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Driven to the Past: Harry Hyde – The NASCAR Years…

Recalling drivers and others I’ve known through my years in motorsports has been one of the most gratifying things about writing this weekly column for Frontstretch. Usually it’s on a humorous note, but sometimes it’s historical data which I think is important that the younger fans and others among us should know. Harry Hyde encompasses both.

Harry Hyde was one of the most unforgettable people I ever met. I didn’t become acquainted with him until I returned from my sojourn with the U.S. Air Force in 1960. He was a friend of my father and we became friends, too, as I became involved in the construction and then operation of the old Fairgrounds Motor Speedway in Louisville.

Harry is worth more than one column, and I’m going to start this week with his NASCAR career. Next week we’ll deal with his success before Nord Krauskopf tapped him to lead the K&K Insurance foray into NASCAR racing.

It was late 1965, and Harry spent the better part of three years molding that team. As I’ve recalled, the first outing was in the Daytona 500 in 1966 with Gordon Johncock driving the 1965 Dodge Coronet No. 71, and I was privileged to be a part of that pit crew.

Earl Balmer drove the car later, and I believe it was in 1967 that they decided on Bobby Isaac as the permanent driver and to make a run at the championship.

As Harry’s notes on the International Motorsports Hall of Fame site recall, the team really began to jell in 1969. They won 17 races, running extremely strong on the short tracks. However, falling out of 18 races cost them the championship.

If I’m recalling correctly, the K&K team was selected by Chrysler to do most of the testing for the winged Dodge Charger Daytona. The following year, they hit their stride in consistency. In 47 races, they won 11 times and were in the top 10 38 times on their way to the title. There were also 13 poles that year, and in November Isaac took the winged Daytona around Talladega at over 201 mph, a closed-course stock car record for 13 years until Cale Yarborough broke it in 1983.

In 1971, they took the Daytona to Bonneville, and Isaac set 28 world speed records for different distances. A lot of those records still stand. They donated that car to the Hall of Fame in 1978, which was five years before the Hall actually opened its doors.

Harry also built a Dodge Dart Kit Car for Chrysler, and Bobby Unser ran it up Pike’s Peak, setting a new record for that run in a stock car.

Hyde told me that on one test run, he rode along with Unser. I didn’t think Harry was afraid of anything, but he told me once, “I’ll never do that again. We’re sideways on a dirt and gravel road, and I’m looking over the side of a cliff that goes straight down for more than a hundred feet.”

As a crew chief, Harry won 56 Winston Cup races, 36 with Isaac, and also had drivers like Bobby Allison, Neil Bonnett, Dave Marcis, Geoff Bodine, Yarborough and of course Tim Richmond at the wheel.

It was about Richmond that Harry said, “A driver with that kind of talent comes along once in a lifetime. I was privileged to have him driving my cars when he was in his prime. I saw him do things with my racecar that I didn’t think could be done.”

Part of that quote made it into Days of Thunder, where, as all of us know, Harry was the model for “Harry Hogg.” What a lot of people don’t know is that nearly all of those incidents in that movie actually happened. For instance, the pit crew eating ice cream reportedly happened when Buddy Baker was driving.

Tom Cruise crashing into the younger driver – well, that almost happened, but not with Harry’s car. After Cale beat Darrell Waltrip once, DW started after him with the initial intention of crashing, but came to his senses as he told me.

I think it was Richmond that Harry told to go back out and hit the pace car. And it may have been Steve Petersen who pointed out that one quarter panel wasn’t bent after a race, and Harry kicked a dent in it.

For a guy from Brownsville, Ky. who learned how to be a mechanic while in the Army and after being wounded in the Pacific during World War II, it was quite a NASCAR career.

Harry Hyde passed away in 1996, and was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1999.

Next week, I’ll try to enlighten some folks about Harry’s exploits on the short tracks.

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