The story of Bob Osiecki’s strange looking open wheel roadster with the supercharged version of the Chrysler 413 wedge engine, actually begins with some legendary names, cars and tracks. Beginning with ace driver Tony Bettenhausen and his famous 1957 Kurtis/Novi roadster.
Fireball Roberts said we were all crazy and he refused to drive the cars. – Tiger Tom Pistone
George Amick, an open wheel driver that had just made his first Indy 500 start in 1958, found himself in car owner Norm Demier’s “lay-down roadster” – a Meyer-Drake Offenhauser roadster – at the new Daytona International Speedway, putting down lap speeds of 176.887 mph. This was threatening the World record and gave Bill France the idea of making Daytona the fastest track in the world. Sadly, one week later in the same car, Amick crashed and died during a 100-mile race sanctioned by the U.S. Auto Club (USAC). USAC subsequently banned its machines and personalities from Daytona. The 1959 race was the only Indy Car race ever run at the Daytona International Speedway.
France, undeterred by the ban, went about laying to rest the idea that Daytona was too dangerous for open wheel racing. France offered a $10,000 prize to anyone that clocked Daytona’s first 180 mph lap. That was a lot of money in the late 1950s, which attracted a lot of car owners/builders that wanted to claim the prize.
Among the many challengers for the prize was a very persistent speed shop owner in Charlotte, North Carolina, Bob Osiecki. Not only did Osiecki understand business, he craved speed as he also owned and operated a drag strip in Chester, South Carolina. Osiecki’s wild promoter nature blended with his belief that he was an engineer to create the perfect marriage of car owner/builder. He set his sights on France’s $10,000 and chased it with his own cars.
Osiecki was known in racing circles as a NASCAR mechanic, car owner and builder, as well as a builder of Indy Cars. He used these skills to build three huge cars to make an assault on France’s track, and the world record. All three of these attempts were failures. The record continued to stand and France’s prize money was still a carrot dangling in front of the best car builders in the world.
Bob Oseicki – The Wild Promoter
In 1961 Osiecki finally stumbled on a winning combination. He found a worn out Kurtis-Kraft racer that was once used for tire testing by Firestone. The Kurtis Indy roadster was originally built in 1958 for Ray Nichols. The wheelbase was 100-inches and it weighed in at 2,350-pounds. Nichols had it set up for Pontiac power to run in the Indianapolis 500, but it never did.
The chassis was pretty complete but had no engine. Using his extensive “big-engine” background, Osiecki took a 413 cid, hemisphere combustion Chrysler V8 and shoe-horned it in the roadster. Before fitting the Chrysler into the chassis, he bored it out to 450 cid, added fuel injection and a GM supercharger that Ed Iskendarian fitted to the top of it. The engine was prepped by Iskendarian’s west coast shop and sent back to South Carolina. With the big engine’s 15:1 compression, a real crack at the record could take place.
He chose Firestone tires that were developed by the company for racing at Monza, Italy. These 3.5-inch wide tires were in short supply but Firestone gathered unused tires from the race teams. Some of these tires were reportedly two-years old. The car was outfitted with drum brakes. With a compression ratio of 15:1, the fuel of choice was alcohol based.
Because of his NASCAR status, many NASCAR stars tried to get behind the wheel of the beast. It is rumored that Curtis Turner, one of NASCAR’s first superstars, got into – and quickly out of – Osiecki’s Mad Dog without ever turning a lap. Tiger Tom Pistone was invited to drive the car, but was interested in helping build a two engine car to challenge the record. “We built a 1959 Chevy with two engines. A 348-cubic inch in the front and a 283-cubic inch behind the driver’s seat with a V-drive,” said Pistone. “It was a V-drive like they use on boats. Only the rear wheels were powered. The driveshaft sat alongside of me,” remembered Pistone. It seemed as if everyone wanted to collect the prize.
Osiecki’s first driver was Brian Naylor, but he could only muster 157 mph. Tiger Tom Pistone’s close friend and NASCAR hot shoe Larry Frank was next. Frank jumped in and turned a lap speed of 166 mph but on the second lap spun it out on the back stretch leaving a 2100 foot long black mark. According to published interviews, Frank worried about the touchy control of the car. He wore boxer’s shoes for their light, thin construction. Frank balled up his toes so that he could only press the throttle gently. He never completely uncoiled his toes, which kept a gentle pressure on the throttle – no quick, sudden movements. The power was overwhelming and Frank didn’t have to use more than a quarter throttle down the straight aways. Before leaving, he suggested to Osiecki that they examine the chassis because something wasn’t right. When they did they found the torsion bar bushings rusted and frozen shut.
After the spin, Frank told Osiecki it couldn’t be done, and he left to pursue other work. Larry Frank had turned engine rpm that indicated that a top speed of 205 mph could be achieved, but power was not the problem. Stability was. Osiecki took his wounded car back home.
Wings and Things
Returning in July, the Mad Dog IV found itself equipped with some new aerodynamic features. A tall dorsal fin on the tail and a pair of airplane wings sprouting from each side of the cockpit became the talk of the speed weeks.
Others had taken turns making laps while attempting to break the record, most of which ended up with the cars going into a spin due to instability. Osiecki had a plan to eliminate the problem of high speed instability, however. Creating a tail stabilizer, like aircraft use, he shipped the assembly to Georgia Tech where the engineering students built a mock-up of the roadster and tested the aerodynamics in a wind tunnel. The testing showed the car builder where to place the stabilizer, wings and what angle the wings should be at for different speeds.
Aircraft wings are designed to produce lift, the exact thing that Osiecki was trying to avoid. He solved the problem by mounting the stubby wings upside down, which produced a downforce of 1,000 pounds of pressure at each wheel at 200 mph.
NASCAR star Buck Baker was next behind the wheel. Baker achieved 160 mph when he experienced a slipping clutch and parked it on July 7. Finally, Osiecki tried a fearless former drag racer Art Malone. Malone got behind the wheel on August 23rd, shortly finding himself in a spin at the same place that Larry Frank had spun. Fortunately, Malone didn’t hit anything and with no damage to repair other than fresh valves and new tires, Malone was soon piloting the car back onto the high banks for another shot on August 28.
By this time the word had spread that the unusual little car with the Chrysler engine could possibly challenge the closed course world record speed. With Bill France holding court, his wife Anne sold tickets to watch the attempts to interested fans. On August 28th, 35o of these ticket buyers watched as Malone drove the winged car an estimated 226 mph on the straightaway, slowing to 170 mph in the turns. The first three laps could only muster up 175.079 mph. With a new set of tires, Malone went out on the fourth lap and surpassed the old world record with a new mark of 181.561 mph, making Daytona International Speedway the fastest closed circuit course in the world.
According to sources, Bill France happily wrote the check for $10,000. Bob Osiecki had spent over $35,000 to earn $10,000, less the 25% that Malone was paid. The Mad Dog IV car sat in North Carolina’s Auto Racing Hall of Fame for several years, until the Osiecki family decided to sell it. Bob Osiecki died of a heart attack in 1964 at the young age of 43. This car is currently owned by Don Garlits, for display in the Garlits Museum, in Florida.