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The Ramchargers "Woody" AA/FD Dragster with a full load of nitro -- it worked in the funny car as well !! Sometimes too well

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Ramchargers Stories - from Mike Buckel Part 18: Nitro, Dragsters, and wild things to come
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By Mike Buckel and Society Staff – reprint with permission only

The ’65 season for the Funny Car progressed with ever-increasing loads of Nitro and ever increasing speeds. Several of the Ramchargers had a little more than a passing experience with NASCAR and therefore a little knowledge of aerodynamics. We knew it was important that no air should be allowed under the car and air through the grille should be minimized to reduce front-end lift at speed. This became ever more important as speeds reached 150 mph. 

Wheel stands were minimized by running with the front end as low as possible, which aided in keeping air out from under the car. Several of our competitors did not realize the importance of these issues and crashed as a result. Tom, the Mongoose, McEwen crossed the finish line at 150 mph on the roof of a Funny Barracuda. Several other Funny Car drivers paid the ultimate price.

During the burnouts we always had a guy in the staging area with a 3/4 socket wrench in his pocket so that the front could be lowered a few turns on the torsion bar screws if the car did a big wheelie. This resulted in a shower of sparks at the finish line when the oil pan dragged on the pavement, often necessitating an oil pan repair between runs.

As Nitro loads increased toward 90 percent the car became squirrely. The car was trying to tell us that the limit of the stock leaf springs was being reached, but we did not listen and subsequently paid a stiff price with the ’66 car. I clocked the first ever 8-second Funny Car runs at Cecil County, MD with the car on 50 percent, another milestone achieved.

Meanwhile the only late model HEMI engined dragster in the country was proving itself with awesome displays of power. We had purchased a new long wheelbase Woody Gilmore chassis that made its debut at the Winter Nationals. Qualifying 12th, during shakedown runs, we went out in the first round to Connie Kalitta. Our engines were remarkably stock: block, heads, crankshaft, rods and pistons. 

We ran the same Isky camshaft as the funny car as there was neither time nor opportunity to test other cams. The learning curve on the new engine was steep with durability being the major problem. Head gasket failures topped the list, closely followed by wrist pins and connecting rods. What seemed to work on the old 392 did not work on the 426.

We took the car to Bristol for the Spring Nationals where the traction was phenomenal. All the dragsters were bogging down just off the line including the Ramchargers. Back then spark timing in dragsters was limited to the low 30s as major structural damage resulted with increased advance. To solve the bogging problem Dan Knapp turned the magneto up some, and it helped. So he twisted it some more and the car went even quicker. The exhaust note also changed to the crackle we all are now familiar with from fuel Dragsters and Funny Cars. Nobody had ever heard this sound before. By the first round of eliminations the car was more than 4 tenths quicker than it had ever been even with early shutdowns. In the second to last run we set low ET of 7.51 sec and top speed of 204.44 mph of the meet. Westerdale relighted in the semi against Kalitta precluding a milestone matchup. The spark lead was now at 65 degrees.

We vowed to keep this finding a secret in violation of the policy that drove all the other innovations the Ramchargers had made over the years. We felt that dragster technology was separate from stock bodied car technology. Garlits stumbled onto this secret a year later. Key to all this power was the inherent structural strength of the new HEMI engine. For the remainder of the season the dragster left every event with a new track record. In spite of all this success and awesome displays of power we never were able to beat Don Garlits, given several opportunities. He seemed to cast a spell on us to make us red light or break the engine.

During match races, we did put away the glamor team of fuel dragsters, the Hawaiian, with Prudhomme driving, three straight at Cecil County. Likewise Chris Karamasines was put away at Motor City Dragway, north of Detroit, clocking a world record of 7.31 sec. Then came the Nationals! Before our qualifying run the Hawaiian and Kalitta occupied the top two spots in the 7.65s at 204 mph. We then qualified at 7.507 sec at 210.76 mph stunning everyone by covering the field by more than 6 mph. 

Backing off the Nitro from 80 to 70 percent to “save the motor” during AA/FD eliminations we lost to the Hawaiian. The motor was not worth saving. On Monday, for Top Eliminator, a rod let go on the third round. It was our first opportunity to perform an engine change in one hour and we failed by 30 seconds. Dan Knapp had the magneto in his hands when we were called to push out. He stuffed it in, but the intermediate shaft was a tooth off and the engine would not run giving the race to Tom Hoover. This was the real Tom Hoover not the Ramcharger Tom Hoover.

Both cars continued to succeed throughout the fall season including a Top Fuel and F/X sweep of the Professional Dragster Association (PDA) meet and numerous match races. As an omen of things to come we lost to the blown fuel Dodge of Mr. Norm’s, ex-Color Me Gone, car at Ubly, Michigan. The rumor was out that Mercury would be fielding steel tube, fiberglass bodied dragsters as ’66 funny cars. We also learned that Chrysler would end support of match race funny cars for ’66 although Frank Wiley would continue to support us to the best of his ability. The upward spiral of technology continued while our business model of making reasonable money from match racing seemed to be in jeopardy.



Front end lift was a growing problem

The first ever 8 second funny Car pass at Cecil County MD - with Mike Buckle driving

With a spark lead of 65 degrees, the Ramchargers AA/FD Hemi made VERY LOUD noise !

No matter what they did, the Ramchargers could never beat Don Garlits

Mr. Norm's 1965 Funny car - a blown and injected nitro burning Dodge

Ford had Logge Stamping make tube chassis, fiberglass lift off body funny cars for the 1966 season