Meanwhile, Ford people stood around the speedway in company blazers and winning smiles and took the news levelly. It was the look of a company whose engines currently fit into all the patterns cut by NASCAR. John Holman, who is round and tough, and rich from assembling racing cars for Ford, said, "All competitors are racing under the same rules. Ford engineers have put as much horsepower into our engines as you can get. We simply pull the engines off the production line. They are all built on the same line that turns out the car that dear old Mother drives to the store. Look, $1,225 can buy one. The only difference is that our drivers have mechanics who feel they can tweak the end of a sparkplug better than anyone else can tweak it."
Angrily absent from the race, Chrysler was doing a little tweaking of its own down the road a ways. Far back in the thick, wet Florida woods, out beyond the bright night lights of Daytona Beach, on an abandoned, crumbling and grass-pocked airstrip, drag racers in furious cars that ripped the night with noise were conducting their own version of Daytona Speed Weeks. Screaming crowds clustered along an improvised wire fence to see Richard Petty, the champion stock car driver. Petty, who earned a $35,300 purse in winning the Daytona 500 last year and $98,810 in cash across a winning season, gave the affair the touch of big time it needed. His car was new: a raking Plymouth Barracuda, powered by Chrysler's forbidden hemi engine. On its side was painted OUTLAWED. Petty was making $1,000 a night.
"Oh, I've had offers from practically everybody to drive for them, to change sponsors," said Petty. "But I've been with Chrysler a long time, and I intend to stay with them. I'm just drag racing now because a guy has got to do something to stay in business.
"When we were stock car racing only, we sat around and put all our eggs in one basket," Petty explained. "Then we got the basket pulled out from under us.
"Drag racing is all right," he said. "The money I make here is mostly profit, all right. But there isn't that excitement."
For his excitement Petty spent his days at the Daytona track watching the accepted cars race. "It costs me about $500 just to stand here and watch these things," he said. "That would be the money I could make if I just started." He sighed. "I don't know how much longer this ban will go on, but we're trying to get Chrysler and NASCAR back together before the year is over. I don't know how it's going. One day it looks pretty good, and then another day it looks awful.
"This Ford domination," he said, watching the Fords go by, "is hurting stock car racing. Most of the people come to see one make of car beat another make of car. You know how it is. People like to stand around the store or filling station and argue about cars. Who can beat who, and that kind of stuff. But this year they got nothing to argue about. Now racing is down to where people got nothing to do but pull for maybe a blue car to beat a white car or a green car, because all of them are Fords."
It was clear that Plymouths Were not in the running at the Daytona Speedway, but how were they doing back in the woods? Well, Petty was blowing everybody off the track nightly, including Atlanta's champion dragster, Hubert Platt. And what was Platt driving? "It just happened," grinned Petty, "to be a little old Ford."