The theme is as old as cars themselves: "mine is bigger/better/ faster/cooler than yours." Of course, this attitude could be proved (or disproved) in a mechanical joust; like the knights of old, it's a contest for honor more than anything else. While sanctioned drag racing as a sport is certainly more commercial than a simple matching of competitors for bragging rights, such matches still exist. When Tom Leasure of the Port City Mopar Club told us there would be a special race during their Mopars At The Rock event at Rockingham Dragway last April, we became more and more interested.
Two of the members were going to compete in a single quarter-mile race. What's unique about this is both cars were '70 'Cudas-one equipped with a 440-6 four-speed driveline, the other a Hemi automatic. Assisted by track owner Steve Earwood, their match would be the first cars to go down the North Carolina surface when Sunday's final eliminations began.
'70 Hemi 'Cuda - Dave Blankenship
Let's face it, little equals the street-savvy attitude of a Hemi E-Body. Even when these cars were new, buyers understood. According to sources, more '70 'Cudas were built with a Hemi under the hood than any other body style the elephant was offered in during its six-year run. Led by Ronnie Sox, Arlen Vanke, and Don Grotheer, the cars quickly established a reputation in Pro Stock drag racing, while sportsman machines, such as Super Stock magazine's Project Hemi 'Cuda (which they gave away at the end of the season) romped on amateur competitors.
Dave Blankenship of Holden Beach, North Carolina, bought an example three years ago; it was the car he'd always wanted. Although Dave enjoyed it, he thought it needed to be fully restored. After all, it showed only 2,674 miles on the odometer. The car was originally purchased as a drag car, and the first owner had run it as a legal stocker, then parked it. It was owned by a couple of other people since then, but still had some minor upgrades, so it wasn't really "stock."
"I'll be happy if the car runs down in the 12s; I'll be very happy with that," said David before the race. "I plan to do a dry burnout to keep water out of the tire grooves and the fenderwells, then leave and shift it at about 5,500 rpm."
In terms of changes, the engine has a mild solid lifter cam in place of the stock hydraulic, Hooker Super Competition headers, a deep-sump oil pan, and a Mopar Performance electronic ignition. A stock stall converter and a mild TCI TorqueFlite, coupled to a 4:10 Dana 60 rear are behind the engine. A pair of BFGoodrich 275/60R15 drag radials top it off. Dave admitted that since he wanted to make just one last run, he wanted to know how good he could perform with minimal changes; the tires were an afterthought put on for this match.
'70 440-6 'Cuda - Sonny Hart
Since the car was ordered as a race machine, it has few frills. The Shaker hoodscoop, the red hockey stripe on the side, and the black vinyl roof, plus driving lights and lower rocker extensions are all that came on the car. The interior features the Rally-style dash, black vinyl-covered seats, and the console-mounted Slap Stick shifter; no power steering, no power brakes. This one was born to run in every sense of the word.
Sonny Hart from Bolton, North Carolina, is In the lane opposite David. Sonny purchased his '70 'Cuda a year-and-a-half ago. Originally bought in California, the 74,000-mile Plymouth had already been fully restored when it came up for sale in the newspaper. Its owner needed some cash due to family concerns, and Sonny says the price was right. Except for its color differences (EF8 Green Metallic with a black vinyl top and white interior), it looks very similar to Dave's car, with an Argent Gray Shaker scoop and rocker panel extensions.
Under the bonnet is a 440 Six Pack outfit, which was released as a regular across-the-board engine option in the same model year that the redesigned 'Cuda arrived on the scene. Unlike the Hemi, it was pretty close to stock, although it was rebuilt before Sonny bought it. He added a set of 1.6-ratio roller rockers. There are no headers, but the car has a 2 1/2-inch Flowmaster exhaust system behind the manifolds. Like Dave's, there are no options on this car-it has manual steering and manual brakes, and the Shaker, of course, eliminated A/C as an option.
An A-833 four-speed outfit and a Trak Pak 3.54:1 Dana 60 rear sit behind the engine, and Sonny had a set of slightly narrower BFGoodrich street tires, ones that weren't drag radials either. One other advantage Sonny had in going up against the Hemi car was spending Sunday morning hot-lapping the car down Rockingham's quarter-mile. So he was ready for the tree, he knew what rpm to leave at, and he could also have a minor psychological advantage as the result. Nonetheless, he was realistic before the cars matched up.
