They nicknamed him Akron Arlen-a racer who started making laps down primitive drag strips with the likes of George Montgomery and the Arfons Brothers in 1953. Arlen Vanke, operating out of his shop in central Ohio, proved early on he had what it took to be a contender. After winning the Junior Stock crown in 1966 with a new GTO at the NHRA Springnationals in Bristol, Vanke landed a payroll deal with Chrysler's Dick Maxwell to become one of the good guys, and he soon began putting Mopar machinery on the map.
Because he lived close to Detroit, Arlen ended up with a pretty cherry job, drag racing on weekends and working as a test driver for the factory. Vanke is remembered for his work on the '67 big-block A-Body and RO/WO Hemi package cars. he received one of the earliest cars built for Super Stock racing by Hurst, and added the Plymouth Hemi Barracuda (shown here) to his stables toward the latter half of 1968.
"That was my legal car," recalls Arlen, who now lives in Michigan. "We bought it as a secondary car because we were always changing stuff in the primary car for testing. I ran it through 1969 at a lot of points meets, and it was a good car. I sold it late that year when we realized we would be going heads-up racing in Pro Stock in 1970."
"There were so many people who helped me back then," recalls Arlen. "Bill Abraham from Firestone drove for me, Dave Kirby helped me with mechanical work, and Dave Duell and Charlie Gilbertson, and so many others. My name was on the car, but one man couldn't do it all. My success came from having people who gave their all to this racing effort."
Arlen recalls selling this 'Cuda in 1969 as a Super Stocker minus the engine, and it went through a couple of owners before being taken off the track as a bracket car sometime in the '70s. It sat for many years, until restorer Le Hodge got word about the Nebraska-based car in 2002. The owner had taken it apart long ago, but for a '68 Hurst machine, all the right stuff was there, and there had been no major changes made to the suspension since the early '70s (a real rarity with these cars). The owner even knew it had once belonged to somebody named Arlen, but other than that, its use from 1970 on was unknown. The deal was made, and Hodge brought the carcass home in bags and boxes.
"I got back and we began sanding down the areas the former owner had not media blasted," recalls Hodge, who owns Hodge Restorations in Inman, South Carolina. "As we went through the layers, we began to find the original paint. This car was very solid-it has all the original Hurst fiberglass parts on it, and all the sheetmetal was very clean. The only major body work we did was to redo and clean up the expanded wheelwell housings, which Arlen asked me to do as a personal favor." That change had been rushed when it was first done at Arlen's shop back in the day.