“Air is free” was Gary Balough’s summation of the radical modified stock car he drove to victory in the 1980 Schaefer 200 at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, N.Y.
The win was Balough’s fourth in the prestigious event, but more noteworthy was the negative response the one-of-a-kind car generated among fans, officials and fellow drivers.
Featuring radical bodywork that was supposedly patterned after a 1961 Lincoln Continental, the car was built in the Midwest by former driver Kenny Weld with assistance from Don Brown. It was based on a sprint-car style frame and featured aerodynamic side pods similar to those on Indy cars.
Balough spent most of his post-race interview defending his car against charges that it carried an exorbitant price tag that could ruin modified racing.
“I figure we have between $25,000 and $30,000 in the car,” Balough said. “We have a Ron Hutter motor, just like everyone else, between $8,000 and $10,000. Everyone said we had titanium this and titanium that, but our car was 100 pounds overweight.”
He indicated aerodynamics, not expensive parts, were responsible for providing the car’s advantage.
“Some people work harder in different areas. We worked in aerodynamics this time,” Balough explained, noting that his Prime Time Racing team took advantage of the lack of detailed specifications in the rulebook.
Balough gave a preview of things to come when he topped the 145-car field in qualifying with a record lap of 31.957 seconds around the one-mile dirt oval. Sammy Beavers was second fastest at 33.203 seconds, nearly four miles per hour slower than Balough.
Easily dominating the first half of the 125-lap race in his No. 112, Balough gave up the point when he pitted for fuel on lap 73. As it turned out, a problem with the car’s dry break fueling system was the only thing able to slow Balough’s Sunday afternoon drive.
“It wouldn’t take fuel,” he said. “We could have fueled it quicker with a five-gallon can.”
Balough spent the next 25 laps working his way back to the front and retook the lead from “Buzzie” Reutimann on lap 100. He was never seriously challenged during the final 25 miles and was three seconds ahead of Reutimann when the checkered flag was waved.
Frank Cozze finished third with Geoff Bodine and Ken Brenn completing the top five.
It’s ironic a car that generated so much controversy held a striking resemblance to those that will compete in the 39th edition of the same race this weekend.