Every Labor Day weekend since 1961, Lucas Oil Raceway has hosted the NHRA's most important race of the year—the NHRA U.S.Nationals. In this excerpt from the "Mr. 4 Speed" documentary series, currently in production on the life of Herb McCandless, we hear Buddy Martin and McCandless reflect on that historic Pro Stock weekend 50 years ago. Enjoy this iconic footage, the emotional interviews, and the roar of Pro Stock Race Hemi engines.
Buddy Martin: Like in NASCAR racing, you want to win Daytona. If you're racing in drag racing, you want to win the U.S. Nationals. Course, we'd been fortunate enough to do that with the ’68 car, but in Pro Stock we had the Pro Stock [Plymouth] Duster that Herb[McCandless] was driving.
Along with Ronnie Sox and Herb McCandless there were over 90 top Pro Stockers in the [1970 Indy] pits against the field like this. You best be prepared with just 32 qualifying spots. Most won't make it to Sunday.
Herb McCandless: We went up there as prepared as best as we possibly could with the best of everything we had. When we got there, the track was slicker than we thought it should have been. And I actually borrowed an aluminum flywheel from Bill Bagshaw and took the 20 pound wheel out of the car and put the aluminum wheel in the car on Saturday. And it was probably a very good decision because it did pick the car up a couple of hundreds and Sunday, I couldn't tell you who I ran to be honest with you, you know, round for round, but, uh, I was running the same numbers almost to the hundredth, you know, every run and it came down to me and [Arlen] Vanke in the final.
Keith Jackson: This Pro Stock catagory is a little hotter. Red, white, and blue is McCandless. Vanke is on the far side. The Pro Stock title is on the line right now.
Buddy Martin: Herb moved on him and held for the win, and that was, that was exciting.
Herb's like the rookie that just cinched the first ever Super Bowl, he's won the biggest Pro Stock race of the year.
Herb McCandless: Dave, Christie, and Buddy [Martin] we're coming down the return road beside the track when we came by and I was in front and Dave said, he'd never seen Buddy that excited in his whole life. And I hadn't either. When he got out of the car, he was tickled to death.
After all the work on the cars, all the miles, all the racing, all the lessons learned, this is an emotional win for everyone.
Buddy Martin: Ronnie got a little bit ill at me at the time because he knew that I was excited about Herb and about Herb winning and so forth. And of course, after I explained to Ronnie that it was good for Sox & Martin, because it showed that we could do something besides just [Ronnie] driving the car, that we could build cars for other people that would be competitive, that Herb could go out there and represent us and win. And so he, you know, he was okay with it after that.
While Ronnie is a diehard competitor to his very core, as team owner, he understands how important this moment is for Sox & Martin for Herb, for the sport, and for the fans.
Herb McCandless: Well, you know I just wanted the biggest thing in my life. And they had [ABC] Wide World of Sports would do about a 15-20 minute show on the finals and stuff at the major events back then. So Chris Economaki stopped me as I was coming off the track coming back around to the return road...
Keith Jackson: The winner! That's the first big one for you?
Herb McCandless: Yes, in the Pro Stock. I'm really happy. I just don't know what to say.
Keith Jackson: Ronnie Sox was sitting down there with that tree kinda green...
Herb McCandless: Yeah, Ronnie, he had some transmission trouble. It's just one of those things. I'd rather be lucky than fast a lot of times.
Keith Jackson: You really had to put the pressure on equipment this year, though, didn't you?
Herb McCandless: Yes, we really did. We really pushed the cars hard. This is the toughest field of cars I've ever seen.
Keith Jackson: Herb, you did a great job. Congratulations.
Herb McCandless: Thank you very much, sir.
Keith Jackson: The young man from Burlington, North Carolina, Herb McCandless wins his first major title at 27 years of age in the Sox & Martin Duster.
Herb McCandless: Of course, I called my mom and told her I won.
It's a hard and fast rule that women aren't allowed on the road. Racing is serious business at Sox & Martin, but sometimes rules just don't work out the way they're designed, and sometimes that's OK, too.
Herb McCandless: Marie [Herb's wife] actually drove from Burlington to Indy herself, she had her own motel room. Uh, Ronnie went, picked her up, uh, over the pits and she was about a halfway down sitting with, with his group, watching the final. Ronnie went and got her and brought her down to the winner's circle for me. And they was, they were just great. I had a smile on my face I couldn't have gotten off. I was tickled to death. At that time, that was the closest NHRA final run that there had ever been. There was only two thousands of a second difference between us at the finish line, but I had left the line just a little bit. So I was about a fender in front. I knew when I put it in high gear, it was mine. That was a great day.
Despite his win, after what happened with [Dick] Landy in Pomona and [Bill] Tanner in York, Herb's not about to sit back and rest on his laurels.
Herb McCandless: Well, I left there and went to an NHRA points event in Amarillo the next weekend, where I won the division title there in Pro Stock. And as far as I was concerned that was job security, I'd runner-up'd at York, won Indy, and won Amarillo the week after. I knew I had a ride for the next year, for sure. And Buddy told me that. He said, "You know, you're here, no problem".
Not only does Herb achieve job security. He goes from regional hero to a member of an elite group, the best Pro Stock racers in the sport.
What history will be made at the Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis this year?
To catch all the action of the 2020 DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA U.S. Nationals in person you can buy your tickets HERE, livestream the race on NHRA.tv, and be sure to watch the full NHRA on FOX broadcast on your local Fox channel.