave you a car? Well, Melvin Black from there actually gave me a ride at Milwaukee and some of the bigger tracks and then, I think it was in 1961, he went and got a new Pontiac and we ran it in Daytona in 1962. And I actually built the whole car there in his shop. He got the parts and stuff from Ray Nichels, they were with Pontiac then. But we ended up running fifteenth at Daytona the first time. Then I had my own car and ran ARCA some and then Harry Hyde made me a deal. If I take the second car to Daytona in 1967 and help them, he said he'd get Nord Krauskopf, of K & K Insurance, he said, "I'll see if I can get him to let you drive it." And he did. I didn't get to finish because the fuel pump went out. But I ran it at Darlington and Atlanta, and I think Charlotte, but anyway, every time I ran it I finished fourth.
And what car was that? It was that '65 Dodge. That was the first time I'd run Darlington and I finished fourth but I wore the side of it out [rubbing on the wall].
Tell them the story you told me about how NASCAR treats you when you're from a different area rather than from the south. Well, when you're a Yankee, you know, you ain't supposed to be down there....back then. It's all changed now. But when I was racing down there, I think they held it against you a little. Because, you know, the southern guys could get by with something and the same thing I couldn't get by with, you know, like running over the air hose or running over the jack when they don't get it out quick enough. But all of that changed in later years.
Now Bobby Hamilton was a northern boy wasn't he? Well, he was from Nashville, Tennessee. He was on the right side of the line.
To add a little bit to what Charlie said, though, I went to a race in 1971, the Firecracker 400 and I had hair about down to here and we'd go into restaurants and we'd absolutely sit there until everybody else was served. And then they'd wait on us, but we'd always be last. And at the race that year, Wellborn was the Grand Marshall, and one of the things he said was, "We don't need any volunteer hippies." It was rude; we weren't really hippies. We were just long-haired farm boys. And we were very out of place, like Charlie was saying, they knew if you weren't from that area and you weren't welcome. But, you know, the people like in Virginia and North Carolina, they treated me just like they'd known me all their lives. but it seemed like NASCAR, they just kind of rejected me because I was from the north. Well, they did Paul Goldsmith the same way. He raced for NASCAR for a year before I did and they did him the same way. They'd black flag him for something that somebody else did and got by with it, you know. When I started to drive for Cotton, they all tried to get me to move down south, which you know, I wanted to stay where I lived because it was home. And I probably should have, but you know, that's just the way it goes. I've always done what I wanted to do, even though it maybe wasn't the best thing.
How did they come up with a car for Dow in that purple color? Was that color available at that time? Yeah, it really was. It was Plum Crazy color, which I think Dodge had that color. It wasn't my choice. It was Nichels and Goldsmith's choice to do that, which I really liked the car that color.
There's a big superstition in IMCA about green cars. You don't see green IMCA cars, the guys won't drive green cars. Well, you know. nobody did years ago! It's like eating peanuts at the race track--it's back luck.
Eating peanuts at the race track? Yeah, somebody--I don't know who it was down south--somebody was eating peanuts and they had the shells in their car---now this is what I heard, I don't know--but anyway, they got killed. So nobody would eat peanuts at the race track.
Well, Cotton told us last year I guess, that he was eating peanuts when he was running back in the modified days and throwing them out the side window, right before the race and they were landing on this guy's running boards. And the guy was so upset he said, "I can't believe you've done this to me." And he left the race and Cotton said for a long time after that, if he saw Cotton in the pits, he packed up and left and didn't race that day! But he thought there was a curse on his vehicle just because they were on his running boards!
Were you superstitious about anything? I didn't like green cars. But there were a lot of superstitions. I don't remember them all, but I do remember that.
Green cars is an odd one. Well, I'll tell you, you know, a lot of green cars wreck. And I was running a figure eight and I had a green '55 Ford that I had fixed up and I ran at the Jeffersonville Sportsdrome. Well, the first night I run it, I got hit in the intersection, turned it over and I mean, it just ruined the car. So I didn't have no more green cars after that.
Talking about those figure eight races....what kept you guys from getting killed? When you went into the intersection, who had the right of way? Just whoever was brave enough not to stop! First one I ever raced there after they built the big race track, I had a '40 Buick Roadmaster and I won the very first one that they ever had there. But you couldn't hurt that thing. It was a tank.
