1. having or exerting influence, esp. great influence — having or exercising influence or power; "an influential person"; "influential leadership”
2. a person who exerts or can exert strong influence – one that is of considerable importance or influence
For those of us actively involved in the Mopar hobby, it’s easy to take certain aspects of the hobby for granted. Much of what we enjoy has been set in place through the efforts of others; many times, these are people who have worked behind the scenes as opposed to actually participating in the shows and races we all attend and enjoy. Much like the pioneer settlers of old — the folks who helped make this country what it is today – these people have, through their efforts, shaped what we enjoy on a day-to-day basis.
Certainly, there are others beyond those we have chosen here. And, as with any Top-Anything list, there is room for debate in favor of those not included. But there can be no argument that the men on this list made an indelible mark on the history of the Mopar hobby, often by doing nothing more and nothing less than what they were being paid to do.
Presented here, in no particular order, are 10 of the pioneers (if you will) who have all had a positive, significant and lasting effect on the Mopar world of today, and, no doubt, well into the future. Their numbers include two corporate heads, two engineers, four racers, one marketing/public relations guy, and one historian.
Townsend joined Chrysler in 1957 as its controller. He was appointed president of the corporation in 1961, a position he held until 1975. Immediately upon taking the helm, he began streamlining and strengthening the company, both financially and in terms of product. He wasn’t an engineer or a “car guy,” but given the people he had working for him at the time, he didn’t have to be either. By 1968, Chrysler’s market share had nearly doubled.
An unconfirmed rumor holds that Townsend’s three teenaged sons reported to him early on that Chrysler products were routinely being soundly thrashed and embarrassed during the many late night street racing activities in and around Detroit, at places like Woodward Ave. Townsend is said to have “looked into” the matter with his engineers and product planning people to see how Chrysler’s line-up compared to GM and Ford in terms of performance, and found the company lacking. Whether there’s any validity to the rumor or not, there can be no argument that, during the years Townsend was president of Chrysler Corporation, performance became a high priority, and the company’s products enjoyed immeasurable successes on the showroom floor, the street and on the racetrack. The cars that made it so could not have existed without the guidance and blessing of the man at the top, and in the case of Lynn Townsend, he was the man who lit the fuse for development of the 1964 426 Race Hemi. The recession of the 1970s hit Chrysler hard, and the stockholders blamed Townsend – the same man who had engineered Chrysler’s rise to greatness – for the decline. Yielding to pressure, Townsend retired in 1975, at the age of 56. He died in 2000 at age 81.
When Iacocca assumed the role of chairman at Chrysler, he couldn’t have done so at a better time – or a worse time. The company was reeling from the recession and from several years of inefficient product planning. The company was on the brink of bankruptcy, with one foot on a banana peel and the other on a block of ice. Iacocca, recently fired at the whim of Henry Ford, was both a car guy and an astute student of the auto industry, with 32 years experience, including eight as FoMoCo’s president. Iacocca knew Chrysler was a sinking ship, but he felt it could be saved, and he was confident he was the man to do it.
By downsizing the company, securing $1.5 billion in federal loan guarantees, and selling off unprofitable assets, Chrysler’s financial condition vastly improved. The product side of Chrysler’s business enjoyed a phenomenal turnaround in record time by introducing new and innovative products, the likes of which had never before been seen from Chrysler – specifically, the Aires and Reliant K-Car twins, and the introduction to the world of the first Minivan.
By 1983, Chrysler had paid off the government loans, and by 1984, Chrysler was posting profits of $2.4 billion. In an unheard-of move, Iacocca had gone on national television and spoken to America as if he were everyone’s grandfather, doing Chrysler’s commercials himself. Retiring in 1992, Iacocca has gone on to author several books and, in the late 1980s, was even mentioned as a possible candidate for President of the United States. If not for Lee Iacocca, it’s doubtful there would be a Chrysler Corporation today.
It’s been said that even people who may not be able to tell you who the President of the United States is at any given time would be able to tell you who Richard Petty is. Along with his father, Lee, brother, Maurice, and their family business, Petty Enterprises in Randleman, North Carolina, Richard almost single-handedly transformed stock car racing from its infancy and redneck reputation to a highly respected sport. Along the way, Richard “The King” Petty won seven NASCAR championships and seven Daytona 500 races. Of his 200 NASCAR victories, 139 have been in a Plymouth and 37 in a Dodge. Richard Petty has been a stellar ambassador to the sport he dominated. During his career, Petty has been free of controversy and has become a hero to an untold number of fans worldwide, as well as a worthy role model to young people. Regardless of who their favorite driver might be, or who they may have been pulling for in any given race, no one would ever have admitted to not being a Richard Petty fan.
When the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series was being established in 1995 and Petty went to Chrysler to lobby for factory support in campaigning a Dodge Ram in the series, he stated his case quite simply, saying that even though he had raced other brands after Chrysler had pulled out of racing, “If you cut me, I still bleed Pentastar Blue.” And so it is. To a Mopar fan, Richard Petty is Mopar to the bone.
