Ray Fox (left) and David Pearson...
Ray Fox (left) and David Pearson pose with a '62 Pontiac Super-Duty 421/405hp Catalina at Ray's shop in Daytona Beach.
Raymond Lee Fox, Sr. is the oldest living Pontiac NASCAR engine builder. Starting in 1946 with a three-year career as a driver of NASCAR Modifieds, Fox then turned his talents toward engine building in 1949.
"Smokey Yunick may have claimed to have had the best damn garage in town, but I had the fastest damn garage in town!"-Ray Fox (2007)
In 1956, he received the NASCAR Mechanic of the Year award when he achieved an incredible 22 First Place and 12 Second Place finishes out of 34 races. By 1957, he had opened his own garage in Daytona Beach, catering to auto racing. In 1960, he was approached by race car owner John Masoni and hired to build-in seven days-what would become the '60 Daytona 500-winning Chevrolet driven by Junior Johnson.
Fox was a sly genius. The speed with which he was able to build race-winning cars and engines earned him an infallible reputation. He was recruited by Pontiac to join its list of stock car engine builders for the '61 season, and his successes with the '61 No. 3 Pontiac Catalina are documented in both this and the David Pearson interviews.
Olin Hopes recreated Ray Fox's...
Olin Hopes recreated Ray Fox's '61 No. 3 Catalina race car, which is on display at the Living Legends of Auto Racing Museum in Daytona Beach.
Meanwhile, Chevrolet and Chrysler had their eyes on Fox for their engine programs. In 1963, he was one of several men hired, under top-secret arrangements, to test Chevy's 427 "Mystery Motor," and from 1964 to 1966, Dodge's 426 Hemis for NASCAR. After a 13-year career as a NASCAR team owner, from 1962 to 1974, and over 37,720 miles on his race cars, he retired from the industry he helped build into a giant. From 1990 to 1996, he returned to auto racing as an employee of NASCAR, inspecting its purpose-built motors for rule adherence.
Now 91 years old, Fox is the president of the Living Legends of Auto Racing Museum in Daytona Beach. He enjoys sharing his stories of NASCAR's youngest days and preserving its history for generations to come. High Performance Pontiac invited Mr. Fox to tell us about 1961, his biggest season with Pontiac and a year when the word "Catalina" meant stock car supremacy.
HPP: In 1960, your race car won the Daytona 500 with Junior Johnson behind the wheel. Why did you move from Chevrolet to Pontiac in 1961?Ray Fox: I got help from the Pontiac factory to build a Pontiac NASCAR race car, and it supplied stock parts to me when needed.
David Pearson and Ray Fox...
David Pearson and Ray Fox are still friends more than 50 years after they won three Superspeedway races together in 1961 in the No. 3 Pontiac Catalina.
HPP: What are your memories of your most successful season with Pontiac race cars?
RF: I was the first engine builder to win three Superspeedway races in one season (1961) and I did it with a Pontiac and David Pearson as the driver: World 600 at Charlotte, Firecracker 250 at Daytona, and Dixie 400 at Atlanta.
HPP: Who owned the race car? Were you its sponsor?
RF: The Daytona Beach Kennel Club owned it and sponsored it. I built it for them.
HPP: Which Pontiac engine did it have?
RF: It had a Pontiac 389ci motor factory-rated at 368 hp.
HPP: Where did you build it?
RF: My crew and I built it at my shop in Daytona Beach.
HPP: How "stock" was the motor?
RF: It was a "stock" car from Pontiac, just like from the factory. The engine had to be stock because that was the NASCAR rule. I worked really hard on that engine, including changing the crankshaft with a stock factory replacement right before the World 600 race.
HPP: Were there any secrets to your Pontiac No. 3 race car that you can now reveal?
RF: I took the engine apart and saw the heads had thick gaskets. I knew those would limit the engine's power, so I got some thin gaskets Smokey Yunick had thrown away, and I put some copper wire on them to keep them from blowing.
HPP: What happened to the No. 3 race car? Does it still exist?
RF: I'm not sure. I think it was sold to someone the next year. That's what was usually done in those days. I'm almost sure it doesn't exist anymore. The Living Legends of Auto Racing Museum in Daytona Beach has a perfect replica of the original race car, built by my original crew mechanic, Olin Hopes.
HPP: What was your toughest engine build for a Pontiac and why?
RF: All the engines were equally tough, but we had crankshaft problems throughout 1961. That's why I had to change out the crankshaft right before the Charlotte World 600.
HPP: What is your favorite Pontiac engine, the 389 or 421?
RF: My favorite Pontiac engine was the 389ci motor with 368 horsepower.
HPP: Did you ever race behind the wheel of a Pontiac?
RF: No. I just built them to win.
HPP: Are you still active in building engines?
RF: No. I'm 91 years old, but I bet I probably could still build one.
HPP: How may people learn more about your career?
RF: I don't personally have a Web site, but I am president of the Living Legends of Auto Racing. We have a Web site, which is www.livinglegendsofautoracing.com, or you can look me up on the Internet or through the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, of which I am a member. I have a book out, Sly in the Stock Car Forest by Godwin Kelly. It can be purchased by visiting the Living Legends of Auto Racing Museum or calling them at (386) 763-4483.