HEMI Heritage

Drag Racing's Biggest Purse in 1967

Geoff Stunkard - June 20, 2014 09:01 AM


This car, seen here at Carlisle, is presently owned by collectors Don and Mary Lee Fezell, and has been returned to its 1967 World Championship configuration. Ed Miller (foreground) lives in Virginia, and went on to be a Pro Stock racer and noted engine builder. Kip Guether passed away not long after the image was taken

Courtesy of Geoff Stunkard

Ed Miller in a period Hurst ad showing the spoils of victory.

Courtesy of Geoff Stunkard

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      For NHRA, the new Super Stock class could not have arrived at a better time. It was 1967, and the new car market was abuzz with performance. After all, GM had two new sports models (today known as “pony cars”) with the Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird. Ford had redesigned the Mustang, Mercury released their Cougar, and Chrysler had increased their line-up with the performance Dodge R/T and Plymouth GTX.

      The winner of Super Stock class at the World Finals in 1967 would get an unheard-of purse of $10,000, posted by shifter magnate George Hurst. It was a larger cash sum than any other NHRA win in any class had ever paid.

      During the year, Chrysler released a new Super Stock package more akin to the Street Hemi than the race versions of 1964 and 1965. Ronnie Sox had driven one of these cars, a Plymouth classified into SS/D, to victory at the NHRA Springnationals in Bristol, Tennessee. A 1966 Chevy II had won the eliminator at the Winternationals, and Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins had scored a very popular victory at the Indy Nationals over Labor Day in a 396 Camaro. However, it would be a two-year car, with a worn-out motor and driven by a bricklayer from upstate New York, that would go on to cop the cash and crown when the World Final began in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in October.

      Arlen Vanke’s old ’65 A01/A990 Hemi Plymouth was now being campaigned by Ed Miller and Kip Guenther of Rochester, New York. After posting a runner-up finish at the Winternationals, the team parlayed hard work and a little luck into a free entry at the season-ending event by beating Jenkins for the Division 1 Super Stock points title.  During the summer, they reset the SS/A record three time and literally wore out the engine fasteners tearing the Hemi apart. Moreover, the Hemi that made Miller and Guenther $16,000 richer that fall weekend was worn out. It used a welded-up crank and the rear of the block had been patched back together after a clutch explosion.

      It was a tough field. Neither 1966 World Champion Jere Stahl or Vanke could qualify into it, but Miller was seeded. His engine spun a bearing on a Sunday morning check-out pass. That meant a huge thrash as the opening rounds got underway; luckily, they got it done and were ready to go in time as NHRA decided to run all the hotter cars first due to approaching rain.

      That afternoon began with Miller beating Okie resident Don Grotheer (in a SS/B ’67 Plymouth), then Larry Cooper (in a similar SS/AA ’65 Plymouth) and finally Bill Jenkins’ Indy-winning SS/C Camaro himself when the Grump flipped on a red light. In light evening drizzle, he faced Dick Arons of Detroit for the series crown and the fat money. Indexed by NHRA at 11.05 to the Camaro’s 350 SS/EA 12.13 number, Miller, who was used to driving that big Hemi on the slippery seven-inch tires the previous season, kept traction at the line and easily pulled ahead to take an early lead, then won it, 11.19 to 12.32.

      Perhaps George would have liked to have seen his money taken by an exciting new car, but must have been happy to see Miller take the crown. After all, Ed was one of the best guys at rowing through a four-speed in the Race Hemi, and he had won…with Hurst equipment.

(Geoff Stunkard, former editor of Mopar magazines, is presently writing an overview history of Chrysler’s Race Hemi engine for Cartech books to released in 2015. He will be highlighting Hemi heritage on this 50th Anniversary for Cars & Parts throughout 2014.)