Recollections of a Ramcharger, Part 5: The Nationals at Indy
Development of the Max Wedge continued at a rapid pace so that the ’63 cars could be produced early in the production run. The most significant advancement was the tuned exhaust system, with 48-inch long, 2-1/8 inch diameter pipes joining together in what we called the “Atlas booster.” Our car was the first to run these headers, within one week of the decision that this was the best configuration. The tuned exhaust eliminated the big hole in the torque curve at low engine speeds, and made the car faster and much more drivable.
Match racing was the name of the game, and we began traveling on a weekly basis with Jim Thornton as the driver. The track at Vineland, New Jersey, is worth mentioning not only because we raced the Old Reliable Chevrolet there three times, winning twice.
The drag strip was the front straightaway of a well-banked circle track. The starting line was on the exit of turn four, and the finish line was just short of turn one. One car was higher than the other for the entire race due to the banking. After the finish line the cars went up and over the bank in turn one and down the other side into total darkness. The shutdown area and return road were part of a road race course. Fortunately, the shutdown was straight, although there were trees on either side. We quickly learned to insist on having cars parked down there to light the way.
Racing at Vineland after ’62 was precluded, due to too much speed over the bank. During one of our visits to Vineland, a ’62 Max Wedge Plymouth blew the clutch and flywheel, tearing up the car and launching some big parts very high. A chunk of flywheel cut through a Ford parked near us, going clear into the ground. Tom Hoover became very excited, as he had spent considerable time and effort getting an explosion-proof clutch housing for the Max Wedge package. During Tom’s interview with the driver of the Plymouth, the guy said, “Chrysler clutches are no good, and the clutch housing is too heavy.” Tom just walked away.
I really am surprised that we did not kill ourselves flat towing that car with other ’62 Dodges. With the tools and guys we had about 7,000 pounds of cars with about 3,000 pounds of brakes, and oversteer was tremendous. We negotiated the Pennsylvania Turnpike on a near weekly basis with that rig. One time on the turnpike we had a sudden brake check that the race car did not keep up with, and bent the tow bar. Rocks were placed in strategic locations, and we drove the tow car over the bar to get it sufficiently straight to continue home.
The Nationals at Indianapolis were a tremendous flog for the Ramchargers, with many Super Stock Dodges and Plymouths in contention. The Californians, led by Ray Brock, an editor at Hot Rod Magazine, came with 11.5:1 engines, claiming that 13.5:1 was too high for the California Chevron gas. Well, most of them, along with the Fords, went out in the early rounds of Stock Eliminator.
NHRA decided, without any prior notice, to run the Stock Eliminator round robin, that is, non-stop. We were totally unprepared for this with a six-cylinder radiator, a 2-inch diameter water pump impeller, and a loose fan belt. We rushed a milk can of water, a pump-type garden water sprayer, and a bag of ice from the concession stand to the return road to ambush the car. Hanging on the fenders and running in front, we packed as much ice as possible on the water pump and intake manifold, tightened the belt, and sprayed the radiator. It was not enough. The car was slowing down, and Thornton was shutting off as early as possible to save the engine.
During the trophy run against the Hayden Proffit Chevrolet, Jim spun the tires and tried to catch up. I was on the return road about even with the starting line and could distinctly hear spark knock. We always thought that this was an NHRA scheme to “fix” us and show us that the California guys were right.
My student assignment that summer was in Dodge Truck Engineering. At that time Dodge made trucks from pickups to heavy diesel truck tractors. There were only about ten engineers for this entire effort.
Dodge, GMC, White, and Ford participated in a brake-rating test program sponsored by the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) at the old Packard Proving Grounds in Utica, Michigan. I was the Dodge flunky, data taker, etc. The test program lasted nearly two months and was a tremendous learning experience and a lot of fun.
GMC brought a vibrating, hot cab, terrible riding cab over tractor with the V-12 Toro Flow gas engine. White had a conventional tractor with the 400-plus-cubic-inch, in-line, flathead six cylinder that was so underpowered that it could not get up to speed between brake applications. Dodge furnished two trucks to the test. The big one was a 900 series with the short nose on the old wraparound windshield cab. It had a 413 engine and tandem rear axles. These was a flat bed trailer used with this truck. The other truck was a D-600 flat bed with a 318 engine, 5-speed transmission with short fourth, a two-speed rear axle with air brakes; this was the model for the specification I wrote for the race car haulers built in ’65. The race car haulers had 413 engines and were great trucks. Too bad none are left.
The experience gained at Dodge Truck served me well on many occasions in the future.