“The Daytona Project” brings to the forefront American ingenuity during a time when dreams were plentiful, inspiration boundless and man was racing to the moon. Three unemployed NASA engineers are recruited by the Chief of Chrysler Racing to design a car that will stop Ford’s three-year NASCAR winning streak and save Chrysler’s racing program from being terminated. The Daytona Project is the story of how a group of real-life rocket scientists reversed a NASCAR losing streak…and crafted the most exotic stock car ever made.
Inspired by the world of stock car racing in the late 1960s and early 1970s, The Daytona Project is HIDDEN FIGURES meets THE RIGHT STUFF meets DAYS OF THUNDER.
Our story takes place in 1969-1970.
As 1960s comes to a close and Neil Armstrong takes “one small step” onto the moon, NASA unceremoniously releases hundreds of the brilliant aerospace engineers. 75 miles north of Cape Canaveral, an intense competition between automobile giants is playing out that will make the space-race look like mere child’s play.
The 1969 Daytona 500 is promoted as the “Super Speedway Showdown” between Chrysler, (who had not won since 1966), and its archrival Ford, the incumbent champions. Charlie Glotzbach is Chrysler’s best hope. He had the lead on the final lap, but Ford’s LeeRoy Yarborough narrowly beat him to the checkered flag by half a car length.
Losing The Great American Race three consecutive years is catastrophic. Alarms sound at Chrysler’s Headquarters in Detroit. Embarrassed executives convene clandestine meetings and deliver an ultimatum to the company’s racing division– “Win next season or we terminate the program!” The racing division hatches an insane game plan. They will fast track their top-secret “Daytona Project.”
Designing, testing and manufacturing a new race car usually takes two years. To accomplish the task in just six months, Chrysler turns to three recently laid off Apollo engineers — Jon Pointer, Gary Romberg and Billy Marcel. They rapidly dreamed up an exotic vehicle with a sloped nose and huge rear wing. They take their sketches to Chrysler Vice President & General Manager Bob McCurry. He famously says, “God it looks awful. Will it win races?” Told it would, he responds, “Well, then damn it… go build it!”
The Daytona Project experiences numerous trials and tribulations on and off the track:
The car must not only go fast, it must look good. In order to qualify for competition, Chrysler must sell 500 street versions before the next season begins. Chrysler’s marketing team unveils 8 colors with names, like “Tor-Red” and “Lemon Twist”… and, with a little divine intervention… they sell the 500th car just prior to the deadline.
Throughout their test drives, the cars exceeded 200 MPHs causing the driver’s teeth to chatter, vision to blur and brains to blackout. Using their aerospace expertise, the designers recognize the “pogo effect,” and implement solutions they developed for Apollo astronauts during the Space program.
Intrigue and espionage come into play as Ford spies on Chrysler’s top-secret project and covertly develops its own “super cars”– the Talladega and Mercury Cyclone. These additions make the season highly competitive as well as piquing fan interest.
The final piece of the puzzle is wooing back long-time Chrysler driver and two-time Daytona 500 Champion, Richard Petty. Petty left a year earlier in a major contract dispute. The designers go so far as to mock up a model 43 Daytona and deliver it to his home at midnight. The King comes out in his pajamas, not too pleased, but ultimately returns as the team’s lead driver.
The film climaxes with the 1970 Daytona 500. The race boasts over a dozen winged wonders, including two powder blue “SuperBirds.” Petty pilots one and his teammate, Grand National Rookie of the Year, Pete Hamilton, mans the other. Just 7 laps into the race, Petty blows an engine. Everyone assumes he will take over Hamilton’s ride. With strong conviction in his voice, he tells the Motor Network– “That’s Pete’s car. He’s going to do the best he can with it.”
Hamilton’s “best” is impressive. He battles up front for most the race and is in 2nd place with 9 laps to go. Hamilton deftly navigates his way past the leader David Pearson before realizing that Pearson has “suckered” him into taking first place while positioning himself perfectly behind him for a final lap pass. They race bumper-to-bumper for two laps, and every time Pearson makes a move, Hamilton boldly blocks him. After the checkered flag falls, Hamilton wins… but drives an extra lap at full speed because he “doesn’t want to take any chances.”
The following year, rule changes all but eliminated winged cars ending one of NASCAR’s most dramatic and compelling seasons. Despite its’ brief existence, fans continue to romanticize the “Super Car” era and collectors still prize the exotic cars it produced.
The main story arc and all of the sub plots will be woven together during the team’s Victory Lane celebration. “Like the moonshot, they said it couldn’t be done, but we did it.”