Drag Racing Online: The Magazine

Volume VIII, Issue 4, Page

War Stories: The Haulin’ Hemi

Words and photos by Cliff Gromer

Pete McNicholl was a member of the Ramchargers and used to street race—just like everyone else.

What is second best to racing? Talking about it! When all is said and done, though, street racing war stories seem to be a whole lot more interesting than their drag racing counterparts. Case in point is Pete McNicholl, a member of the famed Ramchargers drag race team back in the 1960s.  Pete has plenty of strip stories, but we enjoyed some of his street exploits a whole lot more. Here’s one of Pete’s stories in his own words.

It was the summer of 1957, and the wife and I had been fishing in the Mt. Clemens, Ml, area. We're on our way home, cruising south on Gratiot Ave. I'm in the far right lane pulling a 16-foot Chris Craft Express Cruiser outboard with my '55 Plymouth that I had stuffed full of 354 inches of Chrysler Hemi. Anyhow, I'm in the right lane, see, and this '57 Chevy pulls up along side me. 'Course, he doesn't give me a second look, with me towing a boat and all. He's paying attention to the '55 Olds that's just pulled up in the left lane.

The light's about to change, and the Chevy starts rapping his engine, and I get a little excited and say to the wife, "Hey, they're gonna race, they're gonna race." 'Course the wife gets upset and she starts yelling and hollering about "now don't you go racing. You're pulling a boat, and there's a time and place for racing and this isn't one of them and you're gonna get us both kilt," and all.

Anyhow, the light changes and the Chevy and Olds go at it. I'm on the gas sort of moderately, and I'm right on their tail. I know I can beat these guys, boat and all, and the temptation is just too great. I tell the wife, "Hey, I can beat those guys," and she starts yelling and hollering all over again how not to race and how I'm going to ruin something, and all. We all catch the next light on Gratiot, and the 'Chevy and Olds still don't give me a second look. The Chevy is rapping his engine again, but this time I'm ready. I punch the Low but­ton on my TorqueFlite, brake torque it to get a good launch, and when the light changes, I actually pull a holeshot on those guys. You've got to appreciate the scene. Here are these two hotshoes going at each other full bore and they look over and see themselves be­ing passed by a boat!

Pete's '55 Plymouth looked bone stock on the outside, but packed a hot 354-inch Hemi on the inside.

Anyhow, the Chevy waves me over at the next light, and of course I play dumb. The Plymouth looks bone stock on the outside, and the guy asks me what I'm runnin'. I say I dunno, I just bought the car from the dealer off the showroom. This Chevy guy gets all excited and he tells me about his other '57 Chevy that runs out of a local drive-in that's never been beat, and he carries a hundred dollar bill for the guy that can beat him. Well, I say, I don't do that sort of thing, and I don't know, and all. But in the meantime I'm thinking about that hundred bucks. Hey, back in '57, $100 was big-time money.

When I get home, I call this buddy of mine, Hank, who has a '54 Olds. I tell him about this '57 Chevy that's never been beat and that he backs up his mouth with $100. We decide it's something worth checking out. We show up at the drive-in the next night and we spot this guy with a real bad look­ing black '57 Chevy. The guy knew the deal, 'cause he sees my Plymouth, walks up to me and says matter of factly, "Look, we'll take 'em out to 14 Mile Road and run 'em."

"Okay," I say. "I'm pretty new at this, and I don't know much about racing and all." 'Course, I'm lying through my teeth, see, as I had been racing since I was a wee lit­tle kid. There are four guys in the Chevy, and me and Hank in my Plymouth. We drive out to the area which is pretty remote and desolate at the time. It's all homes now, but back then it was farm coun­try. All three guys jump out of the Chevy, and Hank says, well, what do you think? I tell him that the Chevy sounds pretty healthy, and maybe he'd better climb out too.

One of their guys acts as a flagman. I'm thinking about that hundred bucks. He lines us up and we get off. By the time we've run the quarter-mile, I beat the Chevy, but not by very much—maybe two car lengths or so. We turn around and drive back to where the guys are standing, and the Chevy guy. says, "Hey, how about two out of three."

"Well, okay, I guess."

Then the Chevy guy says how his en­gine loaded up driving out here and he has to open the pipes to clear it out. So he bends down and starts to uncap his exhaust. Now, I knew I was in trouble when he started doing that, so I say, "Wait a second guys, I gotta loosen mine up too."

Of course, this blows the Chevy guy's mind. The Plymouth looks totally stock, and I have the exhaust caps tucked way up under the car where you can't' see ‘em. I think that right then and there they knew they'd been had, because that Hemi had a sound totally different from anything else when it's opened up. Well, we line up again, and this time I lit­erally blow the Chevy's doors right off. I musta had him by about 15 car lengths by the end of the quarter mile.

After the race we turn around to pick up the guys. The Chevy guy says, "What can I say, you really put it to me. Come back to the drive-in. I'll buy you guys a malt and give you your money." The Chevy guy is leading the way, he knows the streets around there and I don't. Hank and I are laughing about the whole deal and not paying much atten­tion. All of a sudden, the Chevy makes a quick right. I jump on the brakes, but by the time I back up to make the turn, he's out of sight. We went back to the drive-in many times after that, but we never saw the Chevy guy or his car again. Proba­bly he still has the car hidden in his garage.

The deal was so much fun, though, that me and Hank used to do this thing on Woodward Ave: What we did was take a 3x5-foot utility trailer and torch the springs to make it look like it was carrying a lot of weight. Then we'd tie empty boxes in it, like from a refrigerator or washer and dryer. It really looked like it was heavy. Then we'd run up and down Woodward—always in the far right lane, looking for guys that were racing in the center and left lanes. They would be going all out, and we'd just drive right by 'em looking like we were moving half a house. I think those were some of the greatest times I ever had.




Cliff Notes [3-8-06]
Red Rocks, White Knuckles

Here's What's New!