For most stock and super stock class drag racers, Pontiac or otherwise, the secret to success is being able to fully exploit the attributes of a naturally advantageous combination. Usually that means finding an engine that is very conservatively rated, yet offers great power-making potential. While the right engine combination is a necessity, it isn't the only area of concern. That competitive engine must also go in a vehicle that can make the most of what the engine delivers. This is why the station wagon body style can be a very attractive alternative to the tried and true 2-door. The additional traction it offers will usually more than offset any weight penalty. In the 1970s, when the Pontiac racer was completely on his or her own, there were some racers who made the most of racing wagons. These, however, were not your normal rug rat haulers; they were very scienced-out machines that waged all-out war on the competition and were victorious as well.
Poplar Grove, Arkansas
Without a doubt Jack Mullins ran one of the most unusual body/engine combinations in drag racing history, a 12-second 1963 Catalina wagon. With that level of performance and the mobile home-like proportions of the wagon body style, a 421 Super Duty would seem to be a necessity, along with an aluminum nose and other weight-saving tricks--wouldn't it? Nope.
Rest assured the wagon used regular steel body panels and a 421 SD was nowhere to be found. In fact, the engine wasn't even a 421. The wagon was powered by a little-known export version of the 389--a regular-fuel 235-horsepower 4-barrel with a modest 8.6:1 compression ratio. It was hooked to a 4-speed manual transmission.
Out of these humble beginnings came a winner. Actually, Jack ran three different '63 Catalinas with this combination. He started out with a wagon for the 1972 and '73 seasons, moving to a 4-door hardtop that ran in SS/R for 1974. When NHRA went to the index system in '75, he built another wagon and began his rise to stardom.
The secret to the combination was that the 389 4-barrel engine could be legally built to put out much more than the advertised horsepower. Of course, the export version was simply the 389 4-barrel with the lowest horsepower rating. With allowable changes to camshaft, intake and exhaust, the engine could really make power, even with the low compression, which was required at the time. Jack built the engines with forged pistons swinging on stock '58-62 forged rods, which were heat-treated, magnafluxed and shot peened. They were fitted with aftermarket bolts before installation.
The big advantage in Super Stock is the freedom of camshaft usage. Basically, anything goes. Jack relied on several different roller cam grinds that featured approximately 285*-286* duration at .050-inch lift and around .700-inch lift with 1.7:1 big-block Chevy rockers. "Even with the big-block Chevy rocker studs, we used to break studs," Mullins recalled. "There were no stud girdles available at the time, so I built my own."
From there, the combination was topped off by a custom intake manifold, which was built by cutting up two Edelbrock Torker intakes and welding the back halves together. This was a relatively common practice then, as the Torker's back half had a better plenum and runner design than the front, which was compromised in the interest of street operation. By combining two rear halves, racers ended up with a great race-only manifold. It was topped off with a Carter AFB 4-barrel, which was correct for the engine. The exhaust gases were carried off by a set of 1 7/8-inch primary headers.
The combination was good for nearly 500 horsepower and over 450 lbs.-ft. of torque. Mated with a Super T-10 4-speed with a Doug Nash 2.96 First gear (and later a Muncie with the same First gear ratio) and 5.38, 5.57 or 5.88 gears, there was enough steam to put the wagon in the low to mid 12s at 108 mph. Jack ran the wagon in SS/V for the 1975 season and won the NHRA Sportsnationals. He later won the U.S. Nationals, beating Mopar racer Judy Lilly with a sub-index 12.63.
For 1976, the engine was refactored to 240 horsepower and Mullins promptly converted the 9-passenger wagon into a 6-passenger, which put him in SS/U. He won the 1976 Sportsnationals running a 12.51, taking out Steve Bagwell's SS/BA Plymouth.
Jack went on to win a divisional points race in Louisiana and another one in Oklahoma City. He was the #1 qualifier at the NHRA Summernationals at Englishtown, but redlighted in the final against local hero Bernie Agaman and the "Bayonne Missile" '71 454 Corvette.
