The year was 1971. As Three Dog Night's "Joy To The World" came over AM airwaves, the Vietnam War and its protesting counterpart were at the center of the news. The publication of the infamous Pentagon Papers documenting the length and depth of our involvement in Southeast Asia became an ignition point for the Nixon administration's difficulties, and thousands of anti-war demonstrators were arrested in Washington during a May rally. What's more, the postwar economy was cooling down, and the financial problems that would manifest themselves later in the decade were just beginning to show.
However, glimmers of hope remained in the world of automobiles. While GM had already reduced compression ratios considerably and Ford was withdrawing from motorsports, it was still possible to go down to your local Chrysler/Plymouth or Dodge dealer to order a new 426 Hemi or 440-powered machine complete with real compression, multiple carburetion, and the widest (and wildest) variety of paint and trim options to ever come from Detroit. Of course, you still had to insure them, but that was a whole different story. If you liked your Mopars with big graphics, wings, scoops, and hot paint, things were never better than 1971.
Meanwhile, on the racetracks of America, Mopar entries continued to make themselves and their drivers known as the best on the planet. Take drag racing, for instance. If you ran a dragster on nitromethane, the choice for success was basically limited to either the 392 or 426 Hemi models for power. The big news for the railbirds was Don Garlits, who returned from his horrific accident at Lions Drag Strip in June of 1970 at the helm of a rear-engined entry, the first big-name racer to succeed with such a design. Backed by Dodge and Wynns, "Big Daddy" won both the NHRA and IHRA Winternationals, the March Meet at Bakersfield, and numerous other events that year, leading him to be named Car Craft magazine's Man of the Year, Top Fuel Driver of the Year, and Chassis Builder of the Year. He was also the AHRA World Champion and AHRA Man of the Year as well, and set a record low elasped time of 6.21 at Indy. It was a revolutionary innovation with huge results, not to mention the drivers' lives that were saved by moving the "bomb" to the back.
Chrysler rocked at Indy in 1971, though Garlits would post runner-up honors to Steve Carbone's Hemi digger in the Top Fuel final after the longest starting line "burn down" in drag racing history (over two minutes). Funny Car action found Ed "The Ace" McColluch and his Barracuda taking out an on-fire Dale Pulde for the money, while Ronnie Sox won a close one, 9.586 to 9.588, over Stuart McDade in Billy Stepp's Challenger.
In Sportsman action, Ray Motes' twin-Chrysler rail won the last-ever Indy Top Gas crown (the class was discontinued in 1972). Winners also included Tom Trisch's blown Hemi altered in Competition Eliminator, Bob Riffle's B/MP Rod Shop Demon in Modified, Greg Charney's A990 Dodge Hemi in Super Stock and Al Corda's F/SA '64 Plymouth wagon in Stock. In other words, Chrysler won every single eliminator except Top Bike. Incidentally, Ted Flack's J/SA Barracuda was in that final against Corda. Flack is currently DaimlerChrysler's Engine Program Manager on Dodge Motorsports' NASCAR program.