When Richard Petty wasn't with NASCAR

When Richard Petty wasn't with NASCAR

When NASCAR chairman Bill France outlawed Chrysler’s hemi engines—as well as Ford’s single overhead camshaft engines—on Oct. 19, 1964, Petty Enterprises was one of the teams which boycotted the decision. That left the family-owned operation to find a different avenue to express its need for speed.

Still wanting to race, Richard Petty took his No. 43 Chrysler to drag racing
The idea of hemispherical combustion chambers was nothing new when Chrysler engineers began to design a 426-cubic inch V8 engine sometime in 1962. Some of the first automobiles featured cylinder heads with a hemi design, and Harry Miller’s cars won several Indianapolis 500s in the 1920s. And Lee Petty won five races in 1953 with the Dodge Red Ram 241-cubic inch hemi engine.

But the redesigned hemi was perhaps more powerful than anything Chrysler had ever assembled to that point. The first hemi engine was constructed in November 1963 and was put on the dynamometer one month later. The dyno used in the test only registered up to 400 horsepower, and the new engine was off the scale.

With the new hemi engine and a streamlined body design, the Plymouths and Dodges dominated the 1964 Daytona 500, finishing 1-2-3 with Richard Petty leading all but 16 laps en route to the victory. But Ford wasn’t about to back down from the fray. While winning many of the short-track events, Ford engineers were busy designing an engine just as powerful as the hemi: a 427-cubic inch monster that incorporated overhead cam technology.

About that time, France had seen enough. He was vehemently opposed to purpose-built racing engines and escalating costs. His vision of what NASCAR should be now differed significantly with where the manufacturers were trying to take the sport. And he lowered the boom with sweeping rules changes for the 1965 season, effectively eliminating the new Chrysler and Ford engines with a single penstroke.

Chrysler Racing execs were outraged. Ronney Householder blasted NASCAR and France, and threatened to boycott the season unless the hemi was allowed to race. France refused, and Ford basically had the series to itself, with the top 12 cars in the 1965 Daytona 500 all running under the Ford banner.

With limited options, many Chrysler teams ran in USAC’s stock car circuit, but Petty Enterprises took a different route. That fall, the team built a 1964 Plymouth Barracuda super stock dragster with the idea of running it in match races and American Hot Rod Association events.

Painted in Petty blue, the car featured the word “Outlawed” on its doorpanel and the number 43 Jr. In addition, Petty placed a bumper sticker on the car that read, “NASCAR: If you can’t outrun ‘em, outlaw ‘em.”

Petty and fellow NASCAR expatriate David Pearson held a match race at Islip Raceway near the end of 1964, although both borrowed cars for the event. The 43 Jr. made its debut in January 1965, as the Pettys towed it to Bee Line Dragway in Arizona, where Petty’s Barracuda turned in a run of 10.38 seconds to beat a 427 Chevy in the Super Stock/Experimental class finals.

But things turned tragic a month later at Southeastern Dragway in Dallas, Ga. While racing against Arnie Beswick, the Barracuda suffered a front suspension failure just as Petty hit the gas. The car went out of control, leaped over an embankment, over a fence and into the crowd. While Petty walked away with minor injuries, seven people were more severely injured and an 8-year-boy was killed.

The car was hauled back to the Petty Enterprises shop and left to rust in the woods. A second car was built—without the “Outlawed” moniker—and Petty drove it for most of that spring and summer without further incident.

With Ford dominating NASCAR—and Dodges doing the same in USAC—but neither drawing crowds nor interest, France finally relented and the two sanctioning bodies issued new rules on June 21, 1965. The hemi engine would be allowed in the Dodge Polara and Plymouth Fury on superspeedways, and in the Dodge Coronet and Plymouth Belvedere on short tracks.

Petty Enterprises returned at Bristol, only to suffer issues with the differential, eventually finishing 17th. However Petty won the following race at Nashville and would go on to win three more times that season.

By 1966, the hemi was offered as a production car option, and Pearson would win 15 races on his way to the first of his three Cup championships. The hemi would stay in production for six more races, and Petty Enterprises would be a staunch supporter of Chrysler—with the exception of a foray with Ford in 1969—until 1978.

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