"I think with standard street tires, I would have had a good chance," Sonny said. "He's got the 4.10 rear and that Hemi would have been the equalizer. I could have beat him out of the hole because of tirespin. Now, with his drag radials, I don't know; we'll just have to see."
Friends for several years, the two men are part of the Port City Mopar Club, a 50-member group of Mopar fans based out of Wilmington, North Carolina. The grudge began simple enough-they were showing other club members how to race at a local eighth-mile event, which ended with one win to each man. When Dave decided the Hemi was going to be fully restored, he wanted one last lap. Sonny agreed it would be a good chance for them to race each other, and here they were getting ready to do just that on the final day of the Mopars at the Rock event.
High Noon at Rockingham
With Sunday's activities formally announced, the church service completed, and the competitors in place, on the last note of the national anthem, the two '70 'Cudas fired. Dave took the left lane, which was ironic since Sonny had made a majority of his passes in that lane. Both cars rolled around the bleach box to keep the threaded tires dry and began doing dry hops in the rubbery groove. The tires on Sonny's car spun hard from dumping the clutch, while Dave's Hemi would come up on the converter and break loose as well. The two Plymouths eased into the staging beams.
At the green, Sonny's practice paid off-he took a 0.626 light to Dave's 0.824 (based on a 0.500 full tree). At 60 feet, the Six Pack was still ahead 0.140 (2.168 to 2.316 for the Hemi, which was grappling for traction). At the eighth-mile, however, the Hemi's big ports began to breathe in earnest, and the time difference was now 8.912 to 9.057 (a difference of 0.145), but the miles per hour were 79.29 on the Hemi to 76.20 for the 440. At 1,000 feet, the times were still in Sonny's favor (11.638 to 11.700), but the Hemi made its charge in the last 200 feet. The Compulink timers stopped and the scoreboards flashed on. Sonny's Six Pack won 13.893 to Dave's exact 13.893. Dave also took the mph honors with a 103.25 to a 100.31 top end for the wedge, but the starting line proves to be the equalizing factor with the wedge going home the winner.
Sonny shows Dave what he intends to do in the race later that morning...
"No, it ain't settled!" said Dave with a smile after the race was over. "I'll have to think on what I want to do now."
"I wouldn't mind doing it once again," agreed Sonny. "I want to see that black car in my rearview mirror, not beside me, though! I knew if I didn't get him off the line, I was already beat. Ha ha ha!"
Asked about his thoughts as the Six Pack kept the lead with traps coming, Dave's only reply was, "I wished I'd had a little farther to go!"It's undecided whether the duo will meet for a final time next year. On this Sunday, however, the Six Pack took home the glory.
If you've ever taken your car down the quarter-mile, you know what it feels like, but have you ever ridden in the shotgun seat while the car is making a banzai blast? With the blessing of track owner Steve Earwood, as Sonny Hart made his Sunday morning time trials, I jumped into the passenger seat of his car for a quick ride down to the timers. Normally, while drag racing, you're so busy driving, you don't really "sense" what's going on; this would be a new one for me.
To say that Sonny was not afraid of breaking the car would be an understatement. He did several wheel-spinning dry hops to warm up the tires, and we staged up against a Viper. At the green, with the engine rpm roaring, the car broke traction briefly when the clutch hit, but Sonny feathered the throttle once and grabbed Second with the Pistol Grip. The car leapt forward; by now, the Viper was ahead of us, but that was OK because the idea was to get the laps in.
Using the tach for guidance, Third came and went, and from inside the 'Cuda, one feels big-time motion: the unique Mopar rattles, the sound of spinning gears, and the rumbling exhaust and induction noises. At Fourth, it was flat-out and things were moving much quicker through the windows; Fourth gear at speed is a lot different from the first three due to the gearing. The car is accelerating harder and part of your brain is already going into "fear react" mode when you're not the driver. The radial tires and torsion bars would transition at the shift changes, and the car wanted to dance around a little bit as the top-end speed trap came near. We were traveling more than 100 mph as the finish line came and went; now it was time to get on the binders to slow the 'Cuda down. Sonny brought it to a stop as I took my first breath since the 13.90 blast had begun. The fear was fading away quickly, however, replaced only with that addictive sense of "Let's do it again..."
|R/T||David Blankenship||Sonny Hart|
|'70 Hemi 'Cuda||'70 440-6 'Cuda|