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Favorite Race Car Ever voting: Early Door Cars/Roadsters

11 Jul 2008
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider


Sox & Martin Barracuda


Bill Jenkins '68 Camaro


Don Carlton Motown Missile


Stone, Woods and Cook Willys


Ohio George” Montgomery Willys


Prock and Howell "F" Troop Willys


Mooneyham & Sharp 554 coupe

Final results for all-time favorite early doorcar/roadster/altered
Stone, Woods and Cook Willys
1030
(27.06%)
Sox & Martin Barracuda
646
(16.97%)
Bill Jenkins '68 Camaro
574
(15.08%)
Mooneyham & Sharp 554 coupe
367
(9.27%)
“Ohio George” Montgomery Willys
235
(6.17%)
Don Carlton Motown Missile
202
(5.31%)
Gas Ronda Thunderbolt
176
(4.62%)
Prock and Howell "F" Troop Willys
152
(3.99%)
Dick Landy Dodge Dart
131
(3.44%)
Ratican-Jackson-Stearns Fiat
95
(2.50%)
Danny Townsend bantam roadster
81
(2.13%)
Shores & Hess Anglia
52
(1.37%)
Hugh Tucker '28 Chevy AA/SR
37
(0.97%)
Terry Hoard Samurai Warrior Mazda
28
(0.74%)
Total Votes: 3806


Ratican-Jackson-Stearns Fiat


Shores & Hess Anglia


Hugh Tucker’s '28 Chevy AA/SR


Gas Ronda Thunderbolt


Dick Landy Dodge Dart


Terry Hoard Samurai Warrior Mazda


Danny Townsend Bantam

Welcome, race fans and column readers, to the next round in our Favorite Race Car Ever balloting. We kicked off this ambitious project a few weeks ago with a call for nominees, and I was not disappointed. The width and breadth of your selections has been breathtaking, as have the memories you have shared.

On Wednesday, we began the first voting with Exhibition Cars, and as I prepare this Friday morning, more than 2,600 votes have been cast. Some clear favorites have emerged, but because balloting will continue in all of the categories until the last one is posted, there’s still time to rally your pals to vote for your faves.

Okay, on to today’s poll, which probably is the one with which I most struggled. There’s such a variety of cars that were nominated that finding a home for some of them was difficult as I wanted to have polls of about 16 each time. I’m calling this one Early Door Cars/Roadsters, and it covers everything from early Pro Stockers to A/Gas Supercharged cars and more. It’s quite an eclectic mix.

One of the most nominated teams in this category was the fabled North Carolina killers, Ronnie Sox and Buddy Martin. Most of the love fell on their 1968-70 Barracudas, so that’s how I’m labeling this one.

Christine and Steven Wilhelm raved, “Great paint scheme, always butt-kickin' cars, and the best Super Stock/Pro Stock driver of the era. I was a big Mopar fan, and Sox & Martin were top of the heap.”

Tom “Fasthair” Scott added, “Does it get any more American than a Hemi in a red, white, and blue car? That baby was classic street rod, and 'Mr. 4 Speed' was the best of the best. Nuff said.”

David Parsons agreed. “The simplicity of the red, white, and blue paint scheme applied to their super-sanitary ’70 ‘Cuda was only surpassed by Ronnie Sox’s stellar win record. Watching Ronnie row through the gears was poetry in motion.”

Dave Cornelius heaped on the love. “First, you have one of the all-time-greatest production race cars ever turned out. Then you had Ronnie Sox, arguably the greatest four-speed driver ever. The professionally run team with the snappy attire, factory car clinics, and slick-looking rigs topped it all off to make for an impressive package that helped advance the sport of drag racing into a full-time profession. They were a class act from top to bottom, and they performed!”

R. Kovacs said that his favorite memories revolved around the annual Fourth of July Pro Stock show put on by one of his local northeast Ohio tracks. “These were basically run-what-you-brung races, and between rounds, most teams would be thrashing the cars, moving weight, etc. Ronnie, Buddy, and sometimes Jake [King, mechanic] could be found sitting by their rig talking to the fans and signing pictures. Then, more often than not, they took care of business on the track.”

From the same era came some serious votes for Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins’ ’68 Camaro. Count Chuck Garlits among its biggest fans. “Why? Because it helped launch the Pro Stock class and promote the wars between brands. The Mopars were sweet and are still a classic today, evidence the AH/SS Westcott and other '68 'Cuda Hemi cars, but Jenkins beat those guys with this rather simple showroom car with Cragar mags and a big box on the hood!”

More Mopar accolades were hung on the Motown Missile machines of the late Don Carlton.

