Junior tried every way he could to get more speed out of the car but to no avail. He thought about pulling out of the race but his team owner, Ray Fox, asked him to stay. Fox said he’d work on the car to get more power.
Junior went back on the track and decided to follow one of the faster cars. To his surprise, he discovered that he could keep up, unlike earlier.
Junior had uncovered the secret of the draft.
Junior’s contributions to motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.
I can understand why we saw all of that two-car drafting in this year’s Daytona 500.
With the way the cars are configured today one car can easily latch on to the rear bumper of another, which creates the draft. But when there’s a third car it just doesn’t work.
The third car gets the wind off the first two cars but the wind can’t stay over the third car. It just comes down on the windshield. That creates so much drag the third car can’t stay in there.
So two cars work better than three – and we saw plenty of evidence of that in the Daytona 500.
The draft has been a big part of racing at Daytona almost from the start.
The first Daytona 500 was held in 1959 and everybody thought it was all about horsepower at that big place. Nobody wanted to follow anyone else. They wouldn’t stay behind anybody.
They never really hooked up. They’d always pull out and try to pass. That’s the main reason no one had any idea about the draft in that first race.
But it was different in the second race in 1960. And I had a lot to do with that.
At the start of the season I didn’t have a ride since Paul Spaulding, my team owner in 1959, had gotten out of racing.
Then I got a call from Ray Fox, a car builder and crew chief in Daytona Beach, Fla. He had gotten what was a spur-of-the-moment sponsorship deal from a guy named John Masoni, who owned the dog track in Daytona.
Ray asked me if I would drive his Chevrolet. I’ve always liked him so I told him I’d come down and see what we could do.
At that time Pontiac had the fastest cars and several good drivers, among them Fireball Roberts and Paul Goldsmith. Since Ray had a Chevrolet, I knew we were going to have our hands full.
That might be an understatement. We were 30 miles per hour slower than the Pontiacs.
I was ready to come home. I didn’t want to stay down there and watch the Pontiacs lap me every 10 or 11 laps.
Ray asked me to stay. He made some adjustments to that Chevrolet and I went back on the track. This time I decided to run along with Pontiac. Maybe I could learn something.
Cotton Owens came by and I got behind him; I got right on his rear bumper. I thought he might pull away, but to my surprise, I stayed right there.
When we got off the track Cotton told me that I really had that Chevrolet hummin’. What he didn’t know was that I had discovered the draft – quite by accident, I might add.
Just to be certain, I went back on the track and, sure enough, the car was very slow. I came to pit road and waited for some Pontiacs to come by. I got in with them when I took to the track and I stayed with them.
I knew then that what was happening. We were creating a slipstream type of thing in which a slower car could keep up with a faster one.
I started ninth in the Daytona 500 and once the race started I got to the Pontiacs ahead of me as fast as I could. I stayed with them and did everything they did. When they pitted, I pitted.
In the closing laps of the race Bobby Johns had the only competitive Pontiac. The others had experienced various problems.
Bobby was getting a push from Jack Smith’s Pontiac – Jack was down and had no chance to win – and got around me. But then, with 10 laps to go, something happened that I had never seen before.
The back glass popped out of Bobby’s car and flew into the air. With the speed and traffic situation I reckon we had created a vacuum that sucked that glass right out.
The change in the airflow around Bobby’s car caused him to spin into the grass along the backstretch. By the time he got himself back on the track I was long gone.
I won the race by a good distance over Bobby. And I know for a fact I never would have if I hadn’t figured out the draft.
And, as you know, the draft has been a part of Daytona ever since.