How much money did you win for something like that? Oh, probably fifty bucks.
How did the claim for your car go? Somebody claimed your car, right? That was a '55 Ford. It got claimed that night too, and one of the officials that I knew real well, I told him--because it was a fast car and that's the first night I got to even race the thing--and I said, now if that thing gets claimed, you let me know. So he's still standing over the fence and he goes like this. And I seen him. And he said, "They've claimed it." So then I got hit in the intersection once and I just kept running it. And the radiator was busted in it then. And then I got hit again and that's when it got turned over and I sat there upside-down and I just held it wide open and it blowed up! And the guy that bought it was a cop over in Louisville, and they said he was actually crying because, you know, it wasn't much money for a claim car but he lost it all! He ended up with a pile of scrap.
What was the reason behind claiming a car like that? So you wouldn't put too much money in it.
Okay, so it really kept the expenses down? Yeah.
I can't believe that figure eight racing.... Well, it's not bad. You just gotta time it right. It's no different than going out here and running, you know, through town. You gotta time it right or you're going to get hit!
Yeah, but what if you got two Charlie Glotzbach's coming in at the same time--neither of them wants to give?! Okay, we ran into the same situation when we were coming out the track today.
Yeah, but the other guy let you go!
How fast were you going through the intersection in figure eight racing? Oh, I really don't know how fast we were running through there, probably 70 miles per hour or something like that.
You told a story the other night about somebody getting checked in tech and they had to take their gas tank off but they went ahead and drove the car home. That was Smokey Yunick at Daytona in that Chevelle. Yeah, he knew the car wasn't going to pass, so he just threw the gas tank in the trunk and took off because he wasn't but five miles from the race track. They were shocked when he jumped in it and drove it out with no gas tank!
What's you thoughts on the old stock cars and the current stock cars? They're basically....they haven't really changed that much other than now they've got power steering and they're a lot smarter about them. I mean, they're a lot safer, the cars are a lot safer today. They're not as heavy so they don't hit as hard, you know. They were 4,000 pounds, those old cars. And now they're 3,500 pounds and they're easier to drive now, I mean, back then there wasn't no power steering, the tires were a lot narrower and they'd sit a lot higher. Now they've got all the aerodynamic deals to hold them down and they stick. I think they've got more downforce. Now the winged Dodges and Plymouths, they had a lot of downforce. That's the reason they were so good.
At what speed does that downforce really kick in? Oh, it worked on the short tracks, really. That's the reason they had the spoiler underneath the front. Anywhere where you were running a hundred miles an hour or so, it worked. It has an effect on it. Not like it does at Charlotte or Daytona or somewhere like that but it had an effect anywhere.
Did the winged cars feel real stable when you were driving them at those speeds? One hand!
Even going into the corners? Yeah, they were real stable cars. I mean, Larry Rathgeb told me, he said, "If it gets loose, just turn loose of the steering wheel and it will straighten out." I go, "You're CRAZY!" You know, I ain't turning loose of the steering wheel! Then at Talladega, we were testing and it did get a little loose and so I just turned loose of it. It just straightened right up! They were different, they were a lot different. They were real stable feeling where the old Chargers weren't. They were really loose.
Got any idea what speed you were going when that happened? Probably two hundred miles per hour. Because down there we were running two-twenty-three down the back straightaway.
On the big tracks, did you ever have anything in the back corner to raise it up or lower it down back there? Not in the back. We could adjust the front torsion bar through the floor board, we had a ratchet deal until NASCAR made them quit, take it out. But yeah, you could lower the left front down or raise it; put a wedge in or take it out is what it amounted to. See, they wouldn't allow nothing on the back. Of course, Chrysler had leaf springs anyway, but they wouldn't allow any adjustments on the back. Well, really they wouldn't allow it on the front while you were running, but they did it for a while.
Did you do that yourself while you were pitting or did somebody reach in and actually do that? No, you had a ratchet and it would stay there and you just had to change it, you know, up or down.
Did you do that while you were driving? Yeah, on the bigger tracks.
