The '65 season found Al driving...
The '65 season found Al driving for the Plymouth Golden Commandos team. Running on nitro, he took this altered-wheelbase machine to a win over Dick Landy at the first Super Stock Magazine Nationals in York, PA, of August that year. It would be his last major win in drag racing.
The '63 season opened at Pomona, California, in mid-February. Eckstrand, now 30 and one of the premier drivers nationwide, drove the Ramchargers team car to his first major Mr. Stock Eliminator title. At that edition of the NHRA Winternationals, running as quick as 12.12 in the process (this tied for low ET of the event in Super Stock), Eckstrand beat another Chrysler, the Plymouth of the Golden Commandos. This victory was the first time an automatic entry won that title, which was considered a major victory for Chrysler's new TorqueFlite transmission and the Max Wedge engine packages that had recently been released.
He returned to the forefront of the action at NHRA's other big race that season, the Nationals at Indianapolis over Labor Day. This time he was back in his own "Lawman" '63 Dodge, and he posted a runner-up to Herman Moser, who was in the Ramchargers Dodge entry. By 1963, Eckstrand was one of the few stock-class drivers flying to the races in a personal plane and was easily able to get appearance money for the Lawman.
The '64 model year brought about the debut of the most potent version of the 426 Max Wedge, and Al Eckstrand was now in a new Plymouth Belvedere hardtop. Although victory on the national level was evasive for this Lawman Plymouth, he could never be discounted on race day, especially on the match race level. With the advent of the Hemi, Eckstrand raced in both S/S and the A/FX division at the U.S. Nationals that year.
Now considered to be a hallmark year in stock-bodied drag racing, 1965 opened with Eckstrand combining forces with the other Chrysler factory team, Plymouth Division's Golden Commandos. At first sharing driving chores with John Dallifore and Forrest Pitcock, Eckstrand drove an A/FX legal version of a '65 Plymouth at the early winter meets that year and then took over the controls of the team's altered-wheelbase car. His legal work responsibilities were such that he raced mostly in the Detroit region, but he did run in the "match-bash" program at the new Bristol International Dragway that year. He also came out for the first Super Stock Magazine Nationals at York US 30 Dragway in August. Running in the Unlimited Fuel division with a healthy dose of nitromethane, Eckstrand proved he had lost none of his ability when he won that class title, beating Dick Landy's 9.58 with a holeshot assisted 9.67.
This is the '67 Barracuda...
This is the '67 Barracuda used in the service personnel program in Europe after the Charger. At this time, Al was spending several months a year preparing and executing the efforts of the newly-founded American Commando Drag Team. Note the castle in the background.
"That was an amazing event. I'll never forget it," he recalls. "Jon Lundburg was doing the announcing. They had so many people that they finally had to let them in for free. It was well after midnight by the time that final happened. It seemed like it was just run after run after run."
At the end of 1965, Eckstrand quit driving in open competition and focused on a different race-the human race. Servicemen stationed worldwide were returning to the United States with little understanding of the high-powered vehicles coming from Detroit's major manufacturers. Using a great deal of corporate finesse, Eckstrand got approval to bring one of Dodge's new 426 Hemi Chargers to England for exhibition runs at European racetracks. Under the auspices of the American Commando Drag Racing Team, which he founded for the purpose of exposing these vehicles to out-of-country enlisted men, he would continue this program successfully for the next three years. Later, a new 383-powered '67 Barracuda also became part of the demonstrations. Before the program was over, Eckstrand had organized and participated in the U.S. Masters Drag Racing meet and toured the cars throughout Europe. It should be noted that this was done in keeping with the military's severe restrictions on commercial selling on the bases; the primary purpose was to promote safe driving habits and understanding, not marketing.