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Recollections of a Ramcharger, Part 6: 1963, Eckstrand's Last Run

by Mike Buckel, Ramcharger • courtesy of the North Georgia Mopar Club

After the '62 Summer Nationals, a few 1963 cars began to show up. Two Detroit teams appeared that became significant competitors. One was Roger Lindamood in a Plymouth, "Color Me Gone." The other was the Golden Commandos, a team that was modeled on the Ramchargers, except that they had fewer engineers and more mechanics/technicians. Although neither car beat us, both were faster than our '62 and were the cause of great concern. We did not, at the time, appreciate the performance improvement attained with the "new for '63" engine package along with the better weight distribution of the new cars.

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After the racing season wound down we began to receive W-2 forms in the mail from tracks that had paid us to match race. Well, there was no money left after tow-car gas, motels, and meals on the road. The end result was that we realized the team needed to be more organized if we were to continue.

Most of the planning for '63 was at breakfast in the Engineering Cafeteria. Danny Mancini noted that the car needed to be more easily identifiable and suggested that we should paint stripes on the car. Since we had been talking about running both an automatic- and manual-transmission car, he suggested that the stripes be candy apple red and that one car be the Candy Stick and the other Candy Matic. We all know how that idea went over.

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Also in September my first daughter, Brenda, was born. I got rid of the '61 Ford with the continuously failing rear ends and bought Jim Thornton's '56 Dodge D501. It was originally a Hemi-powered race car with Imperial suspension and brakes. Jim blew up the Hemi with a Paxton supercharger and replaced it with a 361 B-engine and a Torqueflite.

Before getting into 1963, let's digress onto a more modern topic: Jeff Wickstrom, the winner of the President's Trophy at the Southern Classic at Year One. Jeff is an interesting guy and has many stories. I first met Jeff in Vienna, Virginia, in the mid-1970s when my daughters were riding horses. Jeff's mother was trying to get Jeff and his brother into riding, and Jeff was just not interested. One day he spotted Carole with a Pennzoil jacket and asked her about it. Jeff became interested when she told him that I had been into drag racing. So we began to talk about cars.

I had just installed an LA engine in my '55 Ford Pickup truck and gave Jeff the six-cylinder. He took it apart and became convinced that there really were pistons and other things inside an engine. Shortly thereafter, he came up with a '68 Road Runner with a 383 4-speed. He was all hot to tear it apart for pistons, camshaft etc. I convinced him to take it one step at a time, such as learning to drive a 4-speed. With tires, exhaust, and little else we got the car to just over 100 mph in the quarter. Some time later he came up with a '67 Dodge 440 automatic. We got that car to about 110 mph.

He graduated from high school and moved to Athens, Ohio, where his father taught at a University of Ohio facility. He obtained an engineering degree and took a job with Allied Signal, now Honeywell, in Phoenix. He is still with Honeywell and has over 20 cars, all but three being Mopars. He drove that purple '71 Bird from Arizona just to attend our show.

For the '63 racing season, the Ramchargers found a large building for rent, at a good price (until the owner found a better tenant) in Roseville, northeast of Detroit. Most of us had a longer drive to get there, but the size of the facility was well worth it. We started work on the first '63 car right after Christmas. Having a large heated facility made preparation much easier.

Again the car was delivered to Dodge for shipment by rail to California. After the disappointing loss at the Summer Nationals in '62, it was decided to again to get Al Eckstrand to drive the car in Pomona. When the car was picked up at the Service Center we were shocked to see the Stanford Dodge sponsorship painted on the door. Eckstrand had made some sort of deal on the side.

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As described in the book We Were the Ramchargers, we won Stock Eliminator, the first major win for the Chrysler Maximum Performance effort. We sat on top speed and low ET of the meet and beat the Golden Commandos on the final run. In fact, we never lost a single race to the Commandos.

Super Stock was again run non-stop, though now no one was allowed to touch the car between runs and the hood could not be opened. This time we were ready and the car performed flawlessly. Before the car was shipped back to Detroit, the Stanford Dodge was removed. That was the last time Eckstrand drove a Ramcharger car.

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