MM: You raced a Super Bird briefly in 1970. How did that come about?
JW: That was a very special car. I was asked if I would race this car at Indy. It was built solely to be competitive with Ray Allen, who was a Chevy racer in SS/EA. As the class runoffs wound down, I deliberately lost in the third round. We wanted to make sure the car didn't have to go through teardown. I had a terrible time at tech with that thing when I brought it in. Somebody had leaked out that the car was only coming to make sure Allen didn't advance, so the NHRA guys were all over it.
We had built the car in four weeks, made a couple of test laps with it at Atco, and went to Indy. The motor, which was a bit bigger than stock, was set back, the wheels were moved, and it had a 300-pound wing in the back, as well as a super-heavy back window. The car would launch incredibly hard. It had a very light nosepiece, light sheetmetal on the hood, front fenders, and doors. All of the sheetmetal had been in the acid tank. We got a body from North Carolina and put all this trick stuff on it. It was originally a stick-shift car, and the clutch pedal is still in it.
We got back from Indy, pulled the motor, which wasn't mine [it went back to Detroit], and sold the car with a stock 426 Hemi two weeks later. I only raced it one other time, at the Atco points finale, and it was retired. The guy who owns it now realized it was something special when he ordered a set of headers for it from Hooker and they wouldn't fit. I'd like to have it back, but he wants a mint of money for it.
MM: Tell us about your Pro Stock years.
JW: My car was a twin to the Motown Missile of 1971, only it was the Plymouth version. It was built in Detroit with an acid-dipped body, and like the Missile, it had a Clutchflite automatic to start with in 1971. I changed over to a Lenco in 1972. Tom Tigenelli built the car using the blueprint of the Missile, and it would run in the 9.50 range, which was good for that time period. Jake King at Sox and Martin was building my motors, and they were good motors.
By the beginning of 1972, when Jenkins showed up at Pomona with his tube-chassis Vega, the NHRA rules had made us almost noncompetitive. Later, they put even more weight on us, and that was the end. The World Finals in Amarillo, Texas, that year, was the final for me. Sox, who, in my opinion, was the best driver out there, couldn't win either. Vanke, Sox, all of those guys, they saw the writing on the wall, and that ended it. Most of us quit. It was a bad, bad, bad scene.
It was also getting a lot more expensive. You had to buy a car from one of the chassis builders; you couldn't just do it yourself anymore. We were already buying motors from Sox and Martin, and they were not going to get cheaper, either. It was hard to go back to my $660 paycheck from Chrysler every two weeks compared to the money we made match racing, but I had to grow up. As it turned out, I'm glad I left when I did, because it got even worse.
After I lost in the second round at Texas the end of the year, I had a 26-hour ride home to think about what I wanted to do with my life. Either race fulltime in Pro Stock, in a very bad atmosphere, or quit, raise my family, and keep my day job at Chrysler. When we got home, I knew what I was going to do. However, once I parked the race car, Chrysler was willing to transfer me around-they hadn't wanted to do that when I was racing. Six months later, they told me I was being transferred to Dallas, and I refused. Shortly thereafter, they wanted to move me to Minneapolis, and there was no refusing. I knew then it was time to quit. I didn't want to move, so I got the job at Winnebago Industries until early in 2002.