Carolina Ford Dealers Nascar
It’s acceptable that not alike longtime, die-hard, trivia-obsessed NASCAR admirers would anon admit the name Gary Romberg.
Indeed, the “Old Man” (a second-generation appellation of which he was clumsily proud) was amid those wondrously artistic souls who accept consistently toiled agilely abaft the scenes developing every aloft motorsports addition in our lifetime.
In this case, it was the acclaimed Plymouth Superbird that NASCAR fable Richard Petty and a scattering of added Mopar loyalists raced with some notable acumen in the 1970 Grand National banal car season.
Kurt Romberg Courtesy Photo
Romberg died two weeks ago at age 85 in his adopted hometown of Mooresville, North Carolina. He is survived by Bonny, his wife of 62 years; sons Kurt, Val and Leif; babe Heidi; 12 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. A built-in of Buckley, Washington, and 1957 alum of Cal State Poly-San Luis Obispo, the Old Man didn’t absence abundant during his time on this acceptable earth. We should all alive as ample and achieve as much.
He spent his aboriginal three years afterwards Cal Poly-SLO as an aerodynamic architect and flight analysis architect at Boeing aerodynamics abreast Seattle. He formed at NASA throughout the 1960s, allowance anatomy America’s amplitude affairs from postings in Huntsville, Alabama, and New Orleans.
Romberg was active in developing the Saturn B-1 booster that beatific astronauts into alien space, including the aboriginal appointment to the moon. Of all his able accomplishments, he advised his role in that celebrated activity his finest moment.
Courtesy Kurt Romberg
In aboriginal 1969, several months afore the July moon landing, Romberg confused from NASA to the motorsports analysis of Chrysler Corp. He had thrived and enjoyed his years as a Chrysler agent farmed out to NASA, but the Apollo activity was ambagious bottomward aloof as aerodynamics were acceptable the abutting big affair in banal car racing. He formed in Detroit for 36 years, absorbed by the claiming of authoritative chase cars as aerodynamic as the rockets he’d helped advance at NASA.
Those who apperceive Chrysler’s NASCAR history will anamnesis it was Romberg and his teammates who designed, congenital and delivered the 1970 Superbird that absorbed Richard Petty aback into the company’s accoutrements afterwards his 1969 dabbling with Ford Torinos.
The backstory with Petty goes article like this:
Except for several Oldsmobile starts aboriginal on, the seven-time champion, 200-time champ and Hall of Fame disciplinarian raced street-based Plymouths about abandoned from 1958 through 1968. Midway through that season, Chrysler apparent affairs for a radically altered adaptation of its accepted Dodge Charger for the 1969 NASCAR season. (Being a Plymouth man, Romberg wasn’t allotment of that project).
The new conception had a low, snout-like acicular nosepiece and a huge addle-brain afraid about 40 inches aloft the rear decklid. With its accent on aerodynamics, the Dodge Daytona was clashing annihilation anytime apparent on any of America’s banal car circuits.
At the time, Chrysler’s antagonism programs weren’t united. Each cast went its own way, accomplishing its own thing, aggressive not abandoned with GM and Ford on the racetracks, but additionally with themselves.
So, while Dodge was presenting article new and advanced to its drivers and fans, Plymouth was blockage with the aforementioned allegiant Belvedere archetypal that had taken Petty to 43 (!) accumulated victories in 1967 and 1968. Angry that Plymouth wasn’t befitting up—he’d again asked for a active car—the sport’s better name appear backward in the 1968 analysis that he would chase Fords in 1969. (His one-year accord with Ford was bright affirmation he didn’t apprehend to break with them for long.)
Not surprisingly, that got Chrysler’s attention. A aggregation controlling high-tailed it to North Carolina in mid-1969 to ask one question.
“It was aloof him alone, and he said to me, ‘What will it booty to get you aback in a Plymouth abutting year?’’’ Petty afresh recalled. (For the activity of him, the 82-year-old Petty can’t bethink the man’s name; afterwards all, it was 51 years ago). “So, I told him to anatomy me a Plymouth like the Dodge teams had. That was it … aloof accord me article new for abutting year.
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“I anticipate they’d already absitively to do that because it wasn’t continued afore they had one for me to attending at. They couldn’t accept done it that quick unless they were already planning to do it, anyway.”
Indeed, Romberg and his colleagues were already all-hands-on-deck designing, testing and architecture a active Plymouth for 1970. They spent two months in a scaled-down wind adit at Wichita State University, disturbing with the awning and advanced fender aerodynamics, and again with the size, appearance and adjustment of the rear addition and struts.
After acumen the adenoids and addition wouldn’t assignment with the Belvedere, they switched to the accepted Road Runner body. Already annoyed they had it right, Chrysler alleged the car the Superbird in acceptance of the accepted Road Runner animation character.
The aggregation bound bogus the 1,923 “showroom units” appropriate for NASCAR competition. (That abnormal cardinal was based on one showroom-available car for every two dealerships aural Chrysler’s business network.)
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Petty remembers Romberg as “the aloft guy” while Petty Enterprises was architecture Superbirds during the abatement and winter afore the 1970 season. “We formed abutting with him, and he knew what he was doing,” the antagonism figure said. “He was actual circuitous with everything: chassis, cycle cage, aerodynamics, anatomy shape, wing, struts, everything. He fabricated abiding aggregate was right. He was appropriate there, all the time, authoritative it go forward.
“He fabricated abiding aggregate was right. He was appropriate there, all the time, authoritative it go forward.”
“He was absolutely acceptable with the aero end of the deal. I anticipate they believed it ability be accessible because they already had the Dodge Daytona to go off … but it wasn’t that accessible at all. The cars were appealing different.”
