THE FASTEST STOCK CARS EVER
When Bill Elliott’s Melling Racing Ford
Thunderbirds were stomping the
competition in the second half of the
1980s, setting speed records that will
likely never be broken, there’s no question
his cars were superior aerodynamically to
those of the other Ford NASCAR teams.
The obvious advantages came with a
smaller frontal area and narrower bodies
than other Ford teams ran. But like so
many things in life, for the all-conquering
T-birds, the devil’s in the details. And it was
detail work that set the Elliotts apart, says
Don Hayward, who ran Ford Special Vehicle
Operations’ aero program in the mid-’80s.
“It gets into really small details, like how
tight you can get the fender to fit around
the tire, but still have a smooth shape,”
says Hayward. “The A-pillar – the
windshield post on the car – the trailing
edge of it was a pretty sensitive area,
because if you didn’t get that right, it could
turn air into the cockpit, causing drag.
“If you tuned the trailing edge of that
just right, you could get the air to go
around the window, and reduce the drag,”
he explains. “If you got a little too far on
the trailing edge, then you kick the air out
too far and it would be like a bigger frontal
area. That was one of those little tiny areas
we worked on really hard to get right.”
Also critical was getting the doors as
flat as possible, to move air around the
rear end of the car. “You could change
the (air) flow around the side of the car
to the rear deck and that would affect
downforce and drag,” says Hayward.
Wood Brothers Racing co-owner Eddie
Wood says they learned from the Elliotts
to build narrower cars – which was legal
back then – and flatter sides.
“We went to Pocono for the first race in
’ 86 with Kyle Petty and didn’t run that well,
but we had a wide car,” says Wood. “When
we went back, we had a 56 or 58in. car
with straight sides and ran top-five all day.”
Details mattered then, just as they do
now. “It’s a very delicate balance and
very time-consuming to get it right,”
says Hayward of the aero footprint of
a racecar. But as Bill Elliott can testify,
the results are definitely worth it.
Slick tenth-gen T-bird gave all Ford teams an
aero boost, reducing the Elliotts’ advantage.
Bill Elliott switched to Junior Johnson’s
Fords in ’ 92, missing the title by 10 points.
THE SMALL THINGS QUICKLY ADD UP
When it came to building the slickest stock cars in NASCAR, no detail was too small for the Elliott brothers.
(MAIN) Bill Elliott races Alan Kulwicki’s
similar T-bird in 1988. Although supposedly
identical, the Elliotts’ attention to tiny
details gave their Fords an aero edge.