In drag racing, some big names come to mind when you talk about certain classes: Big Daddy Don Garlits or Shirley Muldowney in Top Fuel, John Force or Don Prudhomme in Funny Car, and Bob Glidden, Warren Johnson, and Darrell Alderman in Pro Stock. However, there is one legendary figure who has competed seriously in NHRA competition for almost thirty years that many still refer to as the "best ever." He was one of the major players in the inception of the Super Stock class itself, and created a professionalism displayed by his Plymouth team that set the standard for years to come. His dominance in the class caused NHRA to make rule changes, and even after all these years his name commands awe and respect. His win record includes over 50 event victories in Super Stock and Pro Stock in an era when the national event schedule consisted of less than half of today's schedule. Fans young and old flocked to see him, and to many, Ronnie Sox is still the "Boss."
Sox got his start in drag racing in the mid-'50s when the Police Club of Burlington, North Carolina, decided to host drag races at the local airport. His family ran an ESSO service station near Burlington. "I started racing my daddy's '49 Olds Rocket 88 at the airport and did really well," he recalled. "We won many more than we lost." Sox then switched over to a '57 Ford convertible, in which he continued his success. He tells us, "We ran that car at Piedmont [Greensboro, North Carolina], and Sanford [Sanford, North Carolina]." The venerable 312 ci in his Ford powered the car to many victories, but the next year found Sox in a '58 ragtop Chevrolet. "I had a thing for convertibles back then," Sox says, "and I won 37 races in a row at Piedmont and other area tracks. The motor in that car had the 315 kit with the Duntov cam and all that. It had three two-barrel carburetors and was the car to beat in the area."
So his drag racing career began to take off, and in 1960, he switched to a Pontiac. In 1962, it was a Chevy 409. His success set up a partnership of historic proportions. One of his competitors was a guy named Buddy Martin, who also ran a nearly identical car that had been provided to him by NASCAR great Ned Jarrett. After competing against each other for a couple of seasons, the two teamed up for 1963 with a Z-11 Chevrolet. They were so successful that 1964 saw him contracted to race a Mercury. He went on to win the NHRA championship that year. It was a good year, and they were all set to sign with Ford for 1965. But fate would intervene again, and this time Sox and Martin would form an alliance that would become so dominant that it would change the sport forever. Chrysler-Plymouth wanted Sox and Martin, and to get the duo offered a deal they shouldn't have refused, but in those days loyalty was top priority. "Their offer was really good, but we had decided to remain with Ford," said Sox. "There was some loyalty there, and we were doing so good with the Mercury that it was hard to switch." Sox pointed out that he and Martin drove to Washington, DC, the Ford Zone headquarters, with a deal worked out, or so they thought. "We had worked out a deal where we would get personal cars too, but when we went to sign, the personal cars were not in the contract." After discussing it, Sox told Martin, "I ain't signing." The two left the meeting and that move would forever rewrite the history of door slammer racing. "We went right out and called Chrysler, and told them they had a deal. The next day Mercury called us and told us they had it all worked out, but it was too late."
Sox knew what he was getting into with Chrysler. The Mopar brand had been hot on his trail throughout 1964, and he was aware of the development of the altered wheelbase cars and admitted, "I was really anxious to drive one." In 1965, he dominated the NHRA's Super Stock class with a "legal" Hemi car, but the star of the show that season was the Gate City Motor Company-sponsored altered wheelbase car known as the "Paper Tiger," which was named after a popular song of the period. The NHRA had thrown out the altered wheelbase cars the year before, but Sox and Martin logged many laps at AHRA and match race events so the move didn't affect them at all.
"Although it is hard to believe, those altered wheelbase cars handled really well, real smooth," Sox said. "Of course, with the safety regulations of that time, they were a death trap if you wrecked one. But they drove really well. Those were the first of the Funny Cars, and that car was incredibly successful. We started playing with fuel later in the year, and the car was really a winner." It continued to be a winner in 1966 for Sox and Martin. Funny Car racing continued to get wild, and Sox and Martin were ready to turn up the wick. They built a state-of-the-art '66 Barracuda for the next year. Although the Mercury machines, with the flip-top Comets of Nicholson and "Fast Eddie" Schartman, were a step ahead, the Sox Barracuda was very competitive and won a lot of races.
By 1967, Sox was back in Super Stock racing. "At first, I didn't like it, but once we got going, I was glad to be back racing with carbs and gasoline. We had the Clinic deals going, and it worked well." Sox and Martin with their Plymouths and Dick Landy with his Dodge would show up at local dealerships, set up shop, and host a clinic for the locals to improve the performance of their Mopar musclecars. By this time, the 440 and Hemi-powered Plymouth GTX was on the street, and having Sox and Martin running a Hemi car in Super Stock was a natural fit. "The Hemi car was a winner, and we won the Spring Nationals with it that year, beating Ron Mancini in the final. It also went on to be tremendously successful."
In 1968, Sox received one of the first of the Hurst-assembled '68 Hemi Cudas, arguably the most famous "package" race car in the history of motorsports. That car won everything in sight in 1968 in NHRA and AHRA, and still is one of the most famous race cars in drag racing history. "I went a 10.14 on a 10.40 record, with two different back tires, one Goodyear and one Firestone. I knew everyone would copy me, and they did! It was unbelievable." His mastery with the four-speed was incredible, as anyone who witnessed his racing in that area can attest to. "We really did our homework," said Sox. "We spent a lot of time on linkage and transmission ratios. We tested a lot, and a lot of guys didn't do that. Sox made all the calls regarding engine and chassis tuning. "I would make a pass, come back and tell them what I felt the car needed, and we would make the changes. We didn't have computers then, so you did it by feel and experience."