Tom Hoover, widely known as the “godfather” of the 426 Hemi racing engine, died April 30 from complications of Guillain–Barré syndrome. He was 85.
Hoover – not to be confused with the Funny car driver of the same name -- spent 25 years working at Chrysler Corp., leaving in 1979 to pursue his interests in locomotives and trains. During his time there, Hoover had an impact on some of the most-storied performance milestones in Fiat Chrysler’s history.
“Tom Hoover was an exceptional human being and an engineering genius that always wanted to go faster. Today, at Mopar, we continue to live and honor Tom’s vision. He’ll be missed,” says Pietro Gorlier, President and CEO of Mopar Brand Service, Parts and Customer Care.
Hoover was a founding member of the Ramchargers, a group of Chrysler engineers who were thrilled by the growing sport of drag racing and used their skills to boost the company’s performance image. He helped develop the Hyper Pak, a group of performance parts for Chrysler’s renowned Slant-6 engine. The Hyper Pak helped make the Plymouth Valiant a winner on NASCAR tracks in the early 1906s. Customers could buy the Hyper Pak at a dealer’s parts counter.
Hoover led development of the Max Wedge big-block racing V-8, building upon Chrysler’s RB engine to create a powertrain that dominated dragstrip racing in the early 1960s and helped lead the small team that developed the 426 Hemi racing engine, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014.
The 426 Hemi debuted at the 1964 Daytona 500, where driver Richard Petty lapped the field in taking the win. And when NASCAR blocked the 426 Hemi’s use in 1965, Hoover’s team took it drag racing – where it’s legacy lives on today as many modern professional drag race engines still use the basics of that motor.
“Tom was the true technical engineer driving the details of the original 426 HEMI design, preparing it for the success on the street and in racing to this day,” says Bob Lee, who heads powertrain development for FCA in North America and is global coordinator for powertrains. “He was one of the best ever.”
Before he left Chrysler, Hoover helped create the Lil’ Red Express, a high-performance Dodge pickup released in 1978. The Lil’ Red Express is easily identified by its vertical exhaust pipes mounted behind the cab.
Like many of his contemporaries, Hoover’s passion for engineering was sparked during his youth in Huntingdon, Pa. His first car was a 1952 DeSoto with an original Hemi engine. At Chrysler, he started by working on the Bendix Electrojector program – a precursor to today’s modern fuel-injection systems.
Even after leaving Chrysler he stayed close to racing and Mopar performance. Tom Hoover and his son raced a vintage Plymouth Max Wedge car for several years. And he was consulted as the team developed the third-generation Hemi engine that first reached the street in 2003.
Mopar continues to honor Hoover’s legacy by presenting the Tom Hoover Sportsman Challenge Award to the NHRA Sportsman Class participant who earns the most points during the season driving a Fiat Chrysler vehicle in competition.
Hoover was also honored with the Mopar President’s Award at the NHRA Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway near Denver, Colo., in July 2014, and served as the grand marshal for the weekend event. In a special nod to the 426 Hemi race engine and his role, Tom, along with Pietro Gorlier, personally signed limited edition reproductions of the blueprints for the engine.
Bob Vandergriff Racing drivers Dave Connolly and Larry Dixon, along with fellow NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series drivers Tommy Johnson Jr, Matt Hagan, Shawn Langdon, Steve Johnson, Steve Torrence, Leah Pritchett, Morgan Lucas, Richie Crampton, and Shane Gray will be working up a sweat May 14 to help make wishes come true for deserving children.
The Vandergriff Foundation, created by Bob Vandergriff Jr. and his wife, Marisa, has teamed up with Flywheel Sports to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. On May 14, they will lead this fun and challenging ride at the Flywheel Sports location in Alpharetta, Ga. Flywheel is an intense, indoor cycling workout that measures a rider’s resistance, speed, and power output. Drivers will be able to see all of their statistics up on large screens and compete against one another during a 45-minute ride.
NHRA race fans will be able to donate money in support of their favorite driver.
“The Make-A-Wish Foundation is a wonderful organization and we really wanted to help them out,” said Vandergriff Jr. “Granting wishes for these wonderful children really hits home for my wife and I as parents. We appreciate Make-A-Wish’s involvement in our sport with Terry Chandler and Don Schumacher Racing.”
To donate in support of your favorite NHRA driver, go to www.vandergriffwishes.kintera.org
Beat The Heat, a non-profit organization comprised of police officers and firefighters who conduct educational programs using marked emergency vehicle drag cars to gain the interest of the public, now allows Jr. Dragster drivers who have family members in emergency services or law enforcement to join the organization.
Both Beat The Heat and the NHRA Jr. Dragster programs have a common goal in educating youths about illegal street racing, drinking and driving, teamwork, and texting and driving, which are all primary educational goals of Beat The Heat. The Jr. Dragster program also has a focus on illegal street racing and teamwork. Of course, texting and driving affects everyone.
Through the years, Beat The Heat has met many parents and family members of Jr. Dragster drivers who were involved in emergency service (fire and EMS) and law enforcement. These families have shown interest in working together with our program to achieve a common goal.
Under the new BTH Jr. Dragster program, the family member who meets the criteria for membership in Beat The Heat may join. The Jr. driver will also be able to join with a half-price membership.
The Jr. drivers will share in the responsibility of submitting the required BTH quarterly to include events, expenses and sponsorship information. All Jr. Dragsters must meet all of the NHRA requirements. They will be required to display a BTH logo with a 4-inch minimum on their car adjacent to their NHRA numbers.
Unlike the other members, their vehicles are not required to have emergency vehicle lights or graphics. However, if the agency of employment of the family members allows them to display those graphics, BTH proudly endorses this.
It is the goal of Beat The Heat to allow much more interaction between the two organizations. This will also allow the Jr. Dragster BTH members to participate in the BTH events around the country.
Beat The Heat has teams representing the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. The Beat The Heat teams conduct on average 700 plus events annually worldwide and come in direct contact with more than 1.5 million youths.
The members of Beat The Heat are excited about the future of this expansion and feel that this will only enhance our goals as well as our relationship with NHRA.
Interested parties can contact the board members listed below.
Lt. Tom Brown, President
Lt. Tommy Hansen, Vice President
Officer Jim Harris, Secretary/Treasurer
Antron Brown will take part in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Pro/Celebrity race April 17 that is a prelude to the following day's IndyCar race on the 1.97-mile street course in downtown Long Beach, Calif.
Brown and 17 other participants will race in 210-horsepower Scion FR-S race-prepped cars, navigating high speeds and demanding turns to benefit Racing for Kids, a national fundraising program supporting children's hospitals throughout the United States.
The announced field of intensely competitive personalities includes actors Alfonso Ribeiro, Robert Patrick, and Mekhi Phifer; former NFL and Olympic athlete Willie Gault; Olympian Dara Torres; and musicians Mark McGrath and John Rzeznik.
Brown will be in the Pro division, which will start 30 seconds behind the others.