HEMIs and Holley, Drag Strip Domination for over Five Decades!

By: David Hakim | 04/28/2020 < Back to Motor Life Home

For three generations of engines, Mopar has been utilizing the Hemispherical-headed V8 as their supreme horsepower producing configuration. The legendary 426 Race HEMI, gulping high octane fuel and massive amounts of air through a pair of Holley 4160 Carburetors (List Number 0-4235 and 0-4236 for you numbers geeks) has terrorized drag strips for over 50 years. From the early beginnings in 1964, the 426 Race HEMI Mopar Super Stockers steamrolled right over the 409 Chevys and 427 FE Fords at major NHRA and AHRA meets all over the country. During this magical period for drag strip dominance, the factory horsepower wars heated up like the arms race. When it came time to enter the launch codes and push the red button, the 426 Race HEMI was a deadly nuclear strike weapon that could lay waste to any car in the next lane. Such was the case when Roger Lindamood took his Holley equipped HEMI Dodge to a Super Stock victory at the 1964 NHRA Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park. 

Chrysler’s 426 HEMI also dominated the NASCAR super speedways for many years until the potent engine was banned, but let’s be real, the HEMI’s bad boy reputation was conceived at the drags. It’s folklore and legendary status grew from the HEMI’s antics on the main streets and boulevards across the nation. The Dodge and Plymouth product planners became hip to this scene and acted rapidly. They knew to grab the consumers attention, the cars not only needed to be fast, but also dominate the ever-popular Super Stock and Street Eliminator classes. By 1968, the Chrysler Race Group devised a way to install a 426 Race HEMI into a batch of lightweight, limited production Barracuda and Dart models. These unique HEMI “Package Cars” began life at the Dodge Main Hamtramck plant but were plucked off the assembly line part way through production and sent to a facility outside Detroit run by Hurst. Here’s where many of the unique modifications had to be completed including stuffing the massive HEMI engine into the tight engine bay. One change from the prior HEMI Super Stock Package Cars built in 1964 and 1965 was the use of Hooker Headers on the Barracudas and Darts during the build process. During the next few years, the factory backed drag racing stars like Sox & Martin, Dick Landy, Don Grotheer, and others, were let loose from Pomona, California to Englishtown, New Jersey, to maul the Mustangs and chew up the Camaros.  

By 1970, both NHRA and AHRA had added a heads-up class called Pro Stock. Once again, the HEMI showed its dominance as more liberal rules regarding engine modifications made the engine more brutal. The use of new tunnel ram dual quad intake manifolds pioneered by Weiand required a new style of carburetor that could feed the HEMI even more air and fuel. The Holley engineers went to work and the Dominator Series of carburetors was born. 

With the Dominators flowing over 1000 CFM, the HEMI Pro Stock racers (including the Ford and Chevy teams) quickly realized its great tuning attributes for various vehicle modifications, track conditions, and weather changes. In the first two years of Pro Stock, HEMI powered Dodge and Plymouth Pro Stockers fueled by Holley Dominator carbs cleaned house while on their way to NHRA back-to-back world championships in 1970 and 1971. 

While the Chrysler racers were happy with the outcome of the first NHRA Pro Stock seasons, the racing officials were less than pleased. One car brand dominating any form of racing is never good, and NHRA quickly penciled into the 1972 rule book new weight penalties for the Mopar Pro Stockers. Despite Chrysler’s best efforts that included experimenting with smaller displacement HEMI engines and more “aero friendly” cars like the Duster and Dart Sport, they just couldn’t run with the lighter small block Pintos and Vegas that were killing it in Pro Stock. It wasn’t until 2012 when Allen Johnson drove his Holley-outfitted HEMI powered Dodge Avenger to a NHRA Pro Stock World Championship crown. The 41-year drought had finally come to an end and the Mopar nation rejoiced like it was the second coming. 

With any racing, there are always rule changes and new classes being created to keep up the changing automotive landscape and consumer tastes. When NHRA conceived the Factory Stock Showdown class a few years ago, there was finally a new heads-up racing format for current production cars. While not exactly showroom models, they looked damn close with their production sheetmetal and relatively small nine-inch wide rear slicks while using a production-based engine architecture. 

Here iconic nameplates from the past got resurrected such as COPO Camaro, Cobra Jet Mustang, and Drag Pak Challenger, and came out to play. But unlike their big-block carbureted Pro Stock ancestors from the dawn of the 1970s, the current Factory Stock Show players use supercharged Chevy LS, Ford Coyote, or Mopar GEN III HEMI engines. All three OEM approved NHRA FSS combinations are 5.7 liters or less in displacement but make plenty of horsepower to propel their drivers into the seven-second zone at over 175 mph in the quarter-mile. 

For NHRA Factory Stock Showdown racer Leah Pruett, 2018 was a season that had its shares of ups and downs. Her team earned their pay getting the 1300 horsepower, 354 cubic-inch HEMI dialed-in while the Holley EFI unit and RacePak system gave them the consistent performance with valuable tuning input and data logging needed to go rounds, win races, and eventually the 2018 NHRA Factory Stock Showdown World Championship. 

With the growing popularity of the GEN III HEMI (and the fact it has been produced in large quantities since 2003), many hot rodders and enthusiasts are turning to this engine for numerous projects. From Resto Mods to Rat Rods, the modern HEMI can offer more power than its ancestors from the 1960s at significantly lower costs. Holley carries on its HEMI Heritage by providing a host of Terminator X GEN III HEMI Kits. Additionally Holley also has GEN III HEMI Engine Swap Systems for 1972-1993 D100/D150 pickup trucks and 1966-1972 B-Body platforms with more platform swap systems to follow that will allow for seamless engine swaps in a wide variety of cars and trucks. 

The Mopar HEMI has been a part of the American racing and street scene for over five decades and Holley and many of its iconic brands have been there all the way making this colossal engine even stronger and faster. Whether it's at Moparty, the NHRA Hot Rod Reunion, or a Tuesday in December, the faithful celebrate the iconic, ground pounding HEMI every day. 

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