Was that a real adjustment when you quit driving the winged cars, was it a real adjustment to go back to just a normal stock car? Well, they didn't drive as good, that's for sure. But like I said, the last time I really ran any of those cars was 1995; they came a long ways with the cars nowadays as far as aerodynamics.
Do you think these cars you're talking about in later years were better aerodynamically than the winged cars? No. No, the engineering on them, like power steering and a lot of that little stuff, just made them better. But you could put all that stuff in a winged car and really have a fast race car today. Faster than what they've got, I imagine.
What was the fastest speed you ever saw in a winged car? Two-forty-three at Chrysler in Chelsea, the proving grounds up there.
And was that when George [Wallace] was sitting in there holding on to the roll bar? I don't remember whether he ran, uh, I don't think he was in there then. Most of the time he did this stuff at Talladega, Daytona or Atlanta. He may have did it up there. I just don't remember. That's been too long ago. That was a Dodge.
Can you elaborate on what I just asked you about George. A lot of these people wouldn't know who George is and what he was doing at that time. Well, George was a Chrysler engineer at that time. And he was George Wallace, which he wasn't the governor of Alabama, but everybody thought he was sometimes! But, he was a genius, and you know, they had gauges mounted under the dash there which I couldn't really read because I was busy driving. But, he'd sit on the floor board on the right hand side of the car, and they got the Petty Bar, they called it, and he'd wrap his arm around it and hold onto it and go out there and, you know, you could just be messing with him and run up close to the wall and he wouldn't even blink an eye. He was a unique person. I sure wouldn't want to ride in there with me driving!
Was there ever a time, due to track conditions or tires or the fact that they finally got too big of an engine in too aerodynamics of a car, that you actually, say in qualifying, that you actually felt scared for your safety? Well, they never did get too big an engine. You never had enough horsepower.
Well, what I'm saying is I've heard some guys say that in the early '60s you built a Hemi and you stick it in one of those shoeboxes, before they were making the cars more aerodynamic, that in some tracks you'd hit a small bump and you'd feel like you were going to go someplace that you shouldn't go? Well, at Daytona every lap coming through four and you'd hit a bump there, it would get loose. It would spin the wheels a lot of times going across it with the older cars. The winged cars didn't do it, but the older cars would do it. But no, I never did get scared because I like to go fast!
How did you and Baker end up working for Chrysler engineering and any idea how the selection was made as to who drove when? Like if you qualified at Talladega and he did a 200 mph transmission test? Well, it was all Larry Rathgeb's decision and Larry told me he wanted me at every test because, he said, "You can tell me what I need to know," because I've messed with mechanics all my life before, you know, building my own cars and whatever, and he usually had Bobby Allison, which Bobby was pretty smart when it came to that stuff, but he would divide it up amongst the other drivers. So they wouldn't get mad, really, is what it amounted to! And that's all I know about it really. I mean, Buddy didn't go to every test. But I did. And when it came time to qualify that car at Talladega, I had a choice between #99 and #88 [Daytonas] and I'd ran the #99 car, which that belonged to Goldsmith and Nichels, which they were factory people that built all the cars. They built ever Dodge that was built and then they would distribute them out to the other guys. But I had the choice there to run either car and the #88 was so much faster and really, Larry Rathgeb wanted me to qualify the car because it was faster but Ronney Householder didn't want it on the race track is what it amounted to. So he [Rathgeb] about got fired over us qualifying it down there. If we hadn't gotten the pole, he probably would have gotten fired!
Why didn't Ronney want the car on the track? I guess maybe something to do with the liability part of it, is all I know.
But it was actually faster than the #99? Yeah, it was a little bit faster.
Do you know why? Probably the way the body was put on it, I would say. You know, the aerodynamics of it. You can have two identical cars and one's going to be faster because maybe it's got a little curve here or there that the other one don't have and it helps it aerodynamically. Probably the motors were basically the same horsepower on the dyno, you know. Of course, that doesn't always mean anything either, because on a dyno you can make a motor read about whatever you want to.
Did you drive both the winged cars, other than just the Dodge? Yeah, when we were testing a couple of times they would bring them both, and I drove them both. But I don't think they really put that much effort into the Plymouths. They put more of it into the Dodge.
