Holley History: Pro Stock Domination from 1970 to Today!

By: Jim Hill | 01/02/2020 < Back to Motor Life Home

The NRHA Pro Stock drag racing class became an official Eliminator bracket during the 1970 racing season. From Day One, its contestants chose a matched pair of Holley four-barrel carburetors atop their engines no matter who the car manufacturer was. 

Pro Stock grew out of Super Stock (S/S) racers’ frustration with hard braking at the finish line to keep from losing via the break-out. In 1969, several of these racers began independent “heads-up” races and match races without handicaps. The fan response to these races was huge, making the sanctioning bodies take notice. NHRA and AHRA established heads-up racing as an Eliminator class in 1970; NHRA called it Pro Stock while AHRA called it Super Stock.”

The new Pro Stock rules were simple: carburetors only, gasoline was the fuel, 7 pounds per cubic inch displacement (CID). A typical first-gen Camaro, the early class favorite, with a .030-inch overbored 427 big-block (430 CID) would have a 3,010-pound weight minimum. Former S/S race cars, primarily the popular pony cars, were easily converted to run in Pro Stock. Across the board, engine builders chose a pair of Holley carburetors for their tunnel-ram intake manifolds. Chevy racers initially selected the Holley R-4224, a 660-cfm “center squirter” four-barrel setup with a deep plenum beneath the carbs. Chrysler teams with 426 Hemis and Ford teams with 427 FE and SOHC 427 engines opted for Holley 4500 carburetors on shallow plenum intakes. When American Motors (AMC) joined the battle, Booth-Arons Racing Enterprises and Maskin & Kanners ran Holleys on their AMC engines. Headline drivers that jumped into Pro Stock included Don Nicholson, Eddie Schartman; Dave Strickler, Butch Leal, Ronnie Sox, Dick Landy, Arlen Vanke, Bob Lambeck, Ed Miller, Dave Lyall, Gapp & Roush, Roy Hill, Al Joniec, Bill Jenkins, Hubert Platt, Bo Laws, Billy Stepp, Warren Johnson, Mike Fons, Bill Hielscher, Dick Harrell, and others. Those generous car numbers provided plenty of opportunities for match racing and full fields at major events. Soon after the debut of Pro Stock, Holley identified a problem facing the new Pro Stock racers: the need for increased fuel volume and pressure. Holley answered with the groundbreaking GPH-110, a high-output, rotor-vane, electric fuel pump with an adjustable, external pressure regulator. With a fuel-volume capacity of 110 gallons per hour, the GPH-110 pump was an instant hit and has remained popular for five decades! Pro Stock technology also had a major impact on Sportsman racing. The trickle-down effect brought Pro Stock technology and Holley products to Modified and Comp Eliminator racing, too. Although racing in the 1970s took a backseat to the issues of exhaust emissions, fuel economy and vehicle safety, there was still interest from Detroit. Chrysler’s Dodge and Plymouth teams had above-board factory support. The Ford faithful found back-door support from former members of Ford’s once astute race programs. Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins was a frequent visitor at the GM Technical Center in Warren, Michigan. His Malvern, Pennsylvania, shop received a generous supply of key factory components to feed his program. As usual, Holley was the first choice for carburetors and fuel systems. AMC had joined the party in 1968 fielding Holley-equipped, factory-supported race cars in Super Stock, then followed suit in Pro Stock in the 1970s.

During Pro Stock’s early years, two firms challenged Holley’s overwhelming dominance in the class: Carter Carburetors/ACF Industries and Kendig. Carter signed Funny Car and Pro Stock racer Dick Harrell to promote their new Thermo-Quad four-barrel. Harrell had a 2x4 fabricated intake manifold that mounted two Thermo-Quads on his big-block–powered ’69 Chevy Camaro. He also made a clear plexiglass hoodscoop for display. Concealed inside his hauler was an intake manifold that mounted a pair of Holleys with a painted hoodscoop that hid the Holleys he was really using.

“Dyno Don” Nicholson had used Holley carbs for several years. When Kendig offered a hefty cash contract, he painted the Kendig logo across the doors of his SOHC 427-powered Ford Maverick. He too had a pair of Holleys waiting to replace the display-only Kendig carbs.

Harrell and Nicholson both knew the Holley carburetors were several tenths quicker, so the undercover Holleys were always used in competition. When Nicholson’s Kendig contract expired, he returned to openly running Holley carburetors. 

In 1972, Pro Stock wizard Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins turned the class upside down with his Chevy small-block–powered, tube-chassis Chevrolet Vega. Grumpy’s game-changer had been quietly in the works for a year and its success spawned a tidal wave of emulators, all equipped with Holley carbs and pumps. 

By 1982, the rules changed radically. Engine displacement was increased to 500 ci and minimum weight was 2,350 pounds. A pair of Holley 4500s on a tunnel-ram intake remained the standard for all teams. 

In 1994, the Holley 6-Second Club was created, with just 16 slots established for the first Pro Stock racers to break the 6-second e.t. barrier. In May 20, 1994, Kurt Johnson (son and teammate of Pro Stock pioneer Warren Johnson) recorded a celebrated 6.98 e.t. at Englishtown, New Jersey, claiming the No. 1 position in the Holley 6-Second Club. Ironically, this came at the NHRA Mopar Parts Nationals, an event eventually won by Warren. 

Today, Holley still has a foothold in Pro Stock with their fuel injection technology. All current Pro Stock racers utilize Holley EFI for squeezing every last ounce of horsepower from these 10,000+RPM mountain motors!

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