By Stefan Kristensen
October 15, 2022

The First Car to Break 200mph in NASCAR

NASCAR is a racing sport with a long and storied history. In May of 2022, the Dodge Daytona that broke the 200mph barrier in NASCAR was placed on auction at Mecum Auctions in Indianapolis, Indiana. But who drove this historic car that broke a record and ushered in a new era?

Buddy Baker drove the Dodge Daytona on March 24, 1970. The racetrack was Talladega, and Buddy Baker actually crashed and burned the Hemi-powered Dodge after he hit 200.447 miles per hour, the fastest lap recorded in NASCAR history at that time. 

While the record didn’t last all that long, it ushered in a new era of plus-200mph racing in NASCAR. It barely crossed the 200mph barrier, but 200.447 was more than enough to set a new record at the time. 

What Kind of Car Did Buddy Baker Drive?

In the beginning, the car that would eventually surpass 200mph was a Dodge Charger 500. Unfortunately, it didn’t start its trail to fame on a high note. Throughout several press events, someone stole the car.

While specifics weren’t readily available, Dodge recovered the vehicle after a while, and it became the new Dodge guinea pig for a number of different trials with new and innovative setups. 

The original number on the Dodge Charger 500 was DC-93. After a number of modifications, including the eventual installation of a ludicrously huge rear spoiler wing, it became the Dodge Daytona, eventually sporting the number 88. 

Back then, NASCAR employed these huge rear spoilers because it was simply the best way they knew how to apply as much downforce as humanly possible on the race cars. Looking back at it, however, it looks downright silly. But so do many things that came out of the 70s and 80s. 

What Went Into the Dodge Daytona?

In terms of aerodynamics, besides the clownish rear spoiler, the very front of the bumper featured a sharp point that rose up at nearly a 45° angle. The frame of the vehicle was known as a k-frame, and it featured an undercarriage that was entirely sealed.

The drag coefficient that was generated is comparable to some of the attempts made today. That is not bad for something out of the 1970s. Then again, the car reached 200mph, which is faster than cars are allowed to go on most NASCAR tracks these days. 

The Hemi that went into the Dodge Daytona was a 426 V8, pumping out 575 horsepower, something not at all insignificant at the time. The oil system sported an old-school dry sump, along with the traditional carburetor, which was the fuel injection system of those times. 

The Dodge Charger Daytona was a rarity in its day, with Dodge only manufacturing 505 of them in 1969. Of those 505, only one made it onto the NASCAR circuit, where it would go on to make history. 

Of course, NASCAR engineers made their own tweaks to the engine, as the original high-end version sported 425 horsepower rather than 575 horsepower. The Hemi was a seven-liter, gas-guzzling behemoth of a machine. 

The thing probably got three or four miles per gallon on an open highway. Not all of the Dodge Daytonas were built with Hemi engines. Some included the 440 Magnum V8. Strangely enough, Dodge just couldn’t seem to build a car that could compete and race on high-bank speedways. 

Even though they produced the car that would eventually go on to break a NASCAR record and exceed 200mph, Chrysler had previously had a ton of problems trying to put together a car that could compete. The problem was the high banks of the speedways, and Dodge just wasn’t getting it done. 

When the new Dodge Charger Daytona came along, they included the following specs: 

  • 490ft-lbs of torque at 4,000rpm
  • Rear Wheel Drive
  • 4-speed, manual transmission
  • Naturally aspirating
  • 95.25mm stroke
  • 107.95mm bore
  • OHV Valvetrain
  • 60.88 bhp per liter output
  • Hemi V8 Engine

Cotton Owens

Cotton Owens was a NASCAR racecar driver that made a deal with Chrysler (the manufacturers of Dodge and the engines that ran them) to drive one of their cars. Only Cotton told Chrysler that he wouldn’t drive for them unless they put a Hemi in the car. 

Chrysler agreed and built the car. As soon as they agreed, Cotton signed on as a driver for Chrysler’s Dodge Charger Daytona. Baker only came into the situation when he later joined the team. Joining the team put Baker behind the wheel of the Dodge Daytona that would go on to make history. 

Buddy Baker led at Talladega for 101 laps, and exceeded 220mph several times, leading to an average of 200.447mph finish on one lap, the NASCAR record for the day. After lap 101, Buddy Baker spun out, and the vehicle caught fire. 

Needless to say, Buddy Baker and Cotton Owens were a part of the Dodge pack that would finish the season with eight straight finishes that were in the top ten overall. Chrysler used Buddy Baker’s record-breaking car to heavily market the Dodge name and, specifically, the Dodge Charger. 

Unfortunate Changes

Despite the 200mph record, it eventually led to restrictor plates, which slowed the cars down to sub-200 mph. This was considered to be a safety measure and to build competition, but it was highly disappointing to the NASCAR fanbase. 

The restrictor plate addition was the brainchild of Bill France, and the restrictor plate went on the carburetor, keeping it from performing at maximum capability. By the time NASCAR made changes (limitations) to the allowable aerodynamics, following the restrictor plate, the high era of the  200mph racecar had faded forever into history, never to rise again. 

All Things Considered

When Buddy Baker broke the 200mph lap record in 1970 behind the wheel of a Dodge Charger Daytona, it signaled a high point for NASCAR and ushered the sport into a new era full of restrictions, reductions, and tighter regulations to encourage competition and promote safety. 

While many fans were bitterly disappointed in the changes, most stuck around for the long haul, and there have been many races since that day that have gone down in NASCAR history as some of the most exciting ever. 

This also shows that racing cars are ahead of street-legal cars in terms of top speed as the first road-legal production car to top 200 mph - the Ferrari F40 did not enter production before 1987

Written by Stefan Kristensen
I have been passionate about motorsports ever since I was a little boy. Back then, I cheered on the racing cars simply based on their colors. Later I fell in love with the many technical features, strategic plays, humans and their stories that all together drives this amazing sport to make it as interesting as it is.
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