When you and Buddy or you and Bobby were out testing tires and whatnot, did you ever get together with them, you know, you and Buddy or whoever and compare notes and talk amongst yourselves? Well, you know, normally we were not together when we were testing tires because they would take one person--and most of the time when we were testing tires, it was whoever you were driving for at the time, they would use that car to test tires. And they wouldn't have two cars there testing, normally.
Other than at Chelsea, where did you do most of the testing? Well, we did it at Talladega, Daytona, Atlanta, Charlotte....I don't remember running at Jackson when we tested stuff. I don't think we did. Mostly down south at the tracks, because they kept that #88 car over there at Huntsville, Alabama, there at the Space Center. They had a shop over there. They usually took it south, and really, we tested quite a bit at Talladega.
So you were out there testing these tires that had a compound that they really didn't know about, you were testing them to see if they were any good. It never bothered you that, you know, you could be driving 200 mph and one of those tires might just let loose? Well, that stands true anywhere, anytime. I mean, the deal at Talladega had a lot to do with the surface of the track, what tore them up. But Daytona was a little slicker race track and they could run the same tire at Daytona and it was okay. But, then you'd come to Talladega and it would tear it up. But one time we were at Talladega testing and it was sleeting. It started sleeting so we left there and went to Daytona and finished that test.
Who did you like driving for the best? Well, I liked driving for Nichels and I liked driving for Junior and I liked driving for Cotton. I mean, they were all...... well, Junior was more creative than any of them when it came to doing things he probably shouldn't have.
Was Nichels pretty much to the book? Well, no. I think they probably done some pretty good cheating, or getting competitive or whatever. You know, when I drove for Junior I was probably around the car more than when I was up at Nichels. But they all stretched the rules.
In Florida, did you ever have any trouble with those little black bugs when you were running on the track? With what?
Those little black bugs, you know, that are in Florida...stopping up like the engine or whatever? No, not that I remember. They'd get on the windshield. Love bugs, ain't that what they called them?!
Do we want to know why they call them that? I have no idea!
Did you ever have any dealings with Bob McCurry, the Charger guy? Well, I knew him and that was about it.
He never came to see you down there when you were testing? No. They never did.
Towards the end of the winged cars on the track, Larry told us that his wife had wanted one and he told her, he said, "Oh no, you don't want one of them. They'll all be trashed." What was your feeling? Did you have any idea what might happen with the winged cars? Well, not really. They were just a race car to me and that's all it really amounted to. It didn't matter one way or the other at the time, but you know, they were a good race car and I did like them for that reason and I would have never thought that they would have gotten as popular as they have or I would have probably had one.
Were you involved with testing the Charger 500? Uh, not really. No. Just the winged cars mostly is all I tested. I did a lot of tire testing with them, but not for Chrysler.
So what did you think the afternoon that [Wayne] Perkins pulled up at your house with the #99 car [referring to a visit we made to Charlie's house several years back on our way to one of the meets]? Well, you know, I hadn't seen one for a long time and I forgot what they looked like! I couldn't believe, really, that somebody built one like that. But he still needs to lower the front end! Maybe he could put an air suspension on it so he could switch it real quick.
When you were out there testing with Chrysler, who was there from Chrysler? Was it always just Larry? Larry [Rathgeb] and Larry Knowlton and George Wallace. And Bob McDaniels was there some.
And they'd write all this stuff down each time you came in? Oh yeah. They kept a record of every lap and everything. If they changed the radiator cap, they would keep that in their books. And they had a lot of instruments in their car back then, that nobody else probably ever thought about having. Like they could check the shock travel while the car was running. They could sit in their motor home over there and read it from there on that stuff. And I think we tried the first radios at Talladega that was ever tried because they wouldn't work on the back straightaway. They could call you on the front straightaway where they were at, where you could talk to them, but they wouldn't work once you got around there, but they solved all that too, now. They used a lot of stuff from NASA on that car. You know, like the floorboard--the insulation they came up with from them. Just a lot of little things that helped racing, really.
What could they have done to the cars to make them more comfortable for you to drive, other than, you know, power steering and that kind of stuff? Air conditioning!