Galen’s automotive background began with his graduation from a local vo-tech school. While working at several dealerships as a paint and body man, parts man and service manager, he became aware of and acquainted with the numbers appearing on a vehicle’s Fender Tag, but he was intrigued by all the codes beyond the paint and trim. Galen set out on a quest to learn all he could about Chrysler’s coding system, along with what was available on what cars and in combination with what other options and standard equipment. With help from Chrysler itself, he soon knew as much as (and often more than) those at Chrysler who were supplying him with information.
In 1984, he began writing a column for the Mopar Muscle Club International (MMCI) newsletter, and, later, began regularly penning columns for mainstream Mopar magazines. In April 1990, he quit his dealership job and launched his own business, Galen’s Tag Service (GTS) doing what he loves on a full time basis and sharing his knowledge with others. Galen is now certified as an Expert Witness by both the F.B.I. and the United States Secret Service and has testified in numerous fraud cases dealing with Chrysler products. Today, Galen is the recognized “guru” on all Mopar numbers, and his pocket sized White Books have become the bibles of authenticity for thousands of enthusiasts. Through his efforts, the Mopar world now knows and appreciates the meaning of the term “numbers matching.”
“Dandy” Dick Landy got his big drag racing break with Chrysler while driving a Ford. In 1962, Landy caught the attention of Ronnie Householder, head of racing and product planning at Chrysler. Householder offered Landy a new 1962 Plymouth Max Wedge car, and the future was sealed. Landy drove a 1963 Plymouth as well, but from 1964 on, it was all Dodge. One of the most recognizable and successful cars of the era was Landy’s 1965 Dodge altered wheelbase A/FX Coronet, one of the few that survives to this day. When Chrysler decided they no longer wanted their image to be one of factory “experimental,” Landy went Funny Car racing in a Dart for 1966.
Another marketing change from Chrysler brought about the Performance Clinic program, and the affable Landy was the obvious choice to represent Dodge. For five years, he ran mostly production cars in the Super Stock ranks and held court at local Dodge dealers as he traveled the country racing. Landy concentrated on Dodge dealers, mostly west of the Rockies, while Sox & Martin represented Plymouth at dealer Performance Clinics in the east. Once Pro Stock became the more visible form of drag racing, the Performance Clinic program was closed down, and Landy went Pro Stock racing, where he remained until the 1980s, when the sanctioning body factored Chrysler products out of contention. Landy continued to be an active member of the racing community, building racing engines and doing R&D for Mopar Performance at his business, Dick Landy Industries (DLI). Dick Landy passed away in 2007 of kidney failure at age 69.
Sox & Martin
What happens when three drag racers from North Carolina decide to pull their resources and form a team? In the case of Ronnie Sox, Buddy Martin and Jake King, the answer is simple: drag racing history is made. Sox was clearly the better driver, Martin had a great head for business, and King was a near genius mechanic and engine builder. Together, they could accomplish far more than separately. During the1964 season, Chrysler was aware of the team and their prowess, and tried unsuccessfully to lure them away from their factory deal with Mercury. The S&M loyalty with FoMoCo ended when the deal to renew with Mercury for 1965 went sour; Mercury refused to provide S&M with personal cars. Martin contacted Darrel Richter at Plymouth and told him they were ready to make the switch – and the rest is history.
S&M’s Plymouth racing pretty much paralleled what Landy was doing for Dodge, including the clinics. Like Landy, the operation was first class all the way. The two Chrysler teams were among the first to wear uniforms at the track (including white shirts) and the cars were always spotlessly clean and meticulously prepared. S&M were able to accomplish the feat of being in two places (or more) at once, with team drivers such as Herb McCandless driving identical S&M cars. Perhaps the greatest drag race team in history disbanded in 1973, after winning five World Championships and 46 national events, when Mopars could no longer compete against the biased rule book. However, they made an indelible mark on drag racing history. Ronnie Sox lost his battle with cancer in 2006.
If anyone could be singled out as a true pioneer in motorsports, it would be “Big Daddy” Don Garlits. Don was the first to introduce the Chrysler Hemi engine to drag racing, the same basic Chrysler design that continues exclusive use in both Funny Car and Top Fuel racing today. He was the first to use a rear wing in Top Fuel. After suffering a clutch explosion and the partial loss of a foot, Garlits literally “invented” and perfected, the rear-engine dragster used today. The number of lives saved by this innovation alone is inestimable. Along the way, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits advocated the use of flame-resistant clothing for racers, a safety measure now used in all forms of motorsports.
Garlits’ accomplishments include being the first to top 170, 180, 190, 200, 240, 250, 260 and 270 mph in the ¼-mile and 200 in the 1/8-mile. At age 54, he won the last of his three NHRA world championships and national titles, the first driver to ever do that; he has 144 national event wins. His personal best 4.737 ET/319.98 pass was made when he was 71 years of age. Garlits’ Swamp Rat XXX streamliner is the only dragster to be enshrined in the Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C. All of his many accomplishments in racing were made with Mopar power, and Garlits has remained a loyal and staunch supporter of all things Mopar for over 50 years. Today, he owns and operates the Don Garlits Drag Racing Museum in Ocala, FL.
