At the prestigious NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, veteran sportsman drag racer Mike Cotten surprised even the most staunch of class-racing followers when he rolled a new-look 1971 Plymouth Barracuda out of the trailer. Cotten has been driving a familiar ’70 Barracuda in Super Stock since 2005. “Did he repaint the car and convert it over to a ’71?” many asked, both in-person and online. But it was indeed a brand-new car … a surprise he managed to pull off at the sport’s biggest event, that culminated in a well-deserved Best Appearing Car award.
This particular car, as if meant to be, floated around to a number of different owners over the course of a decade and a half, ultimately ending up in the hands of a man who fell in love with Plymouth’s famed Barracuda half a century ago.
“I bought this ‘71 about 90 percent complete two years ago from my friend Thomas Baker. The gentleman that was having it built passed away, and it changed hands two or three times and ended up in Thomas’s hands. Thomas ended up selling it to me about two years ago,” Cotten tells us. “The car spent time in Houston, where Dale Hulquist did the interior work. While there, George Sorotko put the base blue paint on it. It then went to PMR Race Cars in California for the motor plates, and Greg Holman built the headers while it was there. It then went to Tim Hachinski in Kansas City where he applied the Scott Brown-designed paint scheme.”
“I finally brought it to my home in Arizona, where I did the wiring, plumbing and front end. It took slightly over two years to build it, and like everyone else, the pandemic affected much of the lead times on building this car,” he adds. “Plus, the amount of miles the car traveled during the build, going from Baltimore to Houston to Los Angeles to Kansas City, and finally to Phoenix, was challenging.”
The Plymouth was originally started by chassis builder Mike Pustelny, while PMR finished it out.
Erik Jones built the current 383 cubic inch Chrysler big-block. Utilizing a stock iron block, Jones outfitted it with Manley connecting rods and Bill Miller pistons swung around by a stock crankshaft. A secret custom camshaft and set of valves are paired with T&D rockers, COMP pushrods, and PAC springs in the stock heads diligently massaged by Jones. A Holley 630 cfm spread-bore carburetor sits atop an Edelbrock intake manifold. An MSD Digital 7 ignition provides the spark, and an Aeroquip pump, filter and regulator deliver the fuel through Russell hoses and fittings.
Cotten’s ’71 sports a ProTrans-built 727 TorqueFlite with an ATI torque converter, handled using a Precision shifter. A Mark Williams driveshaft sends the horsepower back to a Dana 60 rearend/third-member, outfitted with Mark Williams axles and a 5.57 gear. Lamb brakes are situated at all four corners, as are RC Components wheels. The chassis sports a back-half’ed four-link, with FAST shocks up front, and MSR shocks by JRi on the rear.
Hulquist crafted the blue-on-black upholstery, while a Kirkey seat keeps Cotten nice and cozy in the seat for wheels-up laps down the 1/4-mile.
When the E-b0dy Cuda’s came out, I can remember going to the Tulsa State Fair and one of the local dealers had three of them sitting there on display. I can remember it like it was yesterday … there was a red one, a lime green one, and a yellow one. And I just absolutely fell in love with them.
“I built model cars like most young guys did, and we happened to live about 15 miles from Tulsa Raceway Park when I was a teenager,” Mike shares of his introduction to the sport. “Me and my buddies would go out there, and I just kinda’ got it it in my blood. I’d ride my bike out there on Sundays to watch. Then in high school we all took auto shop class and got into cars. So I was drag racing from the time I was 16 years old. Paula and I married when we were both 21, and we started bracket racing our Duster there at Tulsa in 1977. I always wanted to run Stock and Super Stock, and Tulsa was an AHRA track at that time, and we started running in Stock over there. AHRA was a much easier series to run in Stock back then. We did that for a few years and won a couple national events. We then turned our original Duster into a Stocker in 1983, and the Winternationals that year was the first NHRA national event I ever attended.
“We raced locally at divisional and national events around our area, and into Louisiana and Texas. We were both still working back then,” Mike, who ran a pair of businesses before retirng to a quieter life of drag racing, shares. “We didn’t start running Super Stock until 2005 with the Barracuda. Paula started racing about 1996 or ’97, and for several years we both raced Dusters in Stock. The husband and wife have raced three Dusters in all, and now two Barracudas.
While the Cotten’s have largely raced Chrysler products throughout their years in the sport, Mike admits no allegiances to any particular brands, sharing that he’s owned Ford and Chevrolet vehicles, as well. It was not until recently, however, that his racing family saw glimpses of the Cotten’s with anything other than a Mopar, as Paula debuted a Camaro in Stock Eliminator (they now have two). “Our friends all give us a hard time, they tell us it’s great that now we can buy race car parts at AutoZone,” Mike says with a laugh.
“Oddly enough, my dad hated Mopars,” Mike adds, breaking out into laughter as we questioned the origins of his preference for — but not exclusivity with — Mopar products. “He was an Oldsmobile guy. I just thought those Mopar muscle cars were cool, and when the E-b0dy Cuda’s came out, I can remember going to the Tulsa State Fair and one of the local dealers had three of them sitting there on display. I can remember it like it was yesterday … there was a red one, a lime green one, and a yellow one. And I just absolutely fell in love with them. I was 16 years old, and there was no way I could afford one, but I just thought they were the coolest thing. In 1973 when I was in college, I bought our original 340 Duster that we raced for a lot of years before it was crashed. So I just became a Mopar guy … it just kinda’ happened.”
“Believe it or not, though, I’ve owned two Dodge pickups in the last five years, and those have been the first Dodge pickup trucks I’ve ever owned. But we have an A12 Super Bee, as well as a newer 1320 Dodge Challenger that we go cruising around town in,” he says.
Mike and Paula trek to 12 to 14 NHRA national events a year, and around eight Lucas Oil series races. Mike has won four NHRA national events (three of those in Stock) and 12 Lucas Oil series races in his career, as well as two IHRA and three AHRA national events. He’s has been in 10 NHRA national event final rounds nationally, and laughs as he reminisces on the fact that he’s only won four of them — beginning by winning the first three in a row and then going on a long drought. Those wins included Dallas back-to-back in 1991 and ’92, and the Winternationals in Super Stock in 2012. His most recent triumph actually came at Topeka this summer, in Stock Eliminator. He also has 120 class eliminations wins in all.
Cotten clocked his best of 9.74 in the cars’ debut at Indianapolis, which qualified him 64th (-0.952 under the SS/IA class index) in the sport’s most competitive Super Stock field. With the impending switch over to the 340, Cotten believes the car will be capable of 9.60s.
“Probably my favorite thing about this car is that it’s a new E-body Super Stocker. They’re not that common anymore, and I applaud all the ones that are still competing. But I just love the retro paint scheme and the stance of this car. It’s also a blast to drive,” Mike says.
“Our goal is to have a lot of fun with this thing, and try to make a competitive Super Stock/J Automatic (the same category he’s traditionally raced his ’70 in) car using a 340.” The 340 combination will utilize a Ritter aluminum block and a set of aluminum heads that Cotten was able to track down, as well as a Thermoquad carburetor.