Thursday, January 29, 2015

History : Ronnie Sox & Buddy Martin

Buddy Martin teamed up with Ronnie Sox in the early '60s, when he saw Sox's skill at shifting under full power. "Ronnie's skills as a driver were a gift," Buddy told NHRA's National Dragster in a 2001 interview. "He was very coordinated with the hand and foot. In addition to his shifting, his reaction times were outstanding. Everybody drove four-speed cars at that time, and other drivers would miss gears left and right. That never happened with Ronnie. Everybody had an excuse, but Ronnie could get into anyone else's car and have no problems whatsoever."
It was in 1965 when the Sox & Martin team made a brand switch-this time to Plymouth and their Hemi-powered altered wheelbase Belvedere. Banned by NHRA from running in Factory Experimental class racing, Sox & Martin took their "funny-looking car" match racing and built on the legend they'd already created, including the first-ever nine-second pass in a naturally-aspirated, full-bodied car. That happened at Pennsylvania's York U.S. 30 Dragway, with their 426 Hemi running a Chrysler-designed, Hilborn-built fuel injection setup.
After taking the match-race scene by storm in 1965, 1966 wasn't as successful on the track for the team. In 1966, they switched to a production-based body, Hemi-powered Barracuda, but the severely-dieted A-Body was no match for the tube-framed, fiberglass-bodied "funny cars" they came up against. Later that year, a decision in Highland Park changed what type of cars Sox & Martin would race from then on.
That executive decision by Ma Mopar's racing boss, Bob Cahill, to support Sox & Martin in Stock and Super Stock racing (and to have them present Performance Clinics in the towns near where they raced) may have seemed like the wrong move at the time, but Plymouth's racing brass was convinced that Sox & Martin would help them sell on Monday as long as they won on Sunday. Besides, as Cahill pointed out, Chrysler-Plymouth dealers weren't selling many funny cars anyway.
Once the '67 GTX started appearing on the track, the competition saw more and more of that B-Body's back bumper as the season wore on. That year marked the first of their five consecutive NHRA Springnationals wins, as well as their first win at NHRA's "Big Go"-the U.S. Nationals at Indy.
For 1968, Sox & Martin kept on winning, and not just in one class at the big races (and not in just one sanctioning body's events). At Pomona, they not only won the NHRA Winternationals' SS/D class with their Hemi-powered GTX, but also SS/F (with a 440 powering the GTX), and E/SA (in a 340-powered Barracuda). When Ma Mopar and Hurst dropped the 426 Hemi into the barracuda fastback that spring, Sox & Martin got one, and proceeded to not only win in NHRA class eliminations, but also in AHRA's heads-up, nine-second Super Stock Eliminator. Wins at their Springnationals, Summernationals, and All American Championship led to Ronnie being named AHRA's Driver of the Year for 1968. That's along with the other events he lit the win light at, and other honors earned during 1968 (see sidebar). Little wonder, then, that the '68 was Ronnie's favorite race car of all time. Coincidentally, 1968 was also Plymouth's best sales year in ages.
For 1969, a new grille, side marker lights, and taillights were the only changes needed to update the 'Cuda into a current-year car. One thing didn't change: Sox & Martin in the winner's circle. Between the wins in NHRA- and AHRA-sanctioned events and at other races through the year, one thing was clear: Fans loved seeing Ronnie and the other Super Stock drivers of the day race heads-up. That had already led AHRA to create their Head Up Super Stock class-and, for 1970, for NHRA to create the new Pro Stock class.
Though the A-Body Barracuda had been a consistent winner, two new-for-'70 Plymouths were instant winners in Sox & Martin's hands. The E-Body Hemi 'Cuda started winning rounds from the get-go, and reached the final round in five NHRA Pro Stock races that year, winning three of them. Add to that a win by new teammate Herb McCandless at the U.S. Nationals in an A-Body Duster, and it was a big year in NHRA for the team, capped off with a win in the season-ending World Championships. In AHRA action, the team of Sox & Martin scored wins in Super Stock Eliminator and/or GT-1 at nine of their national events.
For 1971, the team kept on winning in Pro Stock (a total of six NHRA national events that year, including their fifth Springnationals in a row), but change was in the wind. NHRA determined that anything running a Hemi was too fast, so for 1972 they were saddled with extra weight that their Blue Oval and Bow Tie competitors didn't need to carry. Result: A near-total-shutout from the winner's circle for any Mopar in Pro Stock.
Interviewed by the National Dragster in 2001, Ronnie said he was glad he raced when he did, in the era of Hemi power and four speeds. "Today's racing technology has diminished the role of the driver way too much," he said. "Back in the days of the four-speeds, the driver had a lot more to do with the outcome of the race, and I couldn't imagine anything being more fun than that."
The Team of Sox & Martin is only one such instance of the domination that Plymouth was able to garner during the early years of racing. Gentlemen like Ronnie Sox and Butch Leal may have gotten their racing starts while driving brand-X cars, but when the opportunity presented itself for them to switch to the new Hemi-powered Mopars, they jumped at the chance. Butch's car-like many-was the 1965 Plymouth. In 1967, he contracted Logghe brothers to build him a "flopper" Barracuda, and his legend as a Mopar racer was sealed. He carried the corporate Plymouth flag until 1970, when he became an independent.
Other great racers and teams for that matter were known to fly the Plymouth flag, and another great drag racing team was known as the Ramchargers. The Ramchargers were a team of Chrysler-employed day-to-day employees who spent every spare moment designing, building, and racing Plymouth-powered vehicles.
Finally, how can we talk about Plymouth Racing without including Richard Petty? He may not have gotten his start driving a Plymouth, but in 1958, he campaigned a new Plymouth convertible. When the Grand National sanctioning organization banned convertibles from racing for 1959, he simply switched to a hardtop Plymouth. He raced Plymouth vehicles until the end of the 1964 season, when Chrysler boycotted NASCAR racing because of the ban on Hemi engines.
The ban didn't chase Richard away from Plymouth, as a drag race Barracuda was built. Drag racing didn't last long for Petty, as late in the 1965 NHRA season, Chrysler lifted its boycott of NASCAR, and the Pettys were stock car racing again. In 1969, Petty was basically "forced" to leave the Plymouth camp and drive a Ford-but it wouldn't last long. For the 1970 season, the Petty team was again flying on the wing-literally-of the new Plymouth Superbird. The Pettys would continue with Plymouth for several more years, until he finally had to make the switch when Plymouth would no longer offer a vehicle style conducive to NASCAR racing.