A race car with A/C....that's good! You also fly, right? Are you a pilot? I used to. I haven't flown for a long time.
I've noticed a trend among NASCAR drivers. A lot of them do like to fly. Is that because you don't like the idea of driving in regular traffic with the rest of us who don't know how to drive?! No. It was a necessity.
Getting around? Yeah, because, you know, you might have to be at Daytona testing on Monday and Tuesday and then you had to go back to Charlotte or somewhere and get ready for the races. We used to have to be there like on Tuesday, at the race track.
So you flew yourself a lot to those tracks and those races? Oh yeah. Oh yeah, I flew to all of them.
I know David Pearson, for instance, had his own plane and he used to fly to a lot of tracks as well. Yeah. We used to fly into Bristol [Tennessee] and land on the dragstrip.
Did you ever race up there? Bristol?
No, no. Up there [in the sky]. Oh, no!
Charlie, did you ever have anything to do with the Ford Talladega? Uh, no, not really. You know, I drove a few of them here and there, like relief, it was a Mercury Cyclone. But at Atlanta I drove relief for LeeRoy Yarbrough. He got sick one day and I was out of the race and they came and got me and I drove it. And then I drove Smokey's [Yunick] car at Atlantic one time when I was in-between rides there. Well, I was going to drive for Goldsmith, he was retiring and I was still testing for Chrysler and Smokey wanted me to drive his car at Atlantic. That was the last race Ford ran. They pulled out then. But that's about all I ever had to do with driving them.
Could you tell a difference in the aerodynamics between them and the winged cars? Oh yeah. There was a big difference. There wasn't nothing back then that compared to the winged cars. I mean, even the Fords and Mercurys, they were fast, but they were loose also. The winged car--all four wheels pretty much had equal weight on them.
Who would you say was your tougher competitors? Was there anybody that you can remember that you didn't like to see coming up behind you that would zoom by you? Well, you know, there were a lot of good competitors....Pearson and Petty....I mean, there were probably seven or eight cars at that time that were really competitive cars and a lot of the rest of them were just there. To fill in the field, basically. No, I never really worried about them. They were all, everybody respected each other back then. It was not like it is today. They don't have any respect for each other today, or for equipment.
Could you give the Dodge boys now any tips on what to do, because I think they need some help. I think they need to get some drivers! I think they got good race cars, but it seems like some of them maybe are getting tired, or something, towards the end of it and hit the wall. I mean, it just seems like they lose the concentration. And you know, if you get tired, that happens.
Does it ever bother you now, knowing that you had all that asbestos and all of those materials in the car that now everybody claims are so dangerous for you? No, not really. I think it's all a bunch of bull. I used to have bulldozers and I wrecked a lot of houses that had asbestos. I mean, I may die tomorrow, but I'm still here!
Why do you think Chrysler picked you to do all the testing for them? Well because, like I said earlier, I could kind of tell them what the car was doing and that's what they needed to know so they could maybe correct the problem.
Were you ever involved in finding out about any part that was actually defective or had a real problem, like a front end part or a steering part or something? Yeah, I found out that the lower control arms weren't strong enough at Talladega because I broke one. I was down there going into number one. It didn't wreck the car. It broke and it just kind of fell down and I came on around and it was the lower control arm that broke.
So that was a problem that they had to look at and fix for the rest of the cars? Right.
Was it a defective part? Well, it wasn't defective. It just wasn't strong enough for Talladega. Talladega was a little rough the first time we ran there.
What did they do to the track to improve it? Well, I think they repaved it....later. Not then, but a little later they repaved it. Or maybe they ground it down. They smoothed it up.
What did you think of the restrictor plate? Well, I ran the very first one, I think, that was ever run. And I won the race at Michigan with one. But I think it's really, now it's made the cars really too close. It's nerve wrecking because I ran a restrictor plate at Talladega in '92, I guess. I drove Dunlevy's car in a Winston Cup race then and everybody was right there in a bunch and that's the reason they always have the big wrecks. Somebody, as I said, they get tired and then they mess up. I ran them in ARCA. I ran some ARCA races back then too, and ran a restrictor plate. But they're not that equal. Those cars are not that equal when they get spread out. The other ones are too equal.
