The Best Mopar Drag Racers Of All Time
There are several contenders for the best racers to hit the drag strip. We have listed some of our favorites below.
1949 “High And Mighty” Ramcharger Plymouth
The start of the Mopar drag racing was probably the “High and Mighty” Plymouth Coupe (also called the Ram Rod) that raced at the 1959 NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) Nationals. With its high nose and four exhaust pipes sticking out over the front tires, this car was the first to feature a Ramcharger induction system and a new Max Wedge engine. The “High and Mighty” performed just like its name implies until the final when it lost to a ‘32 Ford Coupe running in the C/A class. The Plymouth set a speed record when it did a run @ 109.75.
1962 Ramchargers’ Candymatic Super Stock Dodge
In 1962, NHRA Drag Racing rules dictated that all cars had to be equipped with factory-installed engines for Super Stock drag racing. While they did allow for some modifications to the induction and exhaust, the car had to be one that the general public could walk into a dealer and drive off the showroom floor.
Dodge called their engine the “Ramcharger 413”, and Plymouth called theirs the “Super Stock 413”, and it wasn’t long before both divisions had formed factory-sponsored racing teams and were competing in events nationwide.
Dodge equipped 413 Max Wedge Super Stocks Darts that were beasts to compete against. The engines spewed out 420 hp and consistently ran under 13 seconds (which was fast at the time). They were called “Candymatics” because of their bright red and white paint scheme and the TorqueFlite automatic transmission that backed up the hefty motor.
In 1962, one of the Candymatics won the Super Super Stock division at the NHRA nationals (driven by Al Eckstrand) in a winning 12.72 time @ 113.35 mph. (It is interesting to note that the car Eckstrand beat was also a Dodge Dart with a Max Wedge 413). The following year, the Candymatics would be bored out to 426 ci so they could go even faster.
1968 “Drag-on Lady” Hemi Dodge Dart
The “Drag-On Lady,” Shirley Strahan, was one of the pioneering female drag racers on the circuit in the sixties, proving that women had a place in the Mopar community. (She was the first female racer to win an NHRA event in 1965). Fast forward a few years later, and the Dragon Lady is at it again, driving a Dodge Dart Hemi Super Stock at the NHRA Nationals. In ‘68, the Hemi Dodge Darts and Plymouth Barracudas were moping up the Super Stock track, carrying the Mopar banner, and competing head to head against all the muscle that Ford and Chevy could throw at them.
The Might Mopar Dart cars (LO23) were manufactured as empty shells and painted in primer grey. (without engines or transmissions). Instead, they were taken a few miles for fitment as racers. Once completed, they were sold to various racing teams across the country, who often painted red, white, and blue like the one from Sox and Martin.
During the 1968 NHRA nationals, the Hemi ruled the strip, and Arlen Vanke set a record time of 10.64 @ 118.11 mph. Some of the biggest names in drag racing were running Hemi-powered Dodge Darts and Plymouth Barracudas, like Ronnie Sox, Dick Landy, Paul Richardson, and of course, the Dragon Lady herself, Shirley Shahan. Many of those late sixties Hemis can be found in collector’s garages or museums nationwide.
1970 Plymouth Barracuda “Hot Wheels” Funny Car
When Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen told his buddy, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, he wanted the toy maker, Mattel, to sponsor their funny car. Prudhomme thought it was a crazy idea. Little did they know what an impact it would have. Hot Wheels gave them the money, but the toymaker made a lot more in selling miniature die-cast versions for years.
The two Mopar cars (one a Yellow Plymouth Barracuda and the other a Red Plymouth Duster). The two funny cars would tour the country, providing exhibitions and racing each other. As the first non-automotive corporate sponsorship of a racing car, the move opened the door for other companies to follow suit. The racing business would never be the same as companies across the country lined up to get their names plastered over the hoods and sides of racing cars.
Even though the partnership between Mattel and Prudhomme only lasted for three short years, the company continued to produce die-casts of funny cars to add to their lineup. Many of the original redline Hot Wheels die casts are valuable. (It makes me wish I had kept mine).
1970 Sox And Martin Pro Stock Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda
If you attended an NHRA event in the sixties and seventies and saw a red, white, and blue blur screaming down the track in the Pro Stock class, chances are it was a Hemi ‘Cuda driven by Ronnie Sox. He and his partner Buddy Martin were the top team for Plymouth, and they demolished the competition almost every time they raced. (During the early seventies, Sox was the winningest driver in the four-speed era, earning him the nickname “Mr. Four-Speed”).
