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East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame 2011 Reunion

2011: Car Classics, Ramchargers, and Mopar Missile at Henderson, North Carolina

by Gene Yetter

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Mild Fall weather can make for a great weekend in Henderson, North Carolina, a city incorporated in the mid-1800s and retaining a "down-home" atmosphere befitting its heritage. On the weekend of Oct. 14-16 this year (2011), the city hosted a car culture extravaganza, its 10th Annual "Show, Shine, Shag & Dine" event coupled with inductions into the locally-sponsored "East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame."
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Weather was clear and sunny for the three days; a tremendous number of cars, drag racing people and visitors turned out; and, scheduled events ran on time, and non-stop, from Friday through Sunday afternoon.

The opening photo of Garnett Street, Henderson's main drag, shows visitors and participants streaming through the mile-long stretch of angle-parked dragsters, hot rods, customs, classic cars, and small trucks at around noon on Saturday.

Event officials had projected 1,700 registered vehicles for the Saturday show and it isn't hard to believe the mark was met if not surpassed. With this kind of turnout for its tenth year, the Henderson show must be doing something right! Not least, it offers visitors convenient parking! The downtown area features a grid of side streets presumably laid out in the 1800s with one- or two-block proximity to Garnett Street. That makes for a short walk to the main attraction, unlike the hike at fairground or racetrack events.

The East Coast Drag Times (ECDT) Web site is already posting details about the eleventh annual event set for the weekend of Oct. 19th to 21st in 2012. Information about the 2011 edition with a gallery of photos is also accessible at the site. Included is a list of winners in 50 show classes and winners of eleven special awards -- best this, best that, etc. All about the early days of American car culture and drag racing (through 1976!), the annual event is sponsored by the Vance County Tourism Department and organized by its director, Ms. Nancy Wilson.

ECDT Hall of Fame Ramcharger inductees.

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Covered in detail on one side of the ECDT event flyer was the Hall of Fame 2011 Reunion aspect of the three-day program. The East Coast Drag Times may ring a bell with users of Dave Bishop's online East Coast Drag News Web site but the two are not affiliated. Dave covers the Henderson event on his site; the Hall of Fame is trademarked independently by Vance County Tourism.

Over ten years of inductions through 2011, over 200 names of individuals or teams have been listed for Hall of Fame honors. The Tourism Authority has acquired land where it hopes to build a drag racing museum (it is seeking sponsors for the project). North Carolina has about 15 active drag strips, and a museum in Henderson should get plenty of local support. Most of the 60 or so show awards went to cars owned by North Carolina residents. Located along Interstate 85, the city is reasonably accessible to visitors from neighboring Mid-Atlantic states and beyond.

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A Friday afternoon cruise and barbecue at Satterwhite Point Park a few miles north of downtown Henderson led off the recent weekend. The all-you-can-eat buffet at the park was catered by local Ted's Catering. The menu included pulled BBQ pork and chopped BBQ pork, baked chicken, baked apples, red potatoes with butter, baked beans, and cherry and apple cobblers for dessert, a feast for hungry hotrodders. In the evening, three of the local larger local hotels held socials for their Reunion guests.

The neighboring town of Timberlake, about 30 miles west of Henderson, is home to Roxboro Dragway. The 1/8th-mile track opens on Friday evenings in season, and not a few racers in town for the weekend capped off their day racing against the clock at Roxboro.

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In addition, Henderson is the home of North Carolina's oldest operating drive-in movie theatre, the Raleigh Road Outdoor Theatre. It is one of only three
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drive-in theaters still operating along U.S. Highway 1 running from Maine to Florida. The theater welcomes cruisers on Friday and Saturday evenings. (Photo courtesy of the theater.)

Selected pictures of cars at Satterwhite Park on Friday and along Garnett Street on Saturday follow this overview. Included in the pictures from Saturday are six shots of muscular classic trucks that were manufactured in Henderson by a former local industry, the Corbitt Co. Go straight to the cars. Or check out the Corbitt trucks.

By sunrise Saturday morning Mopars, Fords, and GMs were wheeling in and parking along Garnett Street. Entries were restricted to cars made no later than 1976. There was a strong showing of famous Mopars, not for no reason! Hall of Fame inductees and other award winners this year included members of the Ramchargers race team, the Chrysler personnel who made a name for Mopar racing in the Sixties and beyond, and other individuals well known to the Mopar community.

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The Ramchargers' "High & Mighty II" came all the way from Detroit.

Nancy Wilson, the event organizer, is a lifelong Mopar fan herself. In the accompanying picture she stands by her race-ready "Zip" 1963 Plymouth Fury. Built on a tube chassis, the car has a 440 CID engine with Indy heads and intake, Holley 1050 carburetor, 727 trans-brake transmission, and Dana Model 60 rear end.