Wrote Paul Schack, “I had been following the development of the Motown Missile from the start with the original ‘70/’71 Challenger. It was the ‘72 Barracuda Missile that blew me away. I was in the Navy and stationed in San Diegoin 1972. Some buddies and I went to the Winternationals. When I saw the ‘72 Motown Missile in the pits, I was in awe. It was simply the most beautiful drag car I had ever seen. It was much more than a beautiful car. It had lots of innovations that made it the car to beat. In those days, the Pro Stock cars carried the front wheels high in the air on a launch, and the great drivers like Don Carlton made the 1-2 shift without the front end ever setting down. That car influenced me more than any other drag race car in my life. The influence was so great that in 1973 I built and raced for six years a '70 Barracuda that was as close as I could make it to a Missile look-alike on a poor sailor’s budget.”

Paul Cuff’s ties also are of an emotional nature. “When I was in my teens, in western New York, I had occasion to go to the closest dragstrip, Niagara Dragway. I recall some of the Super Stockers, and this was around the time of the altered-wheelbase cars, which later became known as 'funny cars.' I remember seeing this Dodge named Iron Butterfly and liked the way it looked and ran, which may have influenced my love of mid-‘60s Mopars. The owner of this car was a guy named Dick Oldfield. He and his brother John used to race at the local tracks and were pretty well-known. John raced a ’63 split-window ‘Vette. Fast-forward to a few years ago. A new owner is moving into the house across the street. One day, I see a car hauler pull up, and I watch as a red ’63 Corvette rolls into the garage. I smell drag racer. Time to introduce myself! I wander over to greet my new neighbor, only to realize that I’m looking at a ‘real’ ’63 split-window. Before I can say anything, my neighbor, Jason Oldfield, tells me about the car’s history. Come to find out that he is indeed the nephew of Dick Oldfield. I also recognize Dick’s name in connection to the Motown Missile cars, some of the most innovative cars of the early days of Pro Stock. I have since found out that the prototype four-link setup used in Pro Stock is under that ‘Vette. I have since become friends with Jason and Dick and have heard so many interesting stories about some of the old Missile cars. John Oldfield passed away several years ago, but Jason is updating the Corvette and continues to race it in

Super Street
and Super Gas. There is a Web site (The 1970 Hamtramck Registry) with a ton of info about the old Missile cars with lots of interesting photos. Sitting around with Dick is just a riot, and the names he knows would fill anyone’s racing heroes list."

Going back a few more years, the A/Gas Supercharged machines also proved a fan favorite, with the Stone, Woods & Cook Willys fronting the pack and “Ohio George” Montgomery right on their bumper.

“The Stone, Woods & Cook '40 Willys coupe was one of the most classic blown doorslammers from the '60s,” opined Mike Bockius. “With its wheels in the air, launches were a photographer’s dream for classic drag racing photos."

Reader Fred (no last name given) remembers seeing S-W-C take on K.S. Pittman at his local track, whose two lanes of racing were separated by a grassy area. “We were sitting behind the starting line when K.S. and S-W-C staged for their last run. It was just after dusk on a beautiful summer evening. The track lights were on, and a light mist was coming off the Ohio River, giving the whole scene a movie-like appearance. K.S. was in the left lane and S-W-C on the right, the Tree came down, and they launched. K.S. went straight down his lane, but S-W-C unwillingly provided a little more excitement. Seeing a Willys pull a wheelie has been photographed many times; it's pretty much a staple of any gasser coverage. That night, S-W-C not only pulled the front tires into the air, he also torqued the left rear about four feet off the pavement, causing him to slide left into the grassy area between the lanes. It was then I witnessed one of the greatest driving efforts I've ever seen. Remember, he was going into the grass on one tire under throttle. Just as the right rear hits the grass, he gets out of it, the front comes down, he gets it straightened out, back onto the pavement, and proceeded to 'bend the throttle and boil the oil' all the way to the end. He still turned 150 mph through the traps. I've been to many races since then. I was there for the first 300-mph run at Columbus and, thanks to ESPN, have seen many more memorable events on TV. None of them has stuck with me as much as that one summer night in 1967. Probably also explains why there is a ‘41 Willys project in my garage also.”

Chip Kregel resides solidly in the Montgomery camp. “I was a big AA/G fan and of the rest of the gas classes. ‘Ohio George’ was a class act in the ‘60s at the U.S. Nationals. I remember especially when all the other gassers were pushed to start the engine and George was pushed up to the line but then hit the key and started the ‘33.”