Do you think today's drivers could handle racing in the winged car era? I don't think so. Some of them should have been jockeys! You know, we didn't have power steering and you know, these cars nowadays, you can drive them with one hand. I don't think some of them are necessarily strong enough to manhandle them, but that's what you had to do.
What do you know about burying engine blocks and stuff in the ground to cure them out better; did you ever get into anything like that? I don't really know. I heard of putting them out and letting them get rusty. I did hear that, that cured the blocks a little bit. They'd take them and leave them lay out for a year in the weather and everything. But I never did hear nothing about them burying them.
Did you ever have one of those engines, that you could ever tell the difference, a 426 Hemi or whatever, that had been left out and then run in a race car? Well, every one of them ran a little different. But as far as curing the blocks out or something like that, I don't really know about that. But you could build two engines exactly alike and one is going to be better than the other one, always.
Did you ever hear of using dry ice for anything? That was illegal!! [laughter] They would put dry ice on the intake to cool them down when they qualified a lot of times.
I know Harry Hyde used to occasionally have an engine for qualifying and after a car qualified well, he'd yank it out and put in a race engine for the race. Everybody did that.
Okay, so that was a common practice? Yeah, that was just a thing that they did. And they did that up until, what, last year or the year before, they stopped it.
I'm assuming that the independents, for instance, probably couldn't have afforded to do that? Well, most of the time the factory can't help the independents, you know. And they probably, I don't really remember, but I think they changed them too. They had a qualifying engine then a new one as far as I can remember.
So it was actually legal to qualify with one engine and run the race with a different one? Yeah, back then it was. They just changed that, like I said, a couple years ago, and now you have to run the same engine you qualify with.
And did those two engines have to be alike, or could they be anything? As long as they were 426 back then or whatever, you know, they checked them. They'd pump them to make sure they were what they were supposed to be and then they'd seal them up.
So when you went to tech inspection with a car before running the race, before qualifying, what kind of things did they check? Well, basically they'd check the height, it wasn't near as much as they do now, they'd check the spoiler. Like on the winged cars, they'd check the degrees to see just what you were running, which they didn't have a rule on, but they'd always check them and see for some reason. And they had some templates and stuff they'd put on them back then, but nothing like they've got now. They've got gobs of them now.
I was just wondering if you still keep in contact with any of the drivers you raced against? Not really. I run into them here and there. I used to go to the, they had a record club, a "76 record" club at Darlington which I was in and I'd usually run into al of them down there, the ones that were in the record club. But unfortunately when 76 lost the deal or quit the deal, they done away with the record club so I haven't been down there. I see Junior Johnson. I go down there once in a while when I'm going to Charlotte or something. But I usually don't see too many. I stop and see Cotton [Owens] , he's on the way. The only way I see them is if I just run into them somewhere.
***************At this point in the evening, Charlie wanted to return to his room and watch the end of the NASCAR race! Once a racer....always a racer!
Above left to right: Charlie's first ride--a soapbox derby! Charlie's second racecar. Charlie, proud owner of bulldozers and trucks.
Above left to right: Charlie wins again. 1966 Charger racecar--Charlie says he drove this car but never on asphalt. Charlie drove this #6 1969 Hemi Charger owned by Cotton Owens
Above left to right: This is the car Charlie is most famous for driving: the #99 Nichels Engineering Hemi Daytona. Last photo shows Charlie and Bobby Isaac talking while the Daytona gets some attention.
Below left to right: Charlie in the Nichels Engineering #99 Daytona competing against Buddy Baker in Cotton Owens #6 Daytona. Last photo shows Charlie standing with the Daytona in front of Nichels Engineering on Main Street in Griffith, Indiana.
Below left to right: Charlie relaxes with Wayne Perkins' Hemi Daytona at Rich and Judy Bolzenius's home while giving an informal interview. Charlie enjoyed bsing with the club members. Here Charlie is signing an autograph sheet for a young fan. Steve Lehto, who brought his hot-off-the-press Turbine car books to sell and an internal turbine part to display, and Charlie sit under the tent at the racetrack. Sue and Charlie pose with Wayne's Daytona. Wayne and Charlie pose with the Daytona.
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