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Ms. Wilson lit off "Zip" in the afternoon much to the appreciation of crowds lining up as numerous car owners took turns revving race engines. Ms. Wilson and her husband, Charles, together own three zippy Mopars.

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"Hemi Fred" Ristagno arrives at Garnett Street in original Sox & Martin Duster built and raced by Ronnie Sox in 1972.

Altered-wheelbase cars are in the house!

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Front clip removed from the Hurri-Cane II on Garnett Street. Above, The Virginian, a 1965 Plymouth Belvedere altered-wheelbase car originally raced by Pee Wee Wallace of Richmond, Virginia. Restored in 1998.

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Replica 1960 Lyndwood Welding Special A/Gas dragster with blown 392 CID Hemi engine. The original was built on a trademarked Eliminator chassis by chassis design pioneer Pat Bilbow, who made and sold pre-fab and tubing kit chassis in the Fifties and early Sixties. Bilbow's son, Bob, completed the restoration in 1991, with engine work by Michael Kamm, body by Jim Arnole, and 1954 Chrysler paint (code 10) by Bob Steiner. Inducted posthumously in the ECDT Hall of Fame, Bilbow passed away in 1985. The car appears at nostalgia drag race events.

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The High & Mighty II sounds off! Dave Rockwell's book, We Were the Ramchargers: Inside Drag Racing's Legendary Team, tells us the flowing "tuned" exhaust with megaphone-like tips on the original High & Mighty were the handiwork of members Maurie Leising, Jack McPherson, and Pete McNicholl. "Tuned," in this case, means set to the optimum length, having been calculated at 48 inches. The shape was achieved using a conduit bender. The tips were based on motorcycle exhaust design suggested in a British paper found by Tom Hoover in the Chrysler library.

Sunday was Hall of Fame and Reunion 2011 day. Ten years of inductions are available to view at the East Coast Drag Times Web site - a growing list of names recognizing individuals who have made their mark as racers or as racecar builders, or who have otherwise fulfilled productive supporting roles in the sport of drag racing (including editors, writers, photographers, business people, and other folks). Inductees and award winners are chosen by a panel affiliated with the ECDT organization.

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A 68-page booklet about the Henderson weekend is available for purchase at the ECDT Web site. Besides the weekend event schedule and other overview, the booklet contains biographies of the inductees and award winners. Some of the articles are short, some long - four pages for Ramcharger Mike Buckel, and photographer and writer Francis Butler. They bring up often fascinating info not to be found anywhere about the individuals and drag racing history. This little booklet is a great addition to any collection of drag racing memorabilia.

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RAMCHARGER CENTRAL on Garnett Street, Henderson, NC, Oct. 15, 2011 -- With the Pro Stock '73 Plymouth Duster, Mopar Missile, in the background, visitor Penny Anderson, from Palm Bay, Florida, stands by as team member Dave Rockwell autographs her copy of the book he wrote, We Were the Ramchargers: Inside Drag Racing's Legendary Team. Other members of the team in this frame: Tom Hoover (left), John Wherly, and Tom Coddington.

Hoover and Coddington were instrumental in development of three Pro Stock cars when the class was launched by NHRA in the 1970 racing season. At the time Hoover was manager of Chrysler's drag race program and Coddington was in charge of building cars. The contract to test Pro Stock builds, maintain cars, and provide logistics went out to a shop operated by Ted Spehar, Specialized Vehicles, Inc.

Dick Oldfield drove the first car, a 1970 Dodge Challenger. This car was upgraded as a '71 and was driven by Don Carlton, who became team driver. The second car was a '72 Plymouth Barracuda. A 1973 Duster, the Mopar Missile, was the third and last Chrysler-developed Pro Stock. The company ended its Pro Stock program when the NHRA specified new weight rules that made its cars uncompetitive against lighter Vegas and Pintos. After 1974 ownership of the Missile changed hands a few times until it was acquired by Ben Donhoff of Melbourne, Florida. The Henderson show date marked the first time that Hoover, Coddington, Spehar and Oldfield had seen the car in decades.

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According to Dick Oldfield, Super Stock racer Arlen Vanke suggested the name on the Challenger and Barracuda (Motown Missile). The Duster got named Mopar Missile following infringement complaints by Barry Gordie of Motown Records.

