When Jim Pancake (below) went to the line July 21, for the final round of MOPAR’s Hemi Super Stock Challenge at National Trail Raceway, near Columbus, OH, he knew he just had to do his job as a driver and his 1968 Barracuda, an original Hemi car, would do the rest.
“We’ve been quicker all day by just a little bit, so technically we should have the advantage,” Pancake said before facing off against first-time Challenge finalist Joey Wilkes for the $5,000 winner’s share. “ But he (Wilkes) is an excellent driver and if you think you’ve got a little leeway you’re probably going to lose.”
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Pancake, from nearby Delaware, OH, needn’t have worried, as Wilkes handed him a gift bathed in red light after launching his own ’68 Cuda .053 of a second too soon.
“I was focused on what I was doing, but I saw my win light come on,” said Pancake, who left with an impressive .012 light, then laid down an 8.850-seconds pass at 149.53 mph. “I probably wouldn’t have seen the win light come on, but the car stood up extra high and it took my line of sight up high enough to where I saw the top of the scoreboard.”
Wilkes threw away an 8.866/149.83 combination after predicting the final “was going to be won or lost on the starting line.” He explained his car’s engine stumbled just as he prepared to launch. “The car died, so I let off; then put it back down, but that threw my concentration off and I was done.”
Fourteen SS/AH cars qualified for the Hemi Challenge at National Trail, with Bucky Hess leading the way with an 8.818-seconds run in his Bunker Hill, WV-based Cuda, followed by the similar machine of Charlie Westcott Jr., Pancake, Wilkes, and Fred Henson in the first of four 1968 Dodge Darts in the field. Both Hess and Westcott were upset in the opening round, however, as victims of mechanical gremlins.
Pancake reached the final after overcoming holeshots by Canadian Mark Howes in the first round and Louisiana’s Joe Teuton Jr. in round two, then advancing past a redlighting Matt Hensley in the semis. “We were behind the eight ball there with Pancake because he had been running good all weekend,” the Knoxville, TN, racer said. “So I just tried to cut the best light I could and unfortunately it came up red.”