Racing Into Dodge’s History at PRI 2010

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 NHRA’s 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 team’s 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 winner’s 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 Herb’s 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 team’s 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.
“I’m 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. “That’s 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 Dodge’s performance efforts. As it unfolds in real time, I wonder what we’ll 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 Herb’s 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.


    Posted December 22, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    RLD, I just get a red X for the picture, can you attach another picture?

  • HEMIhead
    Posted December 22, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Yes, the first picture is not loading, only an “X”.
    WOW! Dodge, put that Gen III 426, aluminum block HEMI in the Challenger!
    Now that’s awesome! What would be more awesome to order from your local Dodge dealer,
    than a Challenger with a drag strip HEMI under the hood! Call it Challenger RT+S, Road/Track and Strip! Now that would Stomp the competition!

    Posted December 22, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    HEMIhead, I think they need to offer a 426 HEMI street version in next year’s Challengers with a shaker hood. Hopefully, the 8 speed transmission and MDS will be available so we can also get 20 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on the highway.

  • HEMIhead
    Posted December 22, 2010 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    I agree Sublime, that would be awesome indeed. I talked to many people about the 6.1L, and
    they say, “I don’t want any fuel saving modes or any of that stuff, I want a real V8. That’s why
    I got the 6.1L” So far, I have discovered that I have a 4 door (Not a muscle car), and 5.7 Hemi (that’s not a real true V8) like the “old” days. I guess fuel economy don’t mean alot to everybody. To be honest, if I could afford an SRT8 vehicle or anything new/old with a 426, I wouldn’t be driving it everyday anyways, so if it got 10 mpg it wouldn’t bother me.
    Now, If I had a mopar like a roadrunner, charger, cuda, challenger,demon, or superbee from the era of 1968-1971, with any of those wedge engines, or hemis, I would’nt even care less
    about what was offered today. I wouldn’t be interested in buying any of them, and I probably
    wouldn’t even post on this blog. I just think those old mopar can’t be beat for style, power, simplicity, and steel.
    I love the stories and the nostaligia. Go here and read about the plymouth roadrunner story;
    You gotta love that stuff! I see Chrysler has registered the “CUDA” trademark. What does this mean? A ‘cuda in the future?

    Posted December 22, 2010 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    Yes, the ‘cuda has been registered as a trademark by Chrysler. Since all the dealerships now have to sell all the brands (Chrysler, Dodge, Ram, and Jeep..oh, and I almost forgot Fiat), then why can’t there be a Chrysler ‘cuda? Everyone that I know who knows very little about Chrysler products has heard of the Charger and the ‘cuda. When I tell them I have a Challenger, they tell me you mean Charger. The word ‘cuda is well known by the public so it is time to refine the Challenger and make a ‘cuda (shaker hood, billboards, 426 Hemi, the whole nine yards), In fact, Chrysler ‘cuda has a nice ring to it and it should be the top of the line muscle car that is offered in a convertible and with a supercharged 426 HEMI that will outrun anything Ford and Chevy can muster. Only offer it in the high impact colors because it will be the ultimate muscle car, not another boring Vette that blends into the crowd.

  • Carl
    Posted December 23, 2010 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to see a new Demon. Offer the 225, PentaStar V6, 318, and a 345(5.7) HEMI.(To replace the old 340) And then make it look like a ’72 with the Taillights Grill and roofline. If i remember right the ’74 Duster sold 281,378 units, Why not bring the Demon back as the Economy Muscle Car, Bump off the Avenger and add the Demon as an SRT Model at $26,000, Base Demon(225-PentaStar) at $17,000, and a Demon Sport with a 318 at $20,000, And to keep the 4DR nuts happy Make a Demon as a 4DR and everybodys happy.

    Posted December 23, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    I must emphatically agree with Carl. Even the “tuners” would give up their toy rides to get into a faster muscle car for the same price. Dodge needs to cater to the youth, get them on board so they will be loyal and buy Dodge products all their life. Even if they lose money on the base models, however, I doubt that if they make them customized from the factory. Ask the youth what they want and make it. The cars have got to look steamlined like the good old days (late 60s-early 70s).

  • HEMIhead
    Posted December 24, 2010 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Merry Christmas To everyone at RLD, and the the Mopar heads who blog here!
    Mopar Christmas To All and a HEMI Goodnite!

  • Carl
    Posted December 27, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Well if you think about it the Demon/Duster were created in 1970 because gas prices shot up and so did insurence prices if you had a big block. It was countered with a 340 that still made the car a rocket doing 160MPH But it kept the fuel economy because the car was light and had a smallblock. Small enough for 21st century standards, Whip a PentaStar v6 in it Good fuel economy, But still fast because it’s a small Light vehicle. Back in the day it was Steel and the Feather Duster got 38MPG(Look it up it’s strange) Because it had a 225 Slant Six in it. With lighter materials Dodge could make it easily get 45+ with an 8spd in 2012. To keep the hippies happy make an Electric Demon and market it under that name. Like i said make a 4dr Demon with the optional 2dr, and it’s marketable to everybody. The commuters/familys, Get a 4dr and the people who want a 2dr Coupe get a sports car with the looks of a Muscle Car but still get the fuel economy of a normal vehicle. Hell They could even market it as an SRT4 with a 345(5.7HEMI) and it would probly go 160MPH again. Just no front wheel drive, You can’t do a wheelie with front wheel.

  • Carl
    Posted December 27, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    My bad 36MPG*

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