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 cockpit area, where the vintage dash remains in place. T
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.
The two 770-cfm Holleys have these adjusters on them to help slow the car down for index r
Viewed from the outside, this 'Cuda would be at home on the World of Wheels circuit. Vern sheepishly admits he gets amped about his car's appearances, so every detail has been attended to. Creative checkerboard paint covers the lower rocker areas, with a red and yellow "rip" up the side. The interior is black, with the standard dash still in place, and a bundle of electronic gizmos for bracket racing.
"Vern is a really good guy to drive for," says Jay. "We make the tuning decisions on the car together. He gets whatever we need in terms of parts and safety gear, and it's probably the cleanest car at the track, race or otherwise. I am proud of how well I have done as a driver, but nobody wins forever. I am just enjoying it now while it is happening."
Driver Jay Adams and owner Vern Hill won the '06 NMCA World Championship with this car, wh
Jay once worked as burnout box support person and as a starter at Bradenton back in the days when the legendary Art Malone owned the facility and has been to 13 finals in the last 18 months, winning 12 of them. At Immokalee Regional Raceway in central Florida, his home track, he was the '05 points champ and won it again in 2006. His 17-year-old son, Matheu, is now getting some dragway driving lessons from the old man, posting a final-round finish at Immokalee during 2006.
This Barracuda may not be the ultimate end for Vern; he is planning on attending a few of those aforementioned SS/AH events in 2007 with Hensley's operation. Regardless, the spirit of '68 will live on-Hemi-powered and roaring to victory.
'68 NMCA A/FX Plymouth Barracuda
- Engine: Hemi racer Matt Hensley gets credit for this one. It's a legal 572-inch Indy aluminum lung with a Callies 4340 forged crank, BME rods, and Ross custom-cut pistons. Into the center of the clearanced and blueprinted short-block went a Comp roller cam that actuates parts from Crane (lifters), Smith Brothers (pushrods), and Jesel (upper valvetrain gear, rockers, and timing belt). Indy also supplied a set of CNC-ported heads, which are bridged by a custom Matt Hensley cross-ram intake supporting twin Holley 770s and equipped with secondary adjusters for indexed racing. MSD ignition parts, an HRE 8-quart pan, and Hooker headers finish out the mix.
- Transmission: A John Donato beefed-up A727 automatic is behind the monster motor. Unique because the transmission does not use any parts from the smaller 904 unit, a popular modification these days that reduces reciprocating weight but increases potential breakage and maintenance.
- Differential: Bullet-proof Dana 60 outfit, complete with a 4.56 Richmond gear set for off-the-line dramatics and good e.t.'s, and durable Strange axles.
- Horsepower and Performance: Far from over at the self-imposed 7,500 rpm redline, the car has gone as quick as 9.17 despite its weight.
- Suspension: Out back are 32-inch ladder bars, heavy-duty springs and shocks, and that's all she wrote-the rear suspension has limited adjustability. In the front, however, it's adjustable QA1 coilover shocking and the ol' standby torsion bar layout. The car will 60-foot in about 1.25 on a good track.
- Brakes: Shiny discs courtesy of Strange all the way around.
- Wheels: Weld Racing five spokes
- Rubber: M/T ETs 27.5x5.5-15s under the nose and big 31.0 10.5-15 under the tail.
- Body: The car was partly done when purchased, but all the great handiwork credit goes to Joe Graska in Sarasota, Florida, who completed the bodywork. All that trim-N.O.S. and it doesn't get any nicer than this.
- Paint: Joe also handled the paint and graphics.
- Interior: A combination of vintage cues with space-age bracket electronics, lightweight seats, and a sanitary gauge layout. Yes, it's safe.