Dave Wallace of Shiloh, Ill. (not to be confused with the drag racing journalist/historian) also gets the willies over the Willys, but his favorite was the Prock & Howell F Troop ‘33 Willys. “I worked part time at Island Dragway in Great Meadows N.J., for quite a few years, and they were running a circuit with the Hill Bros., Chuck Finders, and I think Skip Hess at the tail end of the AA/G days. Funny Cars had become much more popular, so to make a few bucks, they were running these cars on some percentage of nitro, which made for some slick flames and a whole lot of fun racing. Island is smack in the middle of some New Jersey wetlands, and when they run on Saturday nights in the summer, it can get pretty foggy up on the top end. I think this was a Fourth of July weekend and the four cars put on a great show, but in the final it was impossible to see the top end of the track; only the win light was visible. The final race was between the Hill Bros. and Prock & Howell, and I'm not sure who won, but as they disappeared into the fog, all you could see was the nitro flames. I think it was the Hill Bros. who wound up off the side of the track as they couldn't see, and it was some time before anyone realized where they were. No major damage to their car, and the closest thing to a full-bodied fuel altered ever.”

Charlie Arford summed up his appreciation for the gassers of all flavors with a colorful description of their fuel-burning brothers for good measure. “Fuel altereds; how cool were those cars? The short little wheelbase. The little coupe of a body (if you could call it that) that just barely fit on the car's frame. That would be like putting a little tiny bikini bathing suit on Miss Hurst Shifter, Linda Vaughn, that was five sizes too small. Then, of course, out front of it all was a massive Hemi pointed at the sky ready to blast off into orbit. These cars didn’t leave anything to the imagination, just like that bikini would have done on Miss Linda. You just knew it was going to be a VERY wild ride; driving the car that is. Then you have the Gassers, the full-body cars with big honk’n motors in them. The straight-line bodies as I called them like the Chevy Nova II and Ford Comet had the rear wheelbase moved forward 18 inches with a straight axle front end moved forward six inches and a nose-high rake to them. But best of all were the eight velocity stacks sticking out of the hood and none of them seem to fit right. The shade-tree engineering that went into these cars was something else, too. The only speed shops around were one-off stores. You didn’t order online and have it shipped out next-day air. You had to get in your car and drive down there and hope they were open and had what you needed, and if they didn’t, it was off to the junkyard to find something that you could make work. When you got to the speed shop (and they were open), that’s where the engineering part comes in. Not a lot of experience to draw from back then ‘cause everybody was learning at the same time. You sat at the counter and benched raced with everybody there and hoped you could come up with a setup that wouldn’t kill you, then it was off to the track to see if the theory worked like it did back at the shop. Ah, it was the best of times.”

Before fuel altereds became characterized by the now-familiar T-roadster look, the famed 554 ‘34 Ford coupe of the late Gene Mooneyham was a quarter-mile star in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. Originally a dry-lakes entry with a ‘34 Sedan body, Mooneyham and Carl Johnson ran as fast as 127 mph at Bonneville with flathead power. The car was converterd to quarter-mile use in the late 1950s, and Al Sharp entered the pictured with a 331 Chrysler Hemi, pumped up to 390 and running on 60-70 percent nitro with a GMC 6-71 blower and Enderle injectors. The 554 came by accident, as the car had been lettered for a Bonneville event, but the painter applied the digits with marine paint. "It was just supposed to be for that race, but when we tried later to repaint the car, the imprint was still in the sheet metal because of the type of paint he used," Mooneyham told National DRAGSTER in 1998. "We ended up repainting the number on the car, and that was a good thing because it became the car's trademark." Mooneyham retired as driver of the car after an accident at a San Diego dragstrip and was replaced in the seat by Larry Faust. The car won its class at the 1960 Bakersfield event and was number one on the Drag News Jr. Eliminator list in 1962 and early 1963. Faust successfully defended his spot 13 times before losing to the Cedarquist & Ryan entry. Opined Michael Moore, “Talk about crude and heavy, but who cared, it smoked the tires all the way!”

In the unblown category are two Southern California faves, the Ratican-Jackson-Stearns Fiat and the Shores & Hess Anglia.

The Ratican-Jackson-Stearns team – tuner Don Ratican, chassis guru Bill Jackson, and driver Ron Stearns – was three high-school buddies who won A/A class at the Nationals two years running, 1960 in Detroit and 1961 in Indy with their Fiat-bodied A/A, and were a huge SoCal favorite. They only raced together for three years but left an indelible impression.

The Shores & Hess Anglia was a regular at places such as Lions, Irwindale, and Fontana in the mid-1960s. Skip Hess was a transplanted Chicagoan who came to SoCal as a kid and fielded a series of cars before partnering with JimShores to purchase an unblown A/Gas Anglia from Johnny Loper. They did well in A/Gas and later moved up to A/Gas Supercharged. The team finally broke up, and Hess struck out on his own with a Mustang gasser but retired in 1973 and founded the Mongoose bicycle company, which he sold in 1985.