Fresh from the Korean War and armed with a Masters degree in Physics, Tom Hoover applied for a job at Chrysler in 1955. He had also applied with the Pratt and Whitney aircraft engine company, but during his interview tour of Chrysler’s facilities, the admitted “car guy” was exposed to the A311 Project as Chrysler was preparing the 331 and 345 Hemi for the Indianapolis 500, and he was hooked. Once hired, he spent two years at the Chrysler Institute and, in 1957, went to work on the ill-fated Bendix Electro-Jector fuel injection system introduced on the 1958 models. From there, he moved into the Engine Lab and was assigned to the Slant Six Hyper-Pak program that would debut with the 1960 Valiant. It was during this period when the Ramchargers were bursting onto the drag racing scene, and Hoover was heavily involved with the team, which led directly to his involvement with the Max Wedge development program. Hoover was present at the April 1963 meeting called by Bill Rodger in which Chrysler president Lynn Townsend asked, “What would it take to win the 1964 Daytona 500?” The result was the development of the 1964 Hemi engine and five Chrysler products in the Top-10 at Daytona, including winner Richard Petty. Hoover then moved from the stock car to drag racing side of Hemi development, where he remained until 1974. Along the way, he was heavily involved with developing all manner of parts for the Direct Connection Performance Parts Division, where he remained until his retirement in 1979. Today, Hoover is a frequent celebrity guest at Mopar events across the country, and has been given the honorary title, “Father of the Hemi.”
Immediately after graduating from the University of Maine in June 1966, “Shep” entered the Chrysler Institute of Engineering, where he earned a 2-year Masters degree, going to work for Tom Hoover as a student engineer. He worked on the 1968 Hemi Super Stock program, as well as the 1969 ½ Six Barrel, 1970 340 Six Barrel and Hemi E-Body cars. Shepard transferred to the Chrysler Race Group in 1970, where he would remain until 1980, working for the Direct Connection parts program, which evolved into Mopar Performance. He was the only engineer with DC/MP for a number of years and was a highly visible presence at all the racing events, greeting racers and fans at the Mopar Performance Road Show trailer.
In addition to designing and developing new performance parts, Shep was responsible for much of the DC catalog production, as well as producing the now-famous Tech Bulletins/Tune-Up Tips, getting over 10,000 pages of factory information into the hands of Mopar enthusiasts and racers everywhere. From the early 1970s through the early 1980s, Larry conducted the Mopar Drag Seminars and was the drag racing test driver for all the newly developed DC parts. In 1988, his attention focused on the resurrection of the 426 Hemi, along with Mopar’s circle track program. Later projects included the Crate Motor programs and designing and building the new Mopar Pro Stock engine still in use today. Shep retired from Chrysler in 2001 and is now a prolific book author on all things Mopar; he has written a column for Mopar’s in-house magazine for over 35 continuous years. In the eyes of many, Larry Shepard is Direct Connection/Mopar Performance.
It would be accurate to say that no other individual at Chrysler had more involvement in all things related to performance and racing than Dick Maxwell. From 1964-1969, as the Race Program Engineer, he administered the racing and Performance Clinic programs, developed new racing and “package” cars and parts, and was the company’s liaison with the sanctioning bodies. Between 1969 and 1971, as Performance Activities Manager, he worked closely with the race teams, sanctioning bodies, media and Corporate Race Group, and was instrumental in developing the highly successful Rapid Transit System ad campaign. As Drag Race Programs Manager from 1971-1975, he directed the performance parts program, all drag racing programs (including team selection and contracts) and sanctioning body negotiations. Maxwell initiated the Direct Connection program, the industry’s first performance parts program to enter the aftermarket. As Vehicle Performance Planning Manager from 1975-1982, he directed all Chrysler motorsports programs including stock car, drag racing and off-road. From 1982 through his retirement in 1991, as Special Vehicle Programs/Dodge Manager, he developed the Dodge DISC anti-drug program, which spotlighted popular music stars; developed the industry’s first front-wheel-drive racing/performance program; and coordinated Dodge’s production of competitive IROC cars.
Dick Maxwell was the first person from the OE industry to be elected to the SEMA Board of Directors, and was inducted into the National Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2000 and the SEMA Hall of Fame posthumously in 2006 (he passed away in 2002). Dick was an active member of the original Ramchargers and among the Chrysler vehicles attributable to him are the Max Wedge package cars, 1964 S/S Hemi package cars, 1965 A990 Super Stock Hemi package cars, 1965 AF/X altered wheelbase cars, 1967 RO/WO Super Stock Hemi package cars, 1968 Hemi Dart and Barracuda Super Stock cars, 1969 ½ Six Barrel package cars, 1978 and 1979 Li’l Red Express Truck and the Aspen/Volare Kit Cars.