The Champions of 1955 & 1956
by Dan Elliott
There used to be a few local entries in every town, but that's a thing of the past." He continued: "A lot depends on the 1957 Speed Week runs at Daytona Beach. I hope the manufacturers will make that their last big fling, and then coast the rest of the season with advertisements based on their achievements there." "Detroit, go home!"
Following the season-ending race at Wilson, there was much speculation about whether Carl would continue racing. He and his Mercury Marine business had taken a significant public opinion beating during the last half of the season, a result completely opposite from that which he had hoped to achieve, and from what logic would suggest. While deciding what to do, he kept his drivers under contract early in the 1957 season. True magazine reported on his "negotiations" with NASCAR: "I might stay in racing next year," Kiekhaefer said, "if NASCAR accepted my suggestions: (1)Cut down on the number of races; (2) Set up rules on car specifications on January 1 and leave them unchanged until July 1, when adjustments could be made; (3) Split the Grand Nationals into two divisions, one for factory teams and the other for independents such as myself." Of course, NASCAR didn't adopt the Kiekhaefer suggestions. Accordingly, Carl decided to hang it up. Speed Age reported: "After months of rumors, Carl Kiekhaefer has made a move to quit the stock-car racing battlefield. The Wisconsin outboard motor wizard won the national titles with Flock in '55, Baker in '56, but had frantic hassles both years with NASCAR rule makers and brass. After the 1956 season, Kiekhaefer told this writer: 'I have had a lot of pleasure in racing and met many fine people, but I've been lucky in not having a driver scratched or hurting anybody else. The cars are getting so fast that I'm not sure they're safe. Perhaps it would stretch our luck too thin to race again. If I compete at all, it will not be at every bullring in the country as we have tried to do---but only in the big events.' Soon afterward, Kiekhaefer closed his Charlotte headquarters and sold his cars."
The 1956 season was the end of an important NASCAR era. During the season, race officials found it very hard to enforce several of its rules, the hardest of which may have been whether or not camshafts were strictly stock and legal as they were purported to be. It was not surprising that Bill France and NASCAR rules required Kiekhaefer cars to be torn-down more than any other team, although never was the team charged with a rule infraction, camshaft or otherwise. But to avoid the controversial and time consuming camshaft debates at tear-down time, NASCAR "fixed" the problem by relaxing its rules to allow virtually any camshaft in the 1957 season. Countering that allowance was the following rule issued April 23, 1957 by NASCAR executive manager Pat Purcell: "Because of difficulties competitors are having in getting super-powered equipment from dealers, the Grand National Division will be limited to cars equipped with ONE four-barrel carburetor." This ruling ended the multi-carbureted era at NASCAR. Carl probably knew this ruling was coming, and it may have played into his decision not to campaign Chrysler 300C's, even though he purchased two of them. According to interviews with Kiekhaefer team folks, these cars were race prepared and almost ready to go when Carl pulled the plug on the 1957 season. E.C. Kiekhaefer chose to quit at the zenith, and at the conclusion of the NASCAR multi-carbureted era.
With Carl out of the picture, the Detroit money and factories, primarily Ford and Chevrolet, went at each other fast and furious in the early 1957 season. Speed Age coverage of Daytona started with the headline "Daytona: Detroit Takes Over". This further bruised the image of the sport in which regular guys with guts and persistence and a little money could successfully compete, at least before 1955. Of course, the stock car racing landscape had started a metamorphosis that would never return to those "good old days". A June, 1957 Speed Age quote captures the philosophical shift eventually resulting in the modern stock car era that trades as much on image as it does on competition and performance: "With Carl Kiekhaefer out of the picture, perhaps temporarily, stock car racing in America lacked glamour in the 1957 early season. Only
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