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.