Challenger, Barracuda and Duster were to get the newest race technology. Whatever was learned in building and running them would trickle down to contract Mopar racers: Ronnie Sox, Don Carlton, Butch Leal, Herb McCandless, Arlen Vanke and others. The Pro Stock cars carried on the tradition of earlier Ramcharger vehicles, at least in who was advising the project (Hoover, Coddington, etc.) and the support coming from Mother Mopar. Highlights of Chrysler's Pro Stock program are nicely presented in Dave Rockwell's book.

Original Mopar Missile team members and the car's current owner meet.

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Left to right: Dick Oldfield, Ted Spehar, Joe Pappas, Tom Hoover, Ben Donhoff (present owner), Tom Coddington, Larry Mayes (partner with Donhoff). Other missing members of the team include former owner and driver Don Carlton, who died in a racing accident in 1977 (not involving the Missile). Ben bought the car in 1979. After rebuilding a damaged front end, he raced it at Central Florida drag strips for about 10 years.

In 1989 the Missile went into the Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala where it remained on exhibit for about 18 years. Toward 2008, Ben and Larry took the legendary car out of the Museum, got it ready to run again, and they have been racing it occasionally in Central Florida.

Don Carlton's name restored to window of the Mopar Missile for Henderson reunion.

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Dick Oldfield, Joe Pappas, and Don's widow, Jonnie. "It was nice to see the Mopar Missile again," Dick Oldfield said. "And with Don Carlton's name on the window. The owner, Ben Donhoff, is a good guy. He's taking care of the car. I'd like to see it restored the way it was when we ran it. But, hey, it's being used. Ben wants to race it. At least it's getting exposure and that keeps the name alive. Ben's kind of like Hemi Fred with his Sox & Martin Duster. Fred just wants to get some match races with his car."

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Joe and Jonnie review trove of Mopar Missile posters, pictures, and clippings exhibited by Larry Mayes.

"Akron Arlen" Vanke, winner of races!


Having first drag raced in 1953 in a 1940 flathead Ford sedan, Arlen Vanke can claim an exceptional number wins, records and titles throughout a racing career that wound down in 1972. He became a Plymouth convert in 1964 after several successful years of driving Pontiacs. Up to his retirement, he built and piloted many special Chrysler-supported cars. He and his cars stood out at major NHRA and AHRA events as he beat the toughest Super Stock and Pro Stock racers in the country. He was often the only driver who could top his own records. Prior to induction into the ECDT Hall of Fame, there were five other racing Hall of Fame inductions: now six in total.

Restored Akron Alren Vanke 1970 Plymouth Duster, rudely dissected by a Garnett Street signpost.

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A veteran street racer in Brooklyn, New York, in the late Sixties and early Seventies, Ronnie Lyles (pictured) took part building and campaigning fast cars with a circle of friends known as the "Mutt Brothers," after the nickname of Ronnie's brother, John.

One of the group, Eugene Coard, presently of Durham, NC, coordinated the build of the car in this photo taken at Satterwhite Point Park on Friday. The car is a replica of a record-setting Pro Stock Plymouth Duster which the Brothers raced after they became a Sox & Martin team in 1973.

Powered by an engine built by Leonard Shoffner, and with Ronnie Lyles driving, the car match raced and set records at NHRA events around the country. On its first run at Epping, New Hampshire, it had a record run until beaten that night by Mike Fons. In a national event on Long Island, New York, in 1973, it had two eight-second runs, one a hundredth of a second better than Don Nicholson's Pinto the night before. Lyles was inducted posthumously into the ECDT Hall of Fame in 2008. His brother, John, and their other teammates, Benny Dunham and Jessie Johnson, are also passed away.

Builder of the Lyles car, Sox & Martin master mechanic Randy Stewart.

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Randy also built the replica. He runs a shop in Kannapolis, North Carolina.

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Eugene Coard earned his living as a shoe salesman on Staten Island, New York, when he and his teammates raced after-hours along deserted conduit roads near JFK International Airport. "We had guys coming from all over New York and New Jersey to race us," Gene says. "It was an amazing time."

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2008 Hall of Fame inductee Reed Koeppe (of Nebraska) greets Randy Stewart.

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Operator of a performance shop for all car brands, Reed has built, raced, collected and sold a long list of Mopar dragsters. Inheriting a respect for history from his dad, a railroad historian, Reed has developed his own reputation as a historian of drag racing. Younger than many other Hall of Famers who raced in the Sixties and early Seventies, he nevertheless specializes in that era. Famous cars in his corral at one time or another include two Melrose Missile cars, the Eddie Smith and Max Hurley '68 SS Dart, the Sox & Martin PS Omni, the Car and Driver '72-'73 Colt road race car, a 1978 Dodge Aspen four-wheel drive rally car built by Scott Harvey Sr., and many others.

