Ramcharger Recollections #8: Match Racing Wedges, Engine Lab, Jail
The ’63 season was mostly match races with only half dozen Super Stock events. Dodges, Plymouths, and Ford Galaxies were the only NHRA-legal Super Stock cars. The Chevrolets and Pontiacs with aluminum front ends and other good stuff were never produced in sufficient volume to qualify for Super Stock and ran NHRA events in A/FX class. These cars began to evolve into modified cars as General Motors leaked parts to selected racers. The Pontiac 421 Tempest was one such car that proved more successful than the Swiss-cheese-framed Catalinas.
The match-race scene evolved into 10-inch tire races since that is what A/FX cars were allowed to run. The tires were the only difference between our S/S and A/FX cars. The only exception was the big motor that we laid on Frank Sander’s Z-11 at Detroit Dragway, with that story well documented in the book We Were the Ramchargers.
After the unsuccessful attempt of the manual-transmission station wagon we constructed a second S/S car to double our chances at Indy. The second car also reduced the maintenance burden on Hoover and Mancini, the engine builders.
By mid-summer, Chrysler began renting Detroit Dragway every Tuesday for testing. Anyone with a Chrysler product was welcome at these sessions to test and consult with the race engineers. As many as a dozen cars including Engineering test cars would attend these events. The Ramchargers always had a long list of things to test so one of our cars ran at every test session.
We left off last month’s column with the crash of the Winter Nationals winning car during a Goodyear tire test at Ubly Dragway only two weeks before the Indy Nationals over Labor Day weekend. Dodge could not provide us another car, as the ’63s were no longer in production, so we purchased a white, six-cylinder, two-door-post car from our sponsor Hodges Dodges. I took the running car to the East Coast for a match race while the home crew transformed the six-cylinder into the Indy Stock Eliminator winning car. We were not able to give the car a complete stripe paint job, so we added stripes of candy apple red with rattle cans whenever the car was in the pits. Photos of the car throughout the weekend document the day by how many stripes are on the car. It never got stripes on the roof.
We Were the Ramchargers well documents most of the notable events of the 1963 season with one notable exception, my time in jail. Dick Maxwell and I left Detroit on a Friday night for a match race on the East Coast. Thornton and Mancini took their wives out to dinner and were to catch up with us sometime before we arrived at the Holiday Inn in Youngstown, Ohio. The Ohio State Police were running radar on the turnpike a mile west of the first service plaza east of Toledo. They radared me at 85 in the 426 wedge D-300 truck and trailer and escorted us to the Clyde, Ohio, service plaza.
We had about $2.50 between Maxwell and me, as Thornton had the cash for the weekend. So Maxwell put the truck as close to the turnpike exit as possible with all the lights flashing while I was toted off to meet the judge in Clyde. I told the judge my story, and he said, “Just have a seat in the jail, and we’ll see if your friend shows up with some money.” I sat there about 45 minutes, which seemed like all night (I did not get any hot bologna/eggs and gravy), before Thornton walked in. He never before, or since, looked so good.
There was another young guy, about 17 years old, from the Great Lakes Naval Air Station (Chicago) in the cell with me. He and five others were going to New York as the girl friend of one of them was going to “fix them up.” They were already outside the allowable distance from the base for a 48-hour pass. This kid, without a driver’s license, was radared at 95 mph. Not having enough money to free him, they were going to travel to New York, get money from the girl friend, and pick him up on the way back on Sunday and try not to be AWOL. I don’t know how he fared, but he was pretty sad looking when I left him.
Early in 1963, the word went out to Institute students to find a permanent assignment, or you may be left out. I grabbed an offer from the Switch & Controls Lab. There I worked on such exciting things as cigarette lighters, headlights, and wiper switches. In the fall I was offered a spot in the Engine Lab in the race group. Wow, heaven on earth!
So it was in the last days of wedge engine development that I learned the ropes in the engine lab and performance development processes. As I recall, the best 8-barrel Wedge developed about 490 hp, and the best NASCAR engine was about 475 hp. Next month, the HEMI.