In 1964, Mopar unleashed their 426 Hemi-powered fleet at the Daytona 500 and swept Ford clean off the track– taking 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. Richard Petty (NASCAR 1959 Rookie of the Year, which was amazingly the same year that his father Lee won the Daytona 500) led for an impressive 184 laps, and handily took the win.
That year an outmatched Chevy did not even compete in NASCAR. Ford attempted to debut their new SOHC 427 just days before Daytona– but not only had they failed to list the engine with NASCAR 45 days prior as required, this was not a stock engine at all. Ford was flatly denienied, but even worse than that– Mopar somehow got drug into the high-performance engine debate (many say Ford was muddying the waters for Mopar behind the scenes) that spiraled into the 426 Hemi (reportedly capable of producing 600 HP in NASCAR trim…), which truly was a stock car engine sold to the public, being banned from future NASCAR races.
This easily could have spelled the end of Mopar’s 426 Hemi– arguably the most legendary and iconic American muscle car engine ever. But what Mopar did next was surprising– they decided to turn the tables and boycott NASCAR. This was potentially a major setback for Richard Petty’s racing career, as he was on pace to win the championship that year.
As fate would have it, drag racing was becoming a huge draw– as fans gathered in fevered hordes to see the new wave of super-powered big-block Motor City madness go head-to-head on the drag strips. Plymouth and the Petty crew announced their abrupt move to drag racing– although Petty had no real serious drag racing experience. It would be an exciting, and short-lived venture that would produce a couple of badass Hemi-powered Barracuda dragsters. Unfortunately it was also a period marred by a tragedy that would affect Richard Petty forever.
One of the greatest rivalries in all of Drag Racing history has to be the classic Wildlife Racing matchup– Don “Snake” Prudhomme vs. Tom “Mongoose” McEwen. Any red-blooded boy born of that era remembers their famous Funny Cars decked-out in bright Hot Wheels badges screaming down the 1/4 mile in a furious blur that lasted all of 5 sweet seconds. The two faced-off in match races that raged over a period of about 3 years. Don Prudhomme, being the stronger competitor, usually came out on top. Their epic West Coast battles, fueled by huge sponsorship deals (Mattel, Coca-Cola, Plymouth, and Goodyear) were a major draw, and their loyal fans never tired of seeing them go head to head.
The Petersen Automotive Museum is celebrating the opening of their new exhibit, NHRA: Sixty Years of Thunder by paying tribute to – Don “The Snake” Prudhomme – during their annual Tribute Night on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010. Honored guests include– Roland Leong, Tommy Ivo, Carroll Shelby, Ed Pink and many others. Special guest Dave McClelland, the Voice of the NHRA and longtime friend of Don Prudhomme, will be the Master of Ceremonies. Their will be a film featuring The Snake’s epic history, and several other drag racing icons will share their stories of the legend. A live auction of amazing racing memorabilia will follow with proceeds going to the Petersen’s educational programs.
If you’re a Drag Racing fan of any age– this is an epic event not to be missed.
Racing rivals- the Snake and the Mongoose at Dallas International Motor Speedway (1969-1973). Continue reading
AMC Pro Stock press for Wally Booth & his Gremlin X
That’s right, it’s a Gremlin– without a doubt one, of the ugliest, least respected, aerodynamically-challenged cars ever produced on American soil. Wisconsin-based AMC had never been known for beautiful design or muscle, and so their entry into the muscle car market in the 1970s was seen as a classic tale of– a day late & a dollar short. When AMC signed Wally Booth to head the AMC Pro Stock effort, despite that there were virtually no aftermarket components for AMG engines, he and engine-building partner Dick Arons transformed the brand’s staid grocery-getter reputation from the ground up into that of a genuine performance powerhouse– all from scratch. Needless to say, everyone on the racing scene quickly took notice, as the red-headed stepchild to America’s “Big Three” automakers worked tirelessly with the little they had, and started to kick some serious tail.
Wally Booth's Gremlin X