Their 1970 ‘Hemi Cuda won the Pro Stock event in Dallas that year, with a thrilling victory over “Akron” Arlen Vanke with a time of 9.85. A year later, he won again (after a car that beat him in the semis - a Mopar Plymouth Duster - was ruled ineligible for weight distribution), so Sox was reinstated in the final, which he went on to win. He was inducted into the Motorsports Hall Of Fame in 2007, along with his partner, Buddy Martin, a year after he passed from prostate cancer.
The 1970 Sox and Martin Hemi ‘Cuda was the only factory-built drag racer Hemi ‘Cuda with a matching VIN on the motor. The ‘Cuda was sold in 2019 for $429,000 (fees included).
1971 “Big Daddy” Don Garlits “Swamp Rat XIV” Dragster
By the 1970s, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits was a household name. His supercharged Hemi-powered rear engine dragster (Swamp Rat XIV) debuted at the 1971 Winternationals and claimed victory. This rear-engine mounted dragster was a radical concept then, and most hot rodding magazines felt unsafe and dangerous. (In fact, they were safer). Garlits persevered, winning consistently with the Swamp Rat and revolutionizing the sport. It was long before most teams were building rear-mounted dragsters and racing them nationwide.
Garlits retired from the sport several times and was even a color commentator for NBC for a while. He was instrumental in helping shorten the distance of the track to 1,000 feet for Top Fuel and Funny Car races.
You would think Garlits would have nothing left to prove after such an illustrious career, but he does. At age 91, he is still involved with racing, signing autographs at NHRA events, and clamoring after the 215 mph time, after recently posting a 189 mph quarter mile in a battery-powered Swamp Rat 37 (at the age of 87).
1981 “Blue Max” Plymouth Horizon Funny Car
Raymond Beadle is best known for driving his Hemi-powered Horizon funny car “Blue Max” to victory lane on numerous occasions from 1975 - 1981. Beadle won 18 national events, including three consecutive NHRA Funny Car Championships, and was a three-time winner at the IRHA Championships. Driving his Plymouth Horizon Funny Car, Beadle won both championships in 1981, which had never been done before. (In the 1981 Nationals, Beadle’s car suffered a mishap when the roof snapped off. Luckily, he could tack on a spare roof from another car and cruise to victory).
The “Blue Max” funny car wasn’t just about winning races. It also knew how to market a product. Its tremendous success during the late seventies and early eighties led to various T-shirts, halter tops, and model kits.
2009 Dodge Challenger Drag Pack
When Dodge ventured back in time to produce the retro-looking Challenger that they released in ‘08, they knew that the car would be popular. The following year, Dodge gave a nod to its drag strip roots by producing about 100 Challenger Drag Packs racers. These cars were ½ a ton lighter than the SRT8 and lacked any amenities a street car might have - like air conditioning, insulation, rear seats, or even airbags. Depending on the NHRA class the driver was racing in, the cars could be ordered either a 5.7L Hemi or the 6.2L Hemi.
The car buzzed, and racers rushed to their dealerships to order them. It took all of 2 days to sell the 100 units. The program's success convinced Dodge to continue offering Challengers and Chargers suitable for racing and spurred both Ford and Chevy to begin their own programs.
2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon
When Dodge came out with the Demon in 2018, it was a street-legal drag racer. Powered by a 6.2 Hemi engine that produced 808 hp, and a 2.7-liter turbocharger for an extra boost, the car ran a quarter mile in 9.65 seconds (which was a record for a production car), and drivers were passing 60 mph in 2.3 seconds. A limited number of cars were made (3300), and they sold out quickly.
Dodge hyped the car every chance it could, including a letter from the NHRA in their sales brochure verifying the 9.65 second time. The car was banned for a time from the strip due to NHRA rules requiring any car running under 10 seconds to have a roll cage, but that didn’t stop many owners from racing the Demon in non-sanctioned or local events.
2023 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon 170
What list would be complete without the swan song of Mopar Muscle? When Dodge announced this would be the last year for the Hemi-powered Charger and Challenger, race fans everywhere bowed their heads and whispered a prayer over the deceased. Alas, Hemi engine. You were so good to us.
Yet, Dodge had one more surprise up its sleeve, and it involved the 2023 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon 170. The car has the most potent Hemi motor ever built, producing 1,025 hp and 945 lb-ft of torque. (By the way, it does a 1.6 second 0 - 60, an 8.92 quarter, and has a top speed of 221 mph).
Again, Dodge only made 3,300 of the car, and they have already sold out. (Dodge stopped taking orders for them in May 2023). As Mopar switches to electric vehicles, it will be interesting to see what they have in store for the drag strip.