Mullins had what many Pontiac racers might call an aggressive driving style because that is what it took to win. He'd generally leave at 7500 rpm, shifting into Second at 6300, while Third and Fourth were engaged at 6800 rpm. He'd flash through the lights at 7400. "If I was in the final, I'd leave at 8200," Mullins recalled. At that point I wasn't worried about going another round. I could pick up 5 or 6 hundredths doing that." Amazingly, he only had one bottom-end failure. "The crank did come out in three pieces, but that only happened once," he said.
After his successful 1976 season, Mullins sold the wagon to Mississippi racers Joe & Danny Grissom. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in a fire in the early 1980s. Jack then built a 1973 Super Duty 455 Firebird and ran it for a year, before selling to Glenn Tinsley in May 1977.
From there, Mullins embarked on an ambitious project, building up an Opel GT as a K/Gasser. It was powered by an extensively-modified slant-4 Pontiac engine. Unfortunately, disaster struck. While testing the new race car, the engine broke a rod bolt in the 1 cylinder. Oil spilled out on the header. Flames came through the shifter boot and into the interior. Though the Opel was not extensively damaged, Jack was badly burned and also broke an ankle escaping from the race car as it coasted to a stop.
Mullins sat out the next six years to recuperate, but returned in 1985 with the former Colman Roddy 1984 Firebird, running in Modified Production. With it he was runner-up at the Southern Nationals, won the Cajun Nationals and was number 4 in points for the season, winning three divisional points races and setting ET and MPH records in D and E/Modified Production. Jack also repeated his Cajun Nationals victory in 1986, but sold the car right after that and retired from racing--for a while. He went back to his full-time used car sales and auto repair business, which specializes in automatic transmission rebuilding. After more than 15 years on the sidelines, the itch returned. Currently, Mullins is involved with two race car projects, the first being a rear-engined, Porsche-powered dragster that will run in E/EA. The other car is something a little more conventional. He is also putting together an LS1 2002 Firebird that will be running in C/Stock. After such a long hiatus, it will be great to see Jack Mullins back in action, once again representing the marque he defended so well.
Gansevoort, New York
By the time that Gary Wood had reached prominence in NHRA national competition, he had already been racing in local competition nearly 20 years. In the late 1950s, he ran Chevys, but went to Pontiac while in the military. Stationed in Colorado, Gary ran his first Pontiac race car, a 1956 Catalina with a 316 cubic-inch V8 and 3-speed on the column. He competed at Continental Divide Raceway and even set a national record with it in the summer of 1963. "I don't remember what the time was, but they told me I set a national record," Gary recalled. The officials had me pull in for a teardown and everything checked out. The record stood."
From there, Wood ran a 1961 Catalina, a car he loved but could not get to run consistently, as the "Slim Jim" Roto Hydramatic would not make a decent shift into second.
After the '61, Gary moved on to GTOs, first a '65 and later a '67, both of which were raced in local competition. Next was a long line of 1968 400 Firebirds that he ran in E/Stock and quickly sold. "I actually ran about a dozen different '68 400 Firebirds in E/Stock," Gary recalled. "I would build one and then someone would come and buy it out from me. I had a lot of fun building them."
Wood moved on to a 1968 Firebird, which was updated with a Ram Air IV engine. He then raced a 1971 Firebird Formula with a 455 HO engine, later updating it to SD-455 specs. Running in D/SA, he won the Division 1 points race at Maple Grove in '75 and also the NHRA Summernationals at Englishtown with the Bird. Gary would sometimes run two cars at national events and as many as six cars at local events. The driving duties were divided between him, his then-wife Charlene and employees of his service station in Gansevoort, New York near Albany.
It was Tons A Fun, the red 1972 T-41-nosed LeMans wagon, that really put Gary on the map. Actually, there were two wagons that Wood campaigned during the mid-'70s, often with Charlene behind the wheel. They were both 455-powered, first as 455 HOs and later as 325-horse D-port 455s.
