Though Petty's STP Buick Regal was handling better than most of the other cars—thanks to his cousin Dale Inman, who is in charge of tuning the chassis—only Allison had been untroubled by a fear of flying. Allison had shown up at Daytona with a sloped-roof Pontiac Le-Mans, a car doomed to be discontinued by GM after 1981. It proved to be the fastest dinosaur on wheels, as Allison easily won the first qualifying race.
Racing the LeMans was the idea of Allison's crew chief, Waddell Wilson. They had tested a square-roofed Oldsmobile Cutlass, but decided the design had serious problems. So they secretly built the LeMans: 12 men working 11� hours a day, seven days a week since mid-November, with only Christmas off. They painted it black and silver, named it the Silver Streak and went to Daytona.
Then they wheeled it off the trailer. "What's this?" the other crews shouted. "A sloped roof? That's not fair! NASCAR told us there would be no sloped-roof cars this year."
Allison made a few hot laps, came back smiling and said. "Loose? You mean you guys are loose?" The controversy was on. Daytona wouldn't be Daytona without one; nor would it be so much fun.
Most of the teams thought the whole deal was fishy; they felt set up by NASCAR, and many were mad. Said Junior Johnson, owner of Waltrip's Buick, " NASCAR advised a lot of people not to build a LeMans." Other crews went further; some even accused Dick Beaty, NASCAR's chief inspector, of having told them that slope-roofed cars wouldn't be legal, though the LeMans was clearly on the eligibility list.
Waddell Wilson had an answer. "The guys are all surprised that we had a LeMans. I'm surprised that they don't have one. I'll tell you what I think. I think they were all looking at the front ends, which look good. I don't think they even once looked at the rear ends. And monkey-see, monkey-do, which is why they all have square roofs."
Not everyone begrudged Wilson his coupe. Said Inman, "Maybe Waddell just did his homework. I sure wouldn't mind being the only LeMans out here."
Eventually, NASCAR officials, bowing to pressure from all its stars except Allison—and the sight of cars spinning and flipping—allowed larger rear spoilers to go on the cars. They would increase downforce on the rear tires, but after a brief testing session, many drivers were not convinced the problem was anywhere near solved.
Even Allison was skeptical. "It's going to take a great deal of professionalism to keep all those cars going in the same direction," he said, though one couldn't help feeling that Allison was worrying more about the direction of other cars than his own.
There is a great deal of professionalism among NASCAR drivers when they get behind the wheel, and despite the squirrelly cars and 40-mph wind, the 500 was fast, clean and safe. It was a typical NASCAR race for those first 174 laps, with 49 lead changes among nine drivers. Allison led for 90 laps, seriously challenged only by his prot�g�, Neil Bonnett, who was driving the Wood Brothers Thunderbird. But Bonnett had tire trouble, and the resulting vibration bounced his car to death. He finally retired on Lap 123. Waltrip. Foyt and David Pearson suffered blown engines; Yarborough was taken out of the hunt by a cut tire. Allison was left with what looked like a clear advantage over Petty and the rest of the strong survivors: Ricky Rudd, Buddy Baker and Dale Earnhardt, who would finish third, fourth and fifth, respectively.