We all know about the Hemi Challenge program that Mopar runs for the infamous Hurst-built Hemi A-Bodies. However, a car that looked just like one of those brutal Barracudas dominated a division in drag racing in 2006...with a legal 572-inch Hemi engine! The "Hammerin' Hemi" now runs in A/FX trim in the Nostalgia Super Stock class. It's show-quality in and out, and owner, Vern Hill, and multi-time track champion Jay Adams managed to win big with it during its first full year of competition.
Vern is no stranger to drag racing. Old timers may recall a fuel Funny Car he campaigned in the early '70s called the Fenton Charger and backed by Fenton wheels. After driver Billy Vance crashed that car at Phoenix, Arizona, in 1972, Vern went street rodding and took three out of four overall show classes at the Street Rod Nationals in 1975. Then came 30 years of working as a manufacturer's rep in the home lighting and electric business.
The details continues on into...
The details continues on into the cockpit area, where the vintage dash remains in place. The digital equipment helps make sure the car can run on the index, and there is always horsepower to spare.
In the early part of this decade, Vern's name resurfaced in motorsports as he campaigned a nitrous/propane Dodge Viper in a series supported in part by Dodge. The large toll in parts and money that the drag-sports car effort extracted from Vern's wallet is one of the factors that led him to hook up with Jay Adams.
"I met Jay at Bradenton, Florida, a couple years ago," says Vern, who now lives in Kingston, Tennessee. "He's probably won more rounds than most guys have been to races. His door car puts a lot of dragsters on the trailer, and he can run both ends of the racetrack."
In mid-2005, a friend named Lee Pritchard had to sell this nearly completed Plymouth chassis due to medical reasons, and Vern saw its potential. Though he contemplated running NHRA's SS/AH category, he and Jay chose the NMCA series, taking the 9-second Hemi machine to victory at the Detroit Locker NMCA race in Bradenton, Florida, in April 2007. Though the team debuted it during the '05-'06 off-season, it had only four passes on it at the time. The team then posted a Third Place finish at Bowling Green, Kentucky. They fell out early at Columbus, but had already done well enough that no one else challenged them for the title after July, especially after they won at Maple Grove in August and went three rounds at Atlanta despite engine problems.
"It's set up as a street car-just ladder bars, no four-link, and 10.5-inch tires," says Vern. "The only way to tune it for traction is changing the front end geometry, and, as long as the track is there, we can get it down the 1320."
Using a rotisserie, Joe Graska in Sarasota, Florida, finished the bodywork, aligned the panels, and shot the paint soon after Vern got the Barracuda. Employing aftermarket versions of the fiberglass fenders and hood that the original Hurst-built cars are famous for, this Mopar is still almost all steel. The cage and chassis are now NHRA certified to 7.50 seconds, though it probably weighs a couple hundred pounds more then most NHRA-legal examples.
Using an Indy Cylinder Head block and heads combination with a custom-built cross-ram intake, Matt Hensley at Hensley Racing in Knoxville, Tennessee, built a 572-inch lung for the car with 14.1 compression pistons, a .700-plus-inch lift roller cam, Jesel valvegear, and a 7,500 rpm redline. It's a square-bore design, with a 4.500-inch stroke and a 4.500-inch bore, and uses a pair of Holley 770s up on top. Hooker headers handle the exhaust chores with an MSD sparker juicing it.
An aluminum-internal 727 Chrysler TorqueFlite, built by John Donato (who works for Mopar in his real job), is behind the engine, and Vern admits the swap to this latest slushbox helped the car pick up to a 9.17/145 best run in testing. A Dana 60 rear with a 4.56 ring rounds out the drivetrain.