MM: Tell us about those '67 cars.
JW: The '67s were very poor cars. That's the truth. They were slow, heavy, and had a low- compression street Hemi motor instead of the good stuff. Ford brought out their 427 high-riser Fairlanes at the same time, and they were far too fast for us to run with because we were so heavy. That year, Jenkins also had sorted out his little Chevy II, so the Chrysler street Hemis in A/Stock didn't have any hope. Jere Stahl, who had won the championship in 1966, didn't even try to run in the Stock class that year.
So we had some special transmissions made that year by a guy in Scranton, Pennsylvania, named Tim Richards, who later tuned Joe Amato's fuel dragster and is well known today. With those transmissions, we began doing what came to be known as Banzai starts. They even called me "Banzai" at some of the tracks I went to. The trick was to wind that Hemi up to 8,000 rpm in Neutral and then drop it into First gear. KA-baam! The car would drop a half-second under the index by doing that. It would also cause some very bad transmission explosions in the car. Parts would go everywhere. We got smart and put a blanket on it later, but that was some scary stuff.
I got a lot of ink doing those kinds of starts, but now I see it as being pretty foolish. I blew windshields out of the car, dashboards out of it. I was just so frustrated with the car, I'd try anything to get it to run.
Anyway, the funny thing is we go to Indy, and I was ready. I knew how fast the car would go, and I'm in the lanes and figuring I've got the class in the bag. In fact, this car was basically set up just like a stick shift, Dana rear and big rear springs. Well, I got to the staging lane, and Buster Couch and all these guys were laughing. Here was this big sign: No Neutral starts. So then we had to take the whole car apart and set it back up for the standard way of running the automatic. The cars were classed in SS/BA, and I red lit with the other combination. A guy named Tom Myl won the class with a car Vanke had built for him. But those things were slugs.
MM: What was your feeling about the relationship between NHRA and Chrysler?
JW: [Beginning in] 1965, Chrysler had an adversarial relationship with NHRA. The company dominated all of their events. By the time the Pro Stock era began, the sanctioning body just kept indexing our cars, adding weight to them, and, I hate to say it, but that was the main reason why I quit. By 1972, we had already taken a 300-pound lump-we had to weigh that much more than the Pintos and the Chevys. We just weren't competitive because of it. They were at 2,700 pounds, and the Hemis were up at 3,300. There was just no way to overcome that disadvantage. By the next year or so, a lot of the other guys left, too. Even Sox and Martin broke up.
MM: The '67 cars gave way to the '68 Super Stock program. Tell us about that.
JW: Hemi Darts and Barracudas. Actually, Ronnie Sox got the first one, and I got the second one. They were awful cars to start with because they were only half put together, and we had to finish them.