"Strictly Stock"
The Champions of 1955 & 1956


by Dan Elliott


     He entered the 1952 and 1953 Carerra Panamericana races, but as with Hershel, Carl's efforts were less productive than what he had achieved in 1951. There were a few main reasons for this ebb in fortune:
   1. The automobile manufacturers, most notably Ford, spent large sums of money to       win the races AND to bend the rules, especially for their 4,200 pound factory-backed       "hot-rod" Lincolns; and
   2. Chrysler's new disc brakes, not yet in production at the time of the 1953 race, were       not reliable when used in tough road racing conditions.
      Carl learned much about what was needed to win races in these three Mexican race forays. In fact, the experiences, although they may have led to some bitterness, actually strengthened his resolve and savvy---particularly regarding how big automotive industry money could influence the sphere of auto racing. During the first part of 1954 Carl decided he was ready for another automobile racing challenge---something without the substantial one-time risks of the Carrera Panamericana, but perhaps with higher stakes.


      The dirt stock car track at Milwaukee State Fair Park had been paved for the first time just before the 1954 season commenced. Undoubtedly this must have attracted Carl's attention because the track was so close geographically to his home and manufacturing operations. The inaugural race at the newly paved track was held July 11 in 100 degree heatů.with a record 34,000 spectators in attendance. The $4,200 first-place purse was captured by none other than Tony Bettenhausen in a 1954 Chrysler belonging to E.C. Kiekhaefer. Speculation has suggested that this car was acquired to run in the last Mexican Road Race of the 1950's, but plans changed. On September 12, again at Milwaukee, Frank Mundy and Chuck Stevenson, both driving 1954 Kiekhaefer Chryslers according to Speed Age magazine, were sidelined with ignition problems after very good initial showings against winner Marshall Teague's Hudson Hornet. AAA defending champion Mundy, who had begun the season in a Hudson, won two races by season's end driving the Kiekhaefer Chrysler. Once again the hook had been set, but this time Carl was ready for what was to follow as he entered the lofty sphere of racing in NASCAR's "Strictly Stock" Grand National circuit.
      Up until the 1955 Speed Weeks, heavy and medium weight cars up to two years old, usually 2 door sedans, had frequented NASCAR racing. These cars worked well on the mostly dirt track surfaces of the day. However, it was the "medium" weight cars that had been the champions. The first two or three "Strictly Stock" years of 1949-51 had seen the new Olds 88 with its overhead valve V8 as a driving force behind many winning competitors. From 1951-54, the Hudson Hornet with Twin H compound carburetion took charge because of its cornering prowess and power, although Olds 88 drivers still were close competitors. Both of these cars were about 3500-3600 pounds. In the last 60% of the 1954 season, Lee Petty drove a 1954 Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe very competitively to win the Grand National Championship. This was the first Grand National Manufacturer's Trophy car weighing more than 4,000 pounds. What changed to make competitive the Chrysler 331 Hemi introduced in 1951? It was the 1954 addition of the WCFB four-barrel carburetor, dual exhausts and better heads that bumped horsepower from 180 to 235. Lee Petty and the AAA drivers mentioned above took full advantage of the higher horsepower, undoubtedly teamed with greater "bumping"capability of the heavier car in this contact racing sport. The season ended October 24; ironically Hershel McGriff won in a 1954 Olds and Lee Petty finished last in his Chrysler.


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