The Mopar faithful and those that raced against him call him “Akron” Arlen Vanke. He was one of the original factory-backed Super Stock/ Pro Stock racers in the Sixties and Seventies. Today he is retired as a driver, but like an old fire horse responding when it hears the fire bell, when racers start burning racing gas and rubber Arlen
Vanke is likely to be seen somewhere in the pits. Mopar Max took the opportunity to interview this legendary Mopar racer and fan while covering the “Mopars at the Strip” event at Las Vegas.
: When did you first start racing and why?
AV: Well, I started actual drag racing in 1953… it was kind of a hobby. Then along about 1962 I discovered that I could make money doing it and I figured I would rather race than work every day. So that’s what I did the rest of my life.
: What was your first drag race car?
AV: I raced a flathead Ford behind the Barberton (Ohio) Shopping Center in 1953. The city set it up (a drag racing facility), rather than having us race on the (city) roads, (the city) marked off an eighth mile behind a shopping center and allowed us to race there on Sundays.
: Was the track successful?
AV: Yes they ran it and we raced on it for two years. We had a great time!
: When did you decide to race a Mopar instead of some other brand of car?
AV: In 1963 I had a Pontiac, Brand X – whatever you want to call them. Sometime in the fall an edict came down from the fourteenth floor of the Fisher Building (in Detroit) that dictated that there would be no more performance cars from General Motors. I took a long look at it all and, since that (drag racing) was my life, I decided that Chrysler was the way to go. So, I ordered two new ’64 Mopar performance cars, one had a Max Wedge engine and the other was Hemi powered.