Muscle Cars You Should Know: Dick Landy’s ’70 HEMI Dodge Challenger
The evolution of motorsports is one that sometimes requires wholesale changes. This was the state of Super Stock drag racing by 1969. Super Stock was the top class for factory-bodied late model specials; it had been part of the Stock Eliminator class from 1960 until 1966, and it was where the Detroit manufacturers spent their time and money.
During that time, as the more-radical FX classes evolved into the realistically-named ‘funny cars,’ the factory money followed, but the radical changes in the pursuit of speed caused those cars to look little like what ended up on sale in the showrooms.
At the same time, NHRA’s larger base of weekend sportsman racers found it was very difficult to win against those factory-assisted drivers who remained in the Stock category. NHRA decided to create a class between Stock and the more modified categories by moving all specially-built factory cars into their own division.
As a result, Super Stock was formalized as a class for the 1967 season, and many veteran drivers who had spearheaded the funny car revolution found themselves back in more mundane race-oriented doorslammer, either factory package race cars or tuned-up versions from the exploding muscle car marketplace.
Dick Landy, a long time factory race driver for Dodge who heralded from Southern California, was one such person.
Landy had been one of the most visible of the FX evolution, beginning with Ford but coming into the Pentastar ranks with a Dodge in 1962. His “Automotive Research” ’64 HEMI sedan had an adjustable wheelbase, and his 1965 altered-wheelbase “Landy’s Dodge” was perhaps the most visible in the nation that summer.
His trademark as a racing personality was an unlit cigar he keep in his pocket and clenched in his teeth. In 1966, while testing a nitro-burning supercharged Dart, Landy had a fiery transmission explosion at speed in front of an audience of “factory race bosses,” who almost immediately decided maybe the money would better focused on the new S/S class, especially with the exciting new muscle cars then being offered for the street.
Dodge, as a brand, had fully embraced its segment in the new-car performance market, releasing cars like Charger and Coronet R/T; Landy would get a new Coronet for 1967. Conversely, Dodge’s smaller sports model was the Dart GTS, which exuded the basic styling cues the company was using across the board, but frankly lacked the curb appeal of the new “pony cars” that had come from Ford and Chevy in the form of Mustang and Camaro, respectively. The division would soon spend a goodly sum of money creating a model they aptly named Challenger as Dodge’s “pony car.”
While styling and development got busy with what would be Chrysler’s E-Body platform, the guy they called Dandy Dick was making waves in sanctioned competition.
The factory had focused the Plymouth efforts spearheaded by Sox & Martin on Stock and Super Stock, while Dodge and Landy positioned themselves more in the Modified and Street classes, which were a bit more radical.
Landy’s Charger won Street at the 1968 Winternationals, and Modified at the same event the following season. However, Super Stock was where the publicity action was, and the two factory pilots (Ronnie Sox and Dick) occasionally went heads-up for class crowns before they had to carefully find the proper strategy on race day.
Why? Because NHRA used a complicated set of rules maintain parity between HEMI Mopars, 400cui Oldsmobiles, 350 low-compression Camaros, and 428 Fairlanes. These were based on things like the current record (which could be reset if you drove too fast), delivery weight, production tolerances, and NHRA adjusted horsepower ratings.
Guys who could stir the shifter with the best of them were on the brakes and sideways at 130 mph at the finish lines to prevent the dreaded break-out or re-indexing issues.
Corporate intrigue was a large part of it; the factory race directors fought for any advantage, real or perceived, from NHRA, resulting in a non-stop argument of “Foul!” by the wronged party. Frankly, it was a big mess, and it came to a head at the 1969 U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, when all the Chrysler racers left the property for a factory-mandated drive to a small track in Ohio to determine who could best represent each competed-in class during the following day’s program! That next Monday, NHRA met with all the factory reps to determine a solution, with the results being Pro Stock.
In fairness, it should be stated that the now-defunct AHRA had already initiated a head-ups, no breakout division they had named Super Stock for 1969, and the east coast’s NHRA Division 1 had a large following for a heads-up / no-breakout door-slammer group named the Super Circuit.
The new NHRA Pro Stock class would debut in 1970, and, fortuitously, so would Dodge’s new Challenger. Pro Stock meant pushing the edge of technology – a minimum weight with a maximum displacement on gas settled it, maintaining as close to an original exterior appearance other than hood scoop and wheel changes.
The Challenger in its realized configuration was larger than most of the other competitors; in fact, Chrysler spent a huge amount money creating the all-new ’70 E-Body Barracuda as well, whose platform has an inch-shorter wheelbase resulting in issues with parts interchange.
Regardless, with the gen-two Camaro delayed by union strikes and the excitement of such a revolutionary model, Challenger showed up on most major industry magazine title covers in one form or another. Mr. Landy, who would be leaving his Super Stock and Modified efforts behind to show how prowess in Pro Stock, became the Challenger’s most visible supporter in the quarter-mile ranks.
At the time, NHRA hosted eight events, calling 1970 the Super Season. AHRA hosted 10 more, and there were also NHRA points races for qualifying to run at the World Finals, match races, and dealership displays.
Landy would spend the entire summer racing, flying home on occasion between events but busy enough he would be gone for large blocks of time. After Bill Jenkins’ Camaro won the first two Pro Stock races in 1970, it became the Sox & Martin show, with Ronnie and co-driver Herb McCandless dominating the class.
Dick Landy became one of only four drivers to win an NHRA crown between the 1970-1971 season; in 1970, NHRA hosted a new event deemed the Summernationals at York US30 Dragway in Pennsylvania.
Landy came in and beat McCandless and the S&M Duster for the event win. Only Jenkins as mentioned and “Dyno Don” Nicholson (at the same Summernationals event in 1971, held in Englishtown, NJ for the first time) won outside of the Sox & Martin juggernaut until Mike Fons’ achievement at Amarillo in the fall of 1971, winning the World Finals crown and overall NHRS season championship.
So even the single win put Dick and the 1970-71 Landy Challengers in top company. Dick would go on to win the 1973 AHRA Pro Stock crown as politics invaded NHRA Pro Stock, with a focus on making sure the Mopar HEMI could no longer be dominant.
But that will have to be a story for another day…
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