9 May 2016

Two pro stock legends compete again

We look back fondly at the ‘60s and early ‘70s as drag racing’s heyday. It was a time when many, armed only with a shoestring budget and engine-building skills, could compete successfully and perhaps win enough money to compete the following week. If you were skilled enough to win races you might even secure a factory sponsorship. Back then, the easiest way to compete was in Super Stock and later in Pro Stock racing where a production-based car and driveline are required.

One of the early ‘60s most feared racers was Ronnie Sox. Starting his career working at the family Sox Sinclair service station in North Carolina, Sox began racing while still a teenager by sneaking his father’s 1949 Oldsmobile out to local races. The legendary Sox & Martin partnership was born out of Buddy Martin’s frustration. Time after time, beating Sox proved impossible and so Martin proposed they team up. Little did either know at the time, but they had just created one of the most iconic Super Stock and Pro Stock teams of the era. With Sox’s near-superhuman ability seamlessly working a four-speed coupled with the team’s Hemi-powered Mopars in the late ‘60s, Ronnie Sox became the driver to beat. In 1971, the Sox & Martin team won six of eight NHRA Pro Stock events for the year. This dominance caused the NHRA to rewrite the Pro Stock rules which essentially eliminated the Hemi from competition.

If Sox was the man to beat, then “Grumpy” Bill Jenkins was the man who turned up the heat. Jenkins, a former Mechanical Engineering student from Cornell University who had little patience for taking tests found that building engines was his true calling. By the ‘60s, if you were on the East Coast and wanted to win with a Chevrolet engine, you went to Grumpy. Following a short partnership with Chrysler, Jenkins became famous for becoming a “giant slayer” by taking down Hemi-powered Mopars with his 327 powered Chevy II named “Grumpy’s Toy.”

His engineering innovations, such as drag racing’s first dry-sump oiling system and slick-shift manual transmissions, made him the man to beat in 1970 when the Pro Stock class was introduced. His wins against Sox at the Winternationals and Gatornationals were highlights. And Jenkins was more proud of winning those races as the constructor rather than the driver.

If Jenkins and Sox were the drivers to beat, then owning one of their cars would be the pinnacle of any drag racing collection. Amazingly, Mecum Auctions is providing that opportunity at their upcoming Indianapolis sale. Sox’s 1971 Hemi ‘Cuda will be thundering across the podium first. It was consistently favored in 1971, as it dominated the Pro Stock class all year. This would also be the last time the 426 Hemi would dominate the drag strip in Pro Stock racing. Completely restored and authenticated by Sox himself in 2005, this piece of history sports an acid dipped shell to reduce weight, original Hemi engine with a radical dual plug and magneto setup, common in Top Fuel drag racing today.

Following Sox’s ‘Cuda is the Jenkins-built 1970 Camaro “Grumpy’s Toy VIII.” Authenticated by “Grumpy” in 2005 as well, his car debuted on Hot Rod magazine’s June ‘70 cover yanking the front wheels off the ground. His car became a serious competitor for the 1970 and ‘71 seasons. Every time, “Grumpy’s Toy” lined up against the Sox & Martin team was a crowd favorite. In late 1971, “Grumpy’s Toy” was rented out to 1969 Super Stock Nationals winner Bruce Larson and campaigned under his USA-1 colors. More recently “Grumpy’s Toy VIII” hit the auction scene in 2011, commanding a high bid of $300,000 without selling.

These historic racecars will certainly be Friday afternoon’s stars when they compete once more, this time for top dollar. This round’s winner will be determined soon enough.

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