The 23rd annual Performance and Racing Industry (or PRI) show was held in Orlando, Florida on December 9-11, again offering a fresh opportunity to see the latest technical developments on the performance front from around the world. In the Mopar booth, mixed in with information kiosks and parts displays, were two revolutionary vehicles. One was a Pro Stock class Dodge Demon drag car from 1972 that represented the fruits of victory associated with skill and hard effort.
Driver Herb McCandless was known as Mr. 4-Speed back in the day, for his uncanny ability to transition through the gears with a manual transmission. First in NHRAs Super Stock, then in the new Pro Stock class starting in 1970, McCandless was well-respected. Indeed, owner Buddy Martin hired him to drive that teams second entry in 1970, a Duster, while legendary driver Ronnie Sox piloted a similarly painted Barracuda; this paid off handsomely when McCandless won the prestigious U.S. Nationals that summer for Sox & Martin. The car in the Mopar booth was radical in many ways, not least of all being the first Sox and Martin team car to wear the Dodge brand.
Like other Chrysler Pro Stocks of the era, it featured the 426 Hemi, the A833 four-speed, and a Dana 60 rear. Into this mix, McCandless and mechanic Bird Shoffner, who built all the Sox and Martin customer engines, threw in twin-plug heads on a blueprinted (carefully fitted) engine, the very latest chassis science, the first application of the new wider 10×32 slicks Firestone was making, and more. McCandless missed a few early races in 1972 while the car was being completed, but once it was done, he began showing up in the winners circle.
That was the best car I ever owned, says Herb now, who was in attendance at the show to sign autographs. We won a lot of races with it in the United States Racing Team events and on the match race trail. The 16-car USRT circuit included the best Pro Stock cars in the nation, and McCandless, with the help of his full time mechanic, Gale Mortimer, won more than half of the races held that season.
However, due to racing politics, the Hemi was at a severe disadvantage that year, hindered by rules that mandated additional weight being added to any car using the famous engine at the bigger events. The small-block Chevrolet entries became the dominant force. Though he did not win, Herb got the headlines when the two-month-old car came into Englishtown, N.J. for the NHRA Summernationals in July 1972. During eliminations, he broke a wheelie bar on the burnout, causing the front end of the Demon to climb high in the air. The photographers took notice and got ready, and as Chevy hero Bill Jenkins was squeaking his Chevy mouse motor to victory in the other lane, no one looked; McCandless stood the Demon up almost on its rear bumper then expertly drove out of the wheelie to safely bring the car to earth 100 feet down the track. The photos were spectacular.
The car had not been seen for many years, though Herb had an idea where it was. Armed with that clue, noted collector Todd Werner located it and then had a costly restoration done to bring it back to like-new shape. This included amassing many scarce parts specific to that time period.
The level of construction on Herbs car is typical of Sox & Martin cars, and, for an old race car, it was in good shape when we found it, says Werner, who owns several of the teams vehicles. It took about 16 months to get it restored.
The science of Pro Stock racing was exacting even then, and development included work by factory-sponsored teams and factory engineers. Because of its success, the 426 Hemi would eventually become so hindered by the rules that it was virtually impossible to win, and Chrysler took a long hiatus from Pro Stock after that frustrating era. However, in the current age and rules change, factory driver Allen Johnson continues to proudly wear the Dodge moniker on his HEMI-powered Mopar-backed Dodge, as do others.
Im very proud that the cars we have are important enough that a company like Chrysler can say, that car is part of our history and display it at an event like this, say Todd. Thats why these cars need to be out there. I hear lots of stories from people about seeing the cars back in the day; that means more to me than owning a rare musclecar that was in the garage for years. These cars teach us about the history.
We mentioned two vehicles in the Mopar display. The second one was a more recent Challenger Drag Pak. When built, the car was intended for the Super Stock division, but has been since turned into an experimental project car by the engineers at Mopar. It has been lightened to under 3500 pounds. and has been set up with a Turbonetics turbocharger, experimental heads, and other parts. Early results have been promising. Parts on display in the booth included the newest Mopar all-aluminum crate motor Gen III HEMI for your late-model project, at the classic 426 inches, and the now-available 512 V10 Challenger Drag Pak for 2011, which was featured in the Dodge road show display.
Looking at it all, this modern era of performance is getting as exciting as the days when Mr. 4-Speed took the Sox & Martin Demon into the record books; skill, development, and style remain the hallmarks of Dodges performance efforts. As it unfolds in real time, I wonder what well be writing about 40 years from now!
Restored to its original configuration, here is Herb McCandless Demon, now owned by Todd Werner, at the PRI show.
With a great memory and a ready smile, Herb met with fans at the event. Next to him is Top Fuel legend and current Challenger Drag Pak racer Big Daddy Don Garlits.
The engine in Herbs car featured the very latest technology in the Pro Stock ranks, and uses the dual-plug and twin-distributor ignition Chrysler had developed. Todd Werner was able to locate the very rare correct period pieces, which had been purchased by another Sox & Martin customer back in the day.
The latest Dodge engine offering, which debuted at PRI, is this Gen III 426 HEMI crate motor with an all-aluminum block.
Here is the suspension under the Demon. Attention to detail was a large part of the success of the Sox & Martin team; being able to adjust the rear suspension for conditions was a big leap forward for the class in 1972.
This Dodge Challenger Drag Pak is being tested by Mopar engineers with a turbocharged HEMI engine. Also using the new aluminum HEMI replacement block, the car will be developed more extensively this coming year.
Herb with the 2011 512 V10 Dodge Challenger Drag Pak, a car that is available in very limited quantities. Only 70 will be built, and it is the largest displacement Super Stock vehicle ever offered.