NHRA - National Hot Rod Association


426 Hemi. Three numbers and four letters that changed drag racing forever

Designed 60 years ago, the first 426 Hemi engines destined for the strip were cast on Dec. 20, 1963.
20 Dec 2023
David Kennedy
426 HEMI. Three numbers and four letters that changed drag racing forever

The 426 Hemi engine was born to drag race. It's a legacy that NHRA celebrates with every SS/AA 'Cuda, Dart, and nitro Hemi-powered pass down the dragstrip. In 1964, the engine was supposed to make its first debut in competition at the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona. That would have been weeks before Richard Petty made the Hemi famous on the Daytona trioval, But it was not to be...

The scienced-out 426-cid Max Wedge cars were too quick for the all-new Hemis—at first. So the new cars were parked till the new Hemi's could be tuned.  Back in 2014, we spoke to Tom Hoover during the Hemi’s 50th anniversary for an article in Hot Rod Magazine to find out why it had not.

“We had some 426 HEMI cars there,” he said, “but they were just stock engines, bolted together by the assembly line at the Chrysler marine facility in Marysville [Michigan]. We rented track time to make some test runs, and they were slower than the [426] Wedge cars. We couldn’t have that at Pomona, our new race package be slower! We didn’t run them again till later, after I had taken them apart, blueprinted them, made some real headers, that kind of thing. Then they ran good.”

To see how good, watch the highlights of the 1964 NHRA U.S. Nationals to hear those HEMI’s roar.

🎨HEMI illustration by Paul Williams