Car Craft editor Terry Cook had taken Plymouth up on their offer of a free ’70 Hemi ‘Cuda. I had reached the west coast fresh out of Super Stock magazine. Jim McCraw, my mentor there, had also taken the spiff--and so the rivalry began. That’s the sub-plot and I’m pretty sure it only existed in my mind. Jim had a magazine to run. I just had a hot car to blow up.
Jim immediately handed the project to Pete Tritak, who with partner and driver Billy “Blew His Eyes Out” Morgan, were proven Mopar bloods. Pete built and wrenched out of Tritak Performance (Clifton, NJ). Billy was one of the sharpest shoes in the doorslammer business. Neither were bucks up. They counted on their cars to supplement their income, so when it came to the job of winning, they were experienced, pragmatic, and ruthless.
Their plan was to campaign their free ‘Cuda nationally in SS/DA, rudely contested territory at the time. So long as we produced the agreed upon number of editorial pages for Plymouth, Cook didn’t really care what I did with our yellow Hemi, so we (me and Managing Editor/shooter Don Green) fell on it like vampires on a lamb.
A big, belligerent burnout on a side street behind a car wash a few blocks off Western Avenue: As soon as I’d nailed it, an LAPD motor cop throttled through the roiling cloud. He was still coughing when he made his dismount. He ran the usual litany and when he saw the registration it prompted him: “This car belongs to Chrysler, huh? Do you think they’d be happy to know what you’re doing with it?” With a stone face, I answered him: “Yes, they would.” Before he went apoplectic, I laid the project car shtick on him. He gave me a (loud) verbal warning and turned me loose.
We jerked around with the ‘Cuda. Drove it over to Doug Thorley’s place just off the 5 Freeway. He prototyped headers on that car and about a week later we were at Wednesday night LIONS. With 9.50x15 Goodyears and open dumps the ‘Cuda peeled off high-12s in that thick and magical night air. We ran the slicks with very low air pressure. The face of the tire would attempt to roll over the bulge being produced in front of it, thus lending a “marbling” effect to the process, just as Bill Jenkins had advised.
Donny Green had gone to USC and still lived in the neighborhood near South Central. He knew a guy named Ernie Nichols who raced a tube chassis Hemi-powered Barracuda in A/GS. Ernie did his wrenching at Sweet William’s gas station (somewhere off Hoover) and got Sweet to give us the okay to cripple the ‘Cuda on one of his lifts.