Plymouth teams bound begin success with their new toy, abnormally on the long, high-banked, accelerated superspeedways. (Most Plymouth teams acclimated conventional, nonwinged cars on advance beneath than a mile.) Pete Hamilton, allotment of the Petty stable, won the 1970 Daytona 500 and both 500-milers at Talladega in his No. 40 Superbird. Petty collection his No. 43 to victories at Rockingham, Trenton, Atlanta and Dover. In the meantime, Bobby Allison, Bobby Isaac, Charlie Glotzbach and Buddy Baker were acceptable in their active Dodge Daytonas.
After watching Ford booty seven afterwards NASCAR manufacturers’ championships amid 1963 and 1969, Dodge won not abandoned the 1970 manufacturers’ appellation but Isaac and aggregation arch Harry Hyde won the drivers’ championship, as well.
But that success annoyed some accoutrement in Daytona Beach.
Going forward, NASCAR banned the 426-cid Hemi V8 engines from the active Superbirds and Daytonas, and instead bound them to a 305-cid engine. Officially, the cars remained legal, but were finer fabricated anachronistic by NASCAR’s agent rule.
Publicly, the alignment bidding apropos about alarmingly aerial speeds at the long, high-banked advance area application trumped handling. And from a business standpoint, Superbirds and Daytonas never captivated the consumers, appropriately putting a cavity in NASCAR’s “win on Sunday, advertise on Monday” mantra. Additionally, allowance ante were college and ammunition abridgement was lower for the “muscle car” market. The agent ban came aloof as Detroit’s Big Three was abbreviation its banking and abstruse abutment of NASCAR.
“We were accessible to go (with adapted active cars for 1971 and beyond) if they’d let us,” Romberg told Hot Rod annual in 2005. “But NASCAR didn’t appetite any added ‘funny cars’ in competition. We (the architecture team) were affectionate of contemptuous about NASCAR and knew they capital to ascendancy their shows. We were aghast because we had put together, in the 1969 Dodge Daytona and the 1970 Plymouth Superbird, cars that were added than a little bit competitive.
“When the factory-backed antagonism affairs went abroad in 1971, we (the aerodynamics team) reinvented ourselves and became the assembly car aerodynamics group. We lobbied and got two wind tunnels: a 3/8 calibration in 1992 and a huge full-sized in the Auburn Hills circuitous in 2002.”
Romberg retired from Chrysler Corp. the day the all-encompassing adit went into assembly operation in 2002. He had spent the antecedent 35 years convalescent aerodynamics on chase cars and assembly cars, and in alive to get the wind tunnels.
“Before 1969, Chrysler was accepting exhausted all the time in racing,” he already acicular out. “The action cry was ‘beat Ford’ because they had David Pearson and alike Petty there for a while … until we got him aback with the Superbird. We admired Ford. They were abundant enemies, abundant competitors. We formed our hearts out to exhausted them. They were abundant motivators for us. We were aghast it couldn’t go on.”
In the case of the Romberg clan, the angel didn’t cycle far from the tree. Kurt Romberg, now 61, drafted his ancestor into aerodynamics, too, accepting his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering in the backward 1980s at Wichita State University. He spent endless hours in the school’s Beech Wind Tunnel, area his ancestor had helped advance the Superbird that Petty raced in 1970. Romberg was adamantine at assignment there back a aide alleged from Detroit backward that analysis with account that NASCAR had finer dead the abutting copy of the active cars.
“We admired Ford. They were abundant enemies, abundant competitors. We formed our hearts out to exhausted them.”
Kurt briefly—and with some success—raced hydroplanes afore belief engineering at WSU. He formed briefly for the March F1 aggregation in England, came home to assignment with GM’s Assembly Car Division, spent bristles years tweaking aerodynamics at Petty Enterprises and 15 added accomplishing the aforementioned at Hendrick Motorsports. He went to accepted employer Roush-Fenway Antagonism backward in 2015 as its abstruse administrator of aerodynamics.
He has some memories of his own.
“It was backward in ’69 back Dad came home from assignment active a Plymouth Superbird prototype,” he said. “I was—what? 10 years old at the time. He and my mom and my (two) brothers and (one) sister went benumbed about Garden City in that car. I mean, cipher had anytime apparent annihilation like it on the street. It drew so abundant absorption it about chock-full traffic. It was like, ‘Wow!’ I accept a account of our accomplished ancestors continuing beside a active Dodge Daytona on a dealer’s lot in Detroit.
“Dad was appreciative of the Superbird, but afterwards ancestors and acceptance he was prouder of the Moon Shot than annihilation else. He acquainted that was a actual big deal, and he had been allotment of it. And he was clumsily appreciative of accepting the wind tunnels at Chrysler. The Superbird? Not so abundant because the Dodge Daytona was already out there (when assignment began on the Superbird).
“Race cars were alteration so frequently that it wasn’t a big accord back they had to abdicate alive on addition version. He was a little upset, but it was like baptize off his back; he didn’t abide on it. You know, it was aloof addition NASCAR aphorism change.”
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At the time of his death, Romberg was about accustomed as one of the world’s arch authorities on the atramentous art of wind tunnels and vehicular aerodynamics. He had acclimated his post-Chrysler retirement years to biking the world, analytical and acquirements about wind tunnels of every size, appearance and capacity. “Worldwide,” he said, “my dad was in the top three of all wind adit experts.
“When he retired and confused to Mooresville (in 2006), he was too active to aloof sit around. He formed at the Aerodyn Wind Adit (where abounding NASCAR teams booty their cars) because he capital to, and he formed there back he capital to. If he capital to booty off about to see addition tunnel, he did. If he capital to go to assignment every day, he did. If he capital to break home, he did. You apperceive how it is: Why abdicate if you adore it?”
The Old Man was wise, indeed.
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