Sunday morning scrapbook and autograph session at Vance-Granville Civic Center.

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In the Civic Center, left to right, Pete McNicholl, Tom Coddington, John Wehrly, and Tom Hoover. Pete was a metal model builder and welder who worked on Chrysler concept car projects, and he was in demand for the same skills on the original High & Mighty. He also built and raced his own cars. Dave Rockwell's book recaps an incident on Woodward Avenue in Detroit (p. 33) when Pete blew by two GMs racing each other, in his Hemi-powered '55 Plymouth, while towing a 16-foot fishing cruiser. After retiring from Chrysler, Pete started up the Rod Shop, an independent performance enterprise campaigning Mopars, including championship Slant Sixes.


Chrysler Corp. retirees: (left to right) dyno-lab technician Marc Rozman and engineers Tom Hoover and Bob Lees (High & Mighty II project co-ordinator). Tom Hoover joined Chrysler in 1955. An honors graduate and Master of Science in Physics, he earned a master's degree in automotive engineering at the Chrysler Institute of Engineering, a program initiated by Walter P. Chrysler in 1931. Tom was also active in drag racing in the Fifties and that experience put him in cahoots with like-minded colleagues in the Institute who got together to found the Ramchargers drag race team. They were good at what they did, and the company ended up putting them to work re-engineering production vehicles for competitive racing. Fast forward to the year 2011: the East Coast Drag Times organization brings Tom and the team together to honor their years of outstanding engineering innovation, sportsmanship, and racing success.


Inducted into the ECDT Hall of Fame in 2008, Dave Koffel (center) chats with former Mopar Missile team members Dick Oldfield (left) and Joe Pappas. "I've known Dave since the Sixties," Dick Oldfield said. "He used to run the Flintstone Flyers in the NASCAR circuit. I ran my Comet in the NASCAR circuit and I got to know Dave then. In fact, Dave got me my first contract with Chrysler. I think Joe got to know him through Don Carlton's shop. Or maybe earlier when Joe was working for Mike Fons."

Dave Koffel began his racing career in Ohio in 1952. From 1958 to 1968, he ran Gas, Super Stock and Funny cars around the U.S. He joined the Chrysler Race Group in 1968 as manager of Sox & Martin, Ed Miller, John Hagen and Bob Glidden race programs. In 1980 he launched Koffel's Place, a performance racing enterprise known for its line of B-1 cylinder heads, in Walled Lake, Michigan, with a second location opening in Huron, Ohio, in 1995. He and his organization get credit for engineering hundreds of NHRA and IHRA team programs, the Evans and Hall off road and stadium truck series, and other popular race series involving successful drivers and teams in North and South America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Street rod built by Dave and Susie Koffel.

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First car owned by 2011 Hall of Fame inductee Susie Koffel, wife of Dave. Her daily driver in the Fifties, the car went to Dave in an even swap for his car at the time and he put a 232-CID Studebaker engine it. They took turns racing it. On the same day at Quaker City Dragway in 1958, each won their first trophies ever -- Susie first!

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During a rebuild of the car in 2007, a new engine was installed: a Chrysler 2.2 turbo engine with a double overhead cam Maserati head fabricated by Cosworth. Oriented "north-south" instead of transverse as with Mopar turbos of the era, the engines adapted beautifully to the coupe's space. According to Susie the install paid off in great performance and 30-mpg economy. These engines were offered in Italian builds of the 1989 Chrysler TC by Maserati, Mopar's controversial two-seater luxury convertible.

2011 ECDT Hall of Fame inductees and award winners.

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The guy with the winning smile in the middle row, left, is Spirit of Drag Racing Award winner "Hemi" Fred. A reception and banquet catered by Christie Coghill Catering followed the awards ceremony. That menu included prime rib, chicken casserole, potato souffle, broccoli, string beans, chocolate eclair cake and other cakes for desert. Nice!

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Dodge pickup converted for barbecue duty with grill sculpted as prize hog!

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In the 19th Century the city was home to four shops that made horse-drawn buggies. One of them, Corbitt Buggy Co., was located on Garnett Street opposite the clock tower visible in our pictures of show activity. It became Corbitt Automobile Co. around 1902. At the time there were shops in cities around the country gearing up to design, build and sell automobiles, or to design and fabricate parts for them. For example, Mopar fans should know that the engines, transmissions and axles in Henry Ford's first production of 650 cars in 1903 came from the Dodge Brothers machine shop in Detroit. A decade later Corbitt switched to making trucks, and it continued in that trade through the war years until it ceased operating in 1953. An organization of Corbitt owners is still around and they have the opportunity to show their stuff at local events like the Henderson show.

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Also see the official event details. . .

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