MM: When did you get started in drag racing?
JW: I started racing in 1955, when I was 15 years old, at an old airport near Allentown, Pennsylvania. I went with a friend of mine who could legally drive in his '53 Olds, which had a column shifter. Well, he couldn't drive the car [because it was standard shift], and he said to me, "If you think you're so good, you go out and drive it." So I did, and I won the event, and that was the end. I was hooked.
I finished high school in 1957, so from 1955 to 1957, I ran some lower-class stock cars. I went to college for a semester or so, dropped out, and bought a brand-new 320hp Chevy Biscayne. I ran it with some success on the local level for a year in Super Stock. I went back to school, did my time in the Army at Fort Dix, and got out in 1963. I couldn't find a job right away, so I went to work for a car dealership named Bill Duke Motors in Willingboro, New Jersey. I talked them into sponsoring me as the driver of one of the new aluminum-nosed, 426 Max Wedge Plymouths that came out in 1964. The car was called the Jersey Duke. Soon afterward, I won three or four big Super Stock events with the car, and the next thing I knew, I had a new Hemi car and a factory deal that ended up lasting nine years, until I retired in 1972.
That first '64 Wedge car was a stick, and I thought I was a good stick-shift driver. Four transmissions later, the dashboard buttons went into the car, and I ran an automatic until I got my first Pro Stock ride.
MM: How did the "Mr. 5 and 50" name come about?
JW: By the time I got my '65 A990 Hemi Plymouth, I had left the dealership and gone to work for Chrysler as a warranty and service administrator in the Philadelphia Zone office. Dick Maxwell, who was in charge of the factory racing program, hung that name on me because the warranty plan at that time was a five-year, 50,000-mile program. Maxwell put "Mr. 5 and 50" on me based on my job at Chrysler, and the name just stuck. I had it on the cars until I retired.
MM: Did you have any relationships with the other drivers, like Bobby Harrop, who were based in that region?
JW: Bobby and I have been good friends since the early-'60s, when I ran Chevys and he ran Pontiacs. Later, we were sponsored by the different factory divisions (Dodge and Plymouth) through dealer groups. I was backed by the Philadelphia Region Plymouth dealers, and Harrop was backed by Philadelphia Region Dodge dealers.
MM: How did you feel about being in the Super Stock class as opposed to one of the altered-wheelbase cars?
JW: Those [altered-wheelbase] cars got a lot of coverage that year, but they couldn't run NHRA races, and that really hurt Chrysler. For that reason, cars like mine-the factory-supported Super Stockers-were needed as well. Since I was match racing when NHRA races weren't running, we actually developed plans to create an adjustable wheelbase. We wanted to open up the wheelwells and be able to move the rear axle forward, but the factory didn't want us to do that. They wanted the cars to appear as stock as possible, which made sense. At any rate, those A990 cars pretty much owned Super Stock in 1965 and 1966, so we were successful in what we had tried to do.