No sponsorship program in drag racing’s brief history had enjoyed a more-promising or better-financed launch than the spring 1964 debut of the three-car Dodge Chargers team. No big factory deal before or since has failed quite so miserably.
Michigan promoter Don Beebe’s six-month plan called for side-by-side exhibition matches by this new breed of Supercharged Factory Experimentals at more than 50 tracks in the marketing areas of sponsoring dealerships, which also displayed one or both of the Dodge 330 sedans either before or after their local appearance. Where the cars ran was determined by participating dealers, who’d ponied up a reported quarter-million dollars up front to Beebe, who’d previously worked the car-show circuit on behalf of the AMT model company. Track operators nationwide were literally begging for a date. No wonder; the Chargers were drag racing’s biggest spectator attraction of early 1964 — and cost the lucky promoters nothing to book.
Jim Johnson (left) typically smoked his tires and ran faster speeds (approaching 140 mph), while Jimmy Nix (right) often got the quicker e.t. (10.90s) and the win, thanks to ballast in his trunk and an unauthorized camshaft swap. "They weren't supposed to be racing to win," explains engine-builder Jim Nelson, "but those guys both had egos about as big as the moon." Visible in the background is the
nose of one of three Polara stockers painted to match the race cars.
(Does anybody know why that flag was flying at half mast in the spring of '64?)
There was also the star power of Jimmy Nix, an established winner in Top Fuel and Top Gas dragsters who shocked his open-wheeled peers by defecting to what they derisively referred to as “stockers.” Nix and teammate Jim Johnson, a Stock and Super Stock veteran, would be paid salaries of $200 a week, plus all expenses, and be flown to the races; an unheard-of luxury in 1964. Superstar engine-builder Jim Nelson, the coowner of Dragmaster Co., and a second mechanic, George Parkinson, would also fly in. A fulltime truck driver would haul the two race cars plus an elaborate pit display in a custom-built 16-wheeler. Also unprecedented was the insurance of a complete spare car.