"With the refactoring that was taking place at the time, we found that we could get almost identical horsepower levels with the D-port as the HOs," Gary explained. "We were working with Chase Knight at Crane Cams and he hit on the idea to use a 428 Cobra Jet cam profile on the Pontiac blank. I never let that secret out until just now! It really woke up the engine and it worked well with either head. We eventually stayed with the D-ports and the cars fell into J/SA with that combination. We also worked with Frank Lupo of Fairbanks Transmissions (presently of Dynamic Transmissions). Frank kept making different converters 'til we got it perfect. They both really bent over backwards to help me out."
Success soon followed. Gary picked up a class win at the 1974 Summernationals with the wagon and never failed to impress the fans with its out of shape wheel stands, which would sometimes pull the left front wheel more than two feet off the ground. Gary and Charlene were on fire in 1976, taking class wins at the Summernationals at Englishtown, the Sportsnationals in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park and their only international win, at the NHRA Grand National in Quebec. Interestingly, the couple faced each other in the finals at the Cayuga, Ontario Divisional points meet in both 1975 and 1976. Charlene took both wins, with Gary as runner-up.
Gary was also one to play the weight breaks with the wagon body style. He later added a third seat, putting it into K/SA. The big bus still ran 12.50s. That's still five tenths under today's index. Wood added, "The extra weight hardly slowed this car."
The last car Gary ran was a 1972 GTO that he ran in F/SA until the early 1980s. At the time, he had sold his business and was working for another company, so he wasn't as flexible with his free time as before. Add to that the ever-increasing cost of racing and Gary decided to call it quits.
This doesn't mean that Gary is finished with Pontiacs--not by a long shot. Right now he is building a 1969 Firebird that will soon be powered by a modified 455. He is also looking at teaming up with his son Brian to campaign a race car. "My son has an '87 Formula with a 350 TPI and I think it would make a very competitive NHRA stocker." Old habits truly die hard!
Tons a Fun lunges off the...
Tons a Fun lunges off the line at the 1976 U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park.
Jack Mullins' wagon ran in...
Jack Mullins' wagon ran in SS/V for the 1975 season and won the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park, beating Mopar racer Judy Lilly with a sub-index 12.63.
Even burdened by refactoring,...
Even burdened by refactoring, Jack and his trusty Catalina wagon won the 1976 Sportsnationals running a 12.51, eliminating Steve Bagwell's SS/BA Plymouth in the process.
Like the wagon, Gary's 1972...
Like the wagon, Gary's 1972 455 HO Goat had no trouble lifting the left front wheel. Experimentation with cam profiles found a 428 Ford profile to be the hot setup.
Gary's last race car was a...
Gary's last race car was a 455 HO-powered 1972 GTO that he ran in F/SA until the early 1980s. It is shown heating the hides at the 1980 Summernationals in Englishtown.
Gary Wood does the trophy...
Gary Wood does the trophy pose to commemorate his class win at the 1975 Summernationals at Englishtown.
Anyone who ever questioned...
Anyone who ever questioned the torque characteristics of the 455 HO need only to look at Tons A Fun nearly flip itself over at the starting line. Launches like that were not optimum for ETs but oh, the photo ops! (Photo: Dave Milcarek)
Charlene Wood was all smiles...
Charlene Wood was all smiles with her class win at the 1976 Sportsnationals. Nothing says 1970s like a groovy pair of plaid bell-bottoms. (Photo: Norman Blake)
The Woods took home a class...
The Woods took home a class win at the 1976 U.S. Nationals and are shown here with their trophy and young son Brian.
Charlene launches the big...
Charlene launches the big wagon on her way to victory at the Cayuga points meet. She and Gary finished 1-2 in 1975 and 1976. Charlene won both times, as Gary did not want to diminish her large Division 1 points lead. (Photo: Clayton Taylor)