Hugh Tucker's

'28 Chevy Street
Roadster might not be known to many, but its admirers, such as reader Mark Whitmer, are ardent in their support. The car initially was powered by a 400-cid Olds with six Strombergs but gained a blower in 1961 and became Chrysler-powered in 1966. Despite its heft – a reported 3,000 pounds – it could still yank the front wheels off the ground. “That car looked so good and performed so equally well that it changed my whole attitude about California,” said Whitmer. “Nothing as cool as that Ventura Motors entry could come from a bad place.”

NHRA’s Stock and Super Stock classes of the 1960s embraced Detroit and welcomed them with open arms. The manufacturers in turn embraced the "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday" philosophy, and for Ford, its main weapons were the Tasca Ford team, Les Ritchey, and a Southern California dance instructor and racer named Gas Ronda, who did battle against the Chevys, Dodges, and Pontiacs. One of the most memorable cars of that era for Ford lovers was Ronda’s Thunderbolt. Designed at Ford and built around the 427 Fairlane, the Thunderbolts hit the strip in 1964. Although only 50 cars were required to run in Factory Experimental, more than 100 were built and sold (at just $3,900!), making them eligible to run in Super Stock rather than in Factory Experimental, and Ronda won the 1964 Winternationals, defeating Butch Leal’s Thunderbolt with an 11.78 at 123.40.
Another Southern California favorite was “Dandy Dick” Landy, and like Ronda’s Thunderbolt, Landy’s early Darts were nominated by quite a few.

“The first time I saw him race was when my brother took me to the drags at the old San Fernando dragstrip,” recalls Bill Brown. “It was 1964, and Dick had the ‘64 Dodge with the straight-axle front end and the rear wheels that moved a few inches. It had the Hemi, which in those days, no one had a Hemi! In 1965, Dick received a car with one of the radical altered wheelbases from Dodge that won the March Meet in Bakersfield when be beat Butch Leal, who had the altered-wheelbase Plymouth in the final. The Dodge car was the fastest and most known on the West Coast. Later in the year, the car was fuel injected and then nitro was added, which was the first of the Funny Cars as we know it today. In 1966, Dick started the year with a ‘66 Dodge Dart with the fuel injection but later went to a blower as that seemed to be where the sport was going. 1967 brought a whole new direction from the factories, and Dick was a leader in the Super Stock wars. This eventually led to the start of Pro Stock, where Dick was a leader. I followed Dick Landy up through the early ‘70s, where he was the leader for the Dodge and Chrysler Corp. and won many races. This was a time when you win on Sunday and sell on Monday, which was truly a big ticket for the auto industry. We remember Dick on a burnout with the tires smoking, open-face helmet, and cigar in his mouth, smiling. He certainly is missed by this Southern California race fan.”

The final two entries from a more recent time: Terry Hoard’s Samurai Warrior Mazda RX3, which was a terror in NHRA’s Modified ranks in the 1970s, and Danny Townsend’s A/A, which tore up Comp in the 1980s.

Hoard’s rotary-engined wonder won the 1979 Springnationals and Mile-High Nationals and the 1980 SPORTSnationals and Fallnationals.

According to Bret Kepner, “Hoard's RX3 originally fit into the C/Modified Compact classification but quickly proved to be much more than a second quicker than the index. The Modified Compact classes included a variety of foreign four-cylinder powerplants. However, NHRA knew revising the index to fit Hoard's performance would simply obliterate every other car in the C/MC class, so they simply moved the four-rotor RX3 combination into B/MC, one class higher. Hoard destroyed the index in that class, too, so NHRA moved him to A/MC. He bombed the competition again. Eventually, they put Hoard in the AA/MC class, in which he was forced to run against turbocharged four-cylinders, (Buddy Ingersoll's turbo Pinto was the killer at the time), but Hoard had to run without a blower. He still romped.” When Modified was eliminated in 1981 and the classes assimilated into Comp and Super Stock, Hoard’s hard-to-regulate combination was eliminated.

Said Bill Hite of Hoard, “When he was on the line ready to launch, there was no other sound like it. My friends and I would drop everything else to be on the starting line to watch and hear that car leave. I can’t at this time compare anything else to the sound of that Wankel rotary motor upstairs.”

Townsend has run many cars in his all-star career, from a ’48 Fiat to Top Alcohol Funny Cars, but his A/A Bantam roadster was perhaps his greatest winner. With it he won Comp at the 1982 Cajun, Summer, and NorthStar Nationals and was runner-up at that year’s World Finals at OCIR. He also won the 1985 Gatornationals and Southern Nationals while partnered on the car with Dennis King, when the car was known as Asian Flew … and it did.

Okay, so there you have it … today’s choices. Pics, as always, are at left with the poll. Have at it! I'll probably leave this column intatc through Tuesday instead of my normal Monday column since traffic seems to decline a bit on the weekends. Tuesday's column may be another favorites vote -- which woul dbe the early dragsters poll; some tough choices to be made there -- or something else I cook up.