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It was hot in the Tennessee mountains on July 4, and my wife Linda came into the house that afternoon with an overnighted package from CarTech. The first copy of HEMI: A History of Chrysler's Iconic V8 in Competition was finally in my possession.
I am not going to go on about the hard work, sacrifices, etc.; everyone who has ever tackled a big project – a car, a house, a contract – knows the feeling that comes when you see the end result. There are little things that you may have done differently, but overall it is both a relief and a delight to see what has been created. In my case, I can only now appreciate the perfect timing that let me complete this project.
As I mentioned a month ago, my friend and former Chrysler engineer Tom Hoover had died somewhat suddenly this past spring. Tom was the real catalyst for me even attempting this work, and I did not contract on it before I had talked with him about being involved. I knew what I knew, and I knew what I did not know, but Tom helped sew many related things together. Beyond that, he gave me some wonderful stories and assorted quips about just what it took to bring the 426-ci engine into being and keep it on top. There were triumphs and frustrations in that process like every job has, but Tom always looked very fondly at his career at Chrysler and spoke highly of the people he worked with. I had already dedicated the book to him and the other engineers at Chrysler who worked during the week and raced on the weekends when he passed; I am sorry he was not able to read that dedication.
When you read the book, you will realize just how tight things were leading up to Sunday, February 21 and the Daytona 500 in 1964. In retrospect, I realized that had I taken on this project just six months later, I would not have been able to get Tom's reflections and corrections in so many things. Thankfully, he did read the entire manuscript and approved the effort before he became ill.
Meanwhile, the next part of the 'perfect timing' narrative was the graciousness of Jim Kramer and Greg Lane. I had planned to be over at Jim's place in western Pennsylvania for a day last summer to look at his parts collection, much of it off of actual racecars. Jim, although worn out from his full weekend at Carlsile just prior to my arrival, showed me so much that it ended up being three days (and short nights) and hundreds of photos taken once we had finished. Greg, who is from Colorado but was also on hand at Jim and Cindy's place, was working himself with Jim at that very moment to copy a large assortment of Chrysler engineering notes on the Hemi development starting in 1963. He spent much of that three days at the photocopier with them and as a resuIt, I left Pennsylvania with a set of those precious and dated documents that truly allowed me to tell the story. Had I started the project six months earlier, on a tighter deadline, it would have likely been too late to get that freshly unearthed info into the process.
Jim also gave me access to a large super stock and funny car slide collection he had only recently acquired. This made a big difference in illustrating the drag racing portion of the narrative, as did images from Charles Milikin and Tommy Irwin. Circle track racing was a different story; the archives at most of the racetracks had all been transferred to Daytona, and access was going to not only onerous but expensive. As a result, I threw a wild pass and a sizable check to a gentleman I had never personally met. Cal Lane of Burdett, New York was a former dirt track racer who had purchased most of the Ray Mann racing material (I own only a bit of Ray's drag racing archive); hundreds of images. Cal is not a computer guy, but sent me a big stack of 8x10 color prints for the book. I got what I wanted to use, prepared them for the book, and returned the originals with a note saying thanks. He called me soon after and asked if there was anything else I needed. I gave him a short list and he sent another package, and another, and then another, as he found images in his collection. The result was over two dozen NASCAR, USAC and ARCA images in the book that had either never been published or had appeared just one time in the old Racing Pictorial magazines. Cal's wife had suffered an serious medical situation sometime just prior this starting, but Cal was able to help me out as things adjusted. Indeed, I am writing this from an old lodge in Watkins Glen, New York that Cal tells me all the F1 drivers of the 1960s once stayed at, having just spent three days looking at some of the most amazing race photography in existence in Cal's library.