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Steve Reasbeck on Drag Racing 1962 to 1965 Mopars

Steve Reasbeck on Drag Racing 1962 to 1965 Mopars

October - November 2009:


Now that the racing season is over, at least here in the Northeast, and everyone’s leisure time is spent watching your local sports teams (in our case it is the Steelers, Penguins, and the Pitt Panthers), this might be a good time for some good ole’ reminiscing about the olden days. To top it off, with Halloween in mind, it might be a good time to talk about tricks.

Back in the dark ages, when I first became involved with drag racing 1962-1965 Mopars, most of the over-the-counter parts we all have become accustomed to that are used to make these cars competitive were not available. There were no Summit’s or Jegs’ mail order—there were local speed shops in their various areas of Ohio. Although I was familiar with both of them, if one wanted something it was necessary to make the trip to Akron or Columbus, or to order from your local speed shop. But, more often than not it wasn’t worth the effort because the parts you needed were non-existent.

The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) was the only game in town, then, at least in the Northeast USA. The American Hot Rod Association (AHRA) was their most visible competition, but they were primarily located in the Southwest, so they might as well have been racing on the moon. The International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) was pretty much exclusively in the southeast of the country. NHRA was very strict, as a lot of the modifications that are permitted today were a definite no-no. Things like wheel tubs, moving the springs in, replacing the leaf springs with ladder bars, and even relocating the battery was prohibited, even in Super Stock. When NHRA said “stock”, they meant it. Therefore, it was necessary to come up with some rather unorthodox ways to make stuff work, and get an advantage.

If you are a “purist” regarding these cars, you may want to stop here. There is this modern day opinion that these old race cars were very well maintained, and very meticulous in their preparation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most of the cars were pretty crude: mismatched parts and hacking and cutting to make stuff work. From the stands it may not have been obvious, but under close inspection you could see real quick some of the goings on that would have made you a laughing stock at any car show, and probably get you tossed out of tech at any sanctioned drag strip in operation today. However, back then, we just did it...never gave it a second thought.

Of course, most everyone is aware that it was common practice to change the K member on the 1962-1966 platform to the 1966-up B-body version. A quick check of the headers available will tell you that the 1962-1965 is sort of unique. By switching to the later K member, it moved the engine and transmission back about an inch and a half, which did have an effect on weight transfer. This was good for a couple of years before the tech guys finally caught on—although I am almost positive it still goes on.

Tire clearance was also a problem with these cars. Anyone who has ever raced a 1962-1965 B body without the springs being relocated, or the car tubbed, realizes that there is a limitation to the width of the slicks one can use. For a while, NHRA limited tire size to anything you could get under the stock wheel wells. So, what to do? Simple. Make the stockers bigger.

Someone, somewhere, came up with an ingenious idea. Take a bottle jack, one of those little hydraulic deals you get at the store, and a couple lengths of 2x4 lumber. You place the bottle jack on the inside of the wheel well, against the stock inner tub or frame, place the wood between the jack and the inside of the outer quarter panel, and push out with the jack. Walla! Instant tire clearance. We found that if done right, you could get a nine and a half inch slick under the cars doing that. Of course, after a while the tech guys figured that out, too, and that little deal was over.

To check cubic inch displacement, NHRA had this thing called a P&G checker. It looked like a big anti-freeze tester, except the hose end screwed into the spark plug hole. Once in there, this hose would pump air from the cylinder into the glass tube, and somehow they could read the calibrations and figure out the cubic inch displacement of the engine. Well, after a while someone figured out that if you under drove the starter you could mess that thing all up. It got to be a science, too, if you under drove the starter in just the right way, you could get a 484 inch Hemi to read 426 inches on the P&G.

