The 1970 Daytona 500 was a remarkable race in NASCAR history for a variety of reasons, many of which revolved around the winged cars that showed up to race there. The Dodge Charger Daytonas and Plymouth Superbirds were there in force and helped push the qualifying speeds into the mid-190 MPH range. But before the big show – the 500, which was won by Pete Hamilton in a Superbird – one of the qualifying races was marred by a fatal accident. And the big race had a spectacular crash of another winged car.
In the second qualifying race, a rookie named Tab Prince crashed his Daytona. It was his first-ever NASCAR start and when his car spun out, he was broadsided by Bill Seifert. Everyone agreed there was nothing Seifert could have done to avoid the collision but he still felt terrible about it.
“I couldn’t see a thing. There was smoke everywhere. There appeared to be fire ahead; I could see it through the smoke. I knew I was going to hit something; either the concrete wall or another car, and that somebody was in trouble in front of me. I couldn’t see who it was, but I saw one of those wings and knew it was a Dodge.”
Prince was the first fatality at Daytona International Speedway. And something else caught the attention of NASCAR bigwigs. Another Daytona driver named Buddy Arrington ran his winged car into the wall, causing the top cross bar of his wing to break loose. It spun 60 feet through the air and landed on the track without hitting anything or anyone. But it flew over a driver named John Sears who said he was “scared blue” the thing was going to hit him.
After the race, NASCAR asked Chrysler if they might be able to do something to assure no wings got loose in the future. Chrysler engineers scrambled and came up with a simple solution. The pillars and the wing were made of metal but were hollow: A cable could be run through both of the uprights and the cross bar, anchoring the whole assembly in the trunk. Chrysler folks visited each winged car team in the garages of the Atlanta International Raceway a month later and helped install the cables. From that point forward, the wings might break if they were hit just right, but they would not go flying over anyone’s head.
Next time you look in the trunk of a NASCAR Charger Daytona or Superbird, take a look at the bracing underneath each wing pillar. There are two large metal bars supporting the wing and then there is a cable, running up into each side. The cable is attached to the floor of the trunk, right by the supports. It was a little bit of safety equipment only needed on cars with the huge wings.
Steve Lehto is a writer and from Michigan. He specializes in Lemon Law and frequently writes about cars and the law. His most recent books include , and . He also has a where he talks about these things