Seeking publicity for his new race track in 1960, entrepreneur and NASCAR founder Bill France offered $10,000 to anyone who could lap Daytona Int’l Speedway at 180 mph.
When France made his offer, the pole speed for the recent Daytona 500 had been slightly better than 150 mph. Tony Bettenhausen had run 177.45 mph at Monza in 1957 and in 1954 Sam Hanks exceeded 180 mph on the monstrous, steeply-banked Chrysler Proving Grounds oval that was close to a straight-line run.
No one seriously considered France’s offer until Bob Osiecki took up the challenge in January 1961. Osiecki, a Charlotte area hot rodder, car show promoter, NASCAR car owner and race track developer — he built Chester (S.C.) Speedway, had a plan.
He purchased an old Kurtis Kraft Indy car chassis from Ray Nichels, who had used it as a part of the Firestone testing program he oversaw. Osiecki built a Chrysler engine, which he bored to 450 cubic inches and attached a GMC supercharger. It reportedly generated in excess of 800 horsepower.
He stuffed the monster into the Kurtis and in a month’s time had Mad Dog IV ready for Daytona’s February Speedweek.
The Mad Dog moniker was in deference to the fact that the car was the fourth in a series of Mad Dog hot rods Osiecki created. The car was a magnet for the curious. A number of NASCAR drivers offered to turn laps in the car with Curtis Turner, Buck Baker, Brian Naylor and Larry Frank all managing a stint behind the wheel.
Frank was the only one of that illustrious group to go much quicker than 160 mph. Frank hit 166 mph before spinning the car and sliding 2,000 feet down the backstretch. Frank stepped out of the ambitious project, informing Osiecki that 180 mph was impossible.
The problem was getting all the power to the ground. For help Osiecki sent the car to Georgia Tech, where a mockup was made and tested in a wind tunnel by student engineers. In addition to the rear stabilizer that Osiecki had already fabricated and installed, tests demonstrated that two airfoils, mounted around the cockpit area, would add dramatically to the car’s high-speed stability. The wings were reportedly capable of producing 4,000 pounds of downforce at 200 mph.