Neutral starts—they were big for a while. My friend Dick Oldfield, the original driver of the MoTown Missile and a long time Chrysler race engineer is pretty much credited with starting that deal at one of the many Chrysler test sessions held at Detroit Dragway. It was exactly what it sounded like: run it up to about 4 or 5 grand in neutral, punch the “low” button, and off you went. Don’t forget, converter technology at the time was in its infancy, so everyone was looking for an edge. This “technique” worked pretty good, but did have it’s drawbacks, the major one being that sometimes a good bit of the transmission would be left laying on the starting line in a puddle of ATF.

At the 1967 NHRA Springnationals at Bristol, Tennessee (there were only four major events at the time), Ron Mancini, in his 1964 Dodge, made a real mess on the starting line against Ronnie Sox in the semis that took hours to clean up. NHRA had had enough, and when we all went to Indy on labor day in 1967, there were “no neutral starts” signs up all over the starting line. Chrysler had bought a tractor trailer load of transmissions down from Detroit, making them available free of charge to any Chrysler racer (they did a lot of that sort of stuff in the day), but NHRA had “seen the light” and they hauled the trailer back to Detroit, unopened.

Speaking of transmission explosions, Dick Oldfield’s Iron Butterfly 1964 Hemi Dodge made headlines when it detonated its Torqueflite transmission at the U.S. Nationals in 1969. The horrendous explosion virtually lifted the entire car off the ground. “It was long before the advent of high stall converters and that stuff,” said Oldfield of the incident. “Most everyone, including me, had the habit of making neutral starts. We would keep it in neutral, bring the revs up and then punch it into low, like a clutch car. When it worked, it helped quite a bit, but when it didn’t things could get pretty spectacular.” NHRA quickly banned the practice, but not before quite a few man-hours were spent cleaning up starting-line messes.

[Editor’s Note: Steve Stasko from New Castle, Pennsylvania, owner of the 1964 Dodge 440 Lau Raider adds:  “The Iron Butterfly was Ted Spehar’s car. It was not built until 1969 and was only raced in 1969. The car was built from Tina Spehar’s (Ted’s Wife) Slant 6 1964 Dodge 330. The car was built to run SS/CA with a steel nose.” Thanks Steve! — Steve R. adds: Yes, Spehar did build and own the car. But Oldfield drove. Dick was also the first driver of the MoTown Missile; Carlton did not start driving until mid year. The Missile Challenger debuted at the 1969 NHRA Summernationals at York (the one and only time it was held there) and Dick was driving. —  Thanks to both Steve’s great information.]

I could go on and on about this stuff, there is so much to tell, and not nearly enough space to tell it. It is just part of the wonderful memories I have of being involved with this sport, and my love for MoPars over the years. I am so grateful for the memories, and the friends, and consider myself to be so blessed it’s incredible. I don’t know what I ever did to deserve these blessings. My outlook comes from my faith, and by learning from the tough times. I have been given Last Rites twice, been very well off and bankrupt, and yet am still hear to enjoy these times. It’s been a gift, and I know it. You have the choice on how you see life.I encourage you all to see the glass half full.

Till next time, God Bless.

Steve R.

P.S. Below are a sample of snapshots taken by myself or by friends over the years. The Carlon Hine photo reminds me that he was a real heavy hitter in the Western Pennsylvania/Ohio area back in the day, and Hine Motors was a Dodge dealer in Kinsman, Ohio, that always had a ton of cars running. It was no big thing to have them show up at Quaker City or old Pittsburgh International with six or eight cars on a given night.

Al Graeber, 1964 Dodge, Tickle Me Pink
Merrimac Motors Big Red Plymouth
Merrimac Motors Big Red Plymouth
Carlon Hine Plymouth
Carlon Hine Honkin Hemi Plymouth
Flack and Comstock Plum Crazy 1965 Plymouth
Flack and Comstock Plum Crazy 1965 Plymouth
Tritak and Morgan 1964 Plymouth
Tritak and Morgan 1964 Plymouth

Contact: Reasbeck Racing
Johnstown, Pa.

October 27, 2009

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