Chrysler 300’s reign supreme


300sdaytona

Over a period of two years, one team would dominate the NASCAR Grand National Series like no other before it, or since. A Kiekhaefer 300 would win one in four races during 1955 and 1956, all but shutting out the competition.

Carl Kiekhaefer was the owner of Mercury Marine, and he saw in NASCAR an opportunity few other people did. The cars raced weekly in front of thousands of fans from coast-to-coast, and they made a perfect mobile billboard for his fledging outboard company. He would debut a brand new Chrysler 300 in 1955 at Daytona Beach, sponsored by Mercury with a suddenly un-retired Tim Flock behind the wheel. The car was initially brought down to Daytona without a driver, and after a handsome offer of $40000 to come aboard, Flock agreed to a return. That afternoon he would start on the pole, lead every single lap, and win the race quite handily.

That was just the start of what was to come from Flock and Kiekhaefer. In 38 races they would capture eighteen wins, eighteen poles, and the 1956 championship. Flock led nearly sixty percent of the laps he raced, taking home over $32000 in winnings. Those winnings were his to keep, something Kiekhaefer granted to all of his drivers, only being interested in the victories and the trophies. Fonty Flock would join his younger brother for twenty races in 1955, capturing two wins and four pole positions of his own. For one race at LeHi in a Kiekhaefer Chrysler, eldest brother Bob would race alongside both brothers, his only start of the year. He would end the race one spot behind Tim in fifth, while Fonty retired after five laps with cooling issues.

Norm Nelson and Speedy Thompson also won a race for Kiekhaefer in 1955, having both started two races a piece. Buck Baker would make his first start in a Chrysler 300, finishing sixth at Langhorne.

kiekhaeferteam

Tim Flock opened the 1956 season with a win at Hickory Speedway, the first race actually being held in mid-November of ’55. Just like at Daytona earlier in the year, Flock would start on the pole, leading 183 of 200 laps in the victory. He would only race in eight events for Kiekhaefer in 1956, picking up two more wins before parting ways. Now running full-time, Buck Baker won fourteen times and sat on twelve poles, easily securing his first Grand National championship. He would win the title again in 1957, this time driving a self-owned Chevrolet.

Also full-time for Kiekhaefer was a returning Speedy Thompson, collecting eight victories and placing third overall in the final standings. Runner-up to Baker was Herb Thomas, showing in seventeen event behind the wheel of a 300, Thomas would win in three of them. Jack Smith added to the haul with his first career win, picking up a victory at Martinsville very late in the season. Junior Johnson and Frank Mundy also appeared for Kiekhaefer, both recording a best result of second place. Breaking the color barrier in 1956 was Charlie Scott, the first African-American to race in NASCAR. In his only career start, Scott would place a respectable 19th of 78 entrants in the Daytona Beach event, and 3rd of 6 Kiekhaefer drivers.

kiekhaeferhauler

Along with all the accomplishments of his outfit, Carl Kiekhaefer would help shape the sport in several other ways. At a time when most drivers arrived at the track behind the wheel of their race entry, Kiekhaefer was transporting his cars in enclosed box-vans. Despite being slightly too short for the 18-foot long 300’s, the hauler concept was born. The vans were painted to match the cars, complete with sponsor livery and car numbers.

He hired a crew of engineers to build his cars, and a crew to pit them. Each employee was to be provided with clean and crisp uniforms, the same luxury given to all of his drivers. Testing was a major focus for Kiekhaefer, seeking nothing less than the best. The composition of each dirt track was to be checked over, while post-race motor oil was being tested for contamination. His cars were run continuously on the dyno as well, something only manufacturers of the day had access too, and unheard of for a privately funded team.

All of this ensured his drivers would enter each race with the best possible piece of equipment, and it paid off in spades. In all, they would record 52 victories and 51 pole positions in 190 combined starts, winning the championship both seasons. Carl Kiekhaefer would leave NASCAR after the 1956 season, having felt there was nothing left to prove.

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