POMONA, Calif. (July 5, 2001) - In 1961 Dick Maxwell and the Ramchargers set out to change Dodge's image on the street. The sport of drag racing has never been the same since. As the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series remembers it's past during the...
POMONA, Calif. (July 5, 2001) - In 1961 Dick Maxwell and the Ramchargers set out to change Dodge's image on the street. The sport of drag racing has never been the same since.
As the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series remembers it's past during the Pep Boys NHRA 50th Anniversary Nationals at Pomona Raceway July 5-7, Dodge Motorsports also wanted to relive its drag racing history.
Dodge's dominance of Pro Stock and Super Stock competition back in the late 1960s and early 1970s was due mainly to a group of Dodge engineers known as the "Ramchargers". Starting in 1961, these 20 mechanical and mathematical wizards were tasked with putting some muscle into Dodge's production vehicles. One of the stars of that operation was Maxwell, who was instrumental in helping drivers like Dick Landy and Ronnie Sox, of Sox & Martin fame, become legends within NHRA lore.
A recent interview with Maxwell uncovered what the NHRA was like back in the early days of the sport.
Q: Could you describe Dodge's factory involvement during the early days of the NHRA?
A: The factory drag racing programs really started at Dodge and Chrysler in 1961, when the Ramchargers developed an engine to run in Frank Wiley's new car. The thing that really pushed corporate involvement though, was the emphasis that was being put on it (drag racing) by the competition -- primarily Pontiac. So we (Dodge) did the first package cars in late 1961 and 1962. From the factory standpoint, we had a lot of people out there racing for us.
Realistically, we had a little bit of an edge most of the time because we were developing a lot of the stuff that was being run in the cars. Sometimes that was good news and sometimes it wasn't because we had stuff in our cars that other people couldn't get. But it didn't always work. We had a different sponsorship program in the mid 1960s, as we ran two sponsored Super Stock cars in each sales zone. We had somewhere between 44 and 50 cars under parts contracts around the country.
We also had our professional teams that received the most factory support. And those were the Ramchargers with drivers Dick Landy, (Ronnie) Sox and (Buddy) Martin. It made a tremendous impact as far as getting Dodge and Plymouth out there in front of the drag racing crowd. Quite frankly, neither one of those divisions had any headway on the street within the younger markets. Of course, the corporation followed up with packages like the Road Runner, 426 Street Wedge and the 440 Six Barrels and that kind of stuff. The company followed right along on the bandwagon and backed up what they were doing on the race track by putting the right kind of stuff in the show rooms.
Q: In your opinion, why was Dodge's factory drag racing program so dominant in the late 1960s and early 1970s?
A: We were dominant for two reasons. We were dominant with the Wedge cars, once we got them worked out, quite simply because the people we had working on them were better than our competition. Primarily, again because of the RamChargers, a lot of us were doing this work as part of our daily jobs. We were better because we were all engineers and analyzed what was happening to the cars. And we made the right choices as to what it took to make the cars go faster. A lot of the guys we were racing against were really good at modifying the cars and making them go fast, but a lot of times, things would happen that they didn't understand. And if you didn't understand why, it made it difficult to get to the next step. We had the edge in that we had the training to understand why and could take it to the next step. The second reason was that once we entered the Hemi (engine), we were dominant because we had a technological edge that nobody else could match. We made more horsepower than everybody else.
Q: Is a modern day NHRA Pro Stock crew chief similar to one of 30-years ago?
A: I don't think so. The cars back then were not nearly as complex as they are today. We didn't have clutches to tune and we were running essentially stock suspensions in the front and back of the car. The cars were a whole lot less complex. It was sort of a package. Basically, all it took was an engine, driver and a suspension combination to make the car go fast. These days, it takes an engine, driver, clutch and knowledge of the suspension to go fast. The technology of the sport has advanced so much. It's made adapting the car to the driver a lot more important. At least that's my feeling on it.
Q: How has the sport of NHRA Winston Drag Racing changed over the past 50 years?
A: It was a lot different back then. It was not nearly as professional in those days, but probably for the participant, more fun because it wasn't as professional. There is so much corporate pressure these days to succeed. It's just not from the factories though, but also from the other companies that have their names, and have put a lot of money into these programs. Now, I don't think it's as much fun as it used to be. But technologically, it's way ahead of what it used to be. And it's so much bigger.
The NHRA has done a tremendous job of building this sport into something that really means something. I was talking to (Senior Vice President of NHRA Racing Operations) Graham Light earlier and the NHRA is only behind Winston Cup in television ratings. That's just incredible. I think that the factory involvement in the 1960s had a lot to do with building it because companies started talking about it in their advertising. We made a case for it (drag racing) by bringing it to the Dodge dealerships and getting them behind it. So I think that that all helped build it as well.