Ronnie Sox called the Sox & Martin 68 Hemi Cuda his favorite of all the Plymouths they raced from 1965-72
For 1967, Sox & Martins factory sponsorship deal had them racing steel-bodied Plymouths in Stock and Super Stock, as well as at between-big-events match races. 1967 was also the first year that Ronnie (left) and Buddy put on performance clinics at Chrysler-Plymouth dealers around the country.
1967 brought Sox & Martins first NHRA U.S. Nationals win, in SS/E.
In 1965 and 1966, Sox & Martin raced altered-wheelbase Plymouths in match races and Factory Experimental class events. Heres their 66 Barracuda, built from a production body-in-white. The 426 race Hemis Hilborn injection was actually designed by Chrysler.
Once the Hemi-powered 68 Barracuda came out, this was the view that most class and match-race competitors got of Sox & Martins Plymouth!
In the late 60s, Sox & Martin would bring more than one car-and more than one engine for it-to run in multiple classes at the big NHRA national events. Heres their 69 Road Runner, competing in B/Modified Production.
1970 saw the introduction of NHRAs new Pro Stock class, which Sox & Martin instantly ruled. Heres their Hemi Cuda doing battle with Butch The California Flash Leals Pro Stock Duster at Columbus.
The Hemi-powered 68 and 70 Cudas that Sox & Martin raced to win after win have been restored and could run in the nines (or quicker) once again.
What was Ronnie Sox the master of during the late 60s/early 70s? Youre looking at it-the race-built, Hurst-shifted A-833 four-speed.
Sox & Martins 70 U.S. Nationals win at Indy was notable for the car they won it with-their Duster.
While the other classes in the show compete or head to the staging lanes, its between rounds adjustment time for the Sox & Martin Cuda.
New face, same fish: Sox & Martins Hemi Cuda continued on its winning ways in NHRA Pro Stock in 1971, with six national-event wins and another Pro Stock title.
In the winners circle (from left): Ronnie Sox, Buddy Martin, and Linda Miss Hurst Golden Shifts Vaughn.
Along with the best shifting reflexes and a stout Plymouth, Sox & Martin used plenty of Hemi power to light the win lights. Heres a look under the hood of their restored 70 Cuda.
Remember when Pro Stock race cars used production engines, bodies, and other hardware to bring the race fans to their feet? Heres what the car that Ronnie Sox drove for most of the first 70 NHRA Pro Stock season looked like then-and looks like now.
Also benefitting from the restorers touch is Sox & Martins 68 Hemi Cuda, which dominated both NHRA and AHRA Super Stock events back in the day.
Under the hood of the 68 Sox & Martin Cuda: this race-prepped Hemi, with the cross-ram intake that was state-of-the-art before tunnel rams.

This is the very car that “Mr. Four-Speed,” the legendary Ronnie Sox, piloted to 14 dominating wins in the 1971 NHRA season. The ’71 ‘Cuda represented the pinnacle of performance for the Chrysler factory drag racing program and also for the Sox & Martin team, as oppressive weight breaks, the discontinuation of the Hemi and rule changes favoring tube-framed small-block racecars conspired against Pro Stock Mopar racers. Nevertheless, the Sox & Martin ’71 Hemi ‘Cuda’s spectacular racing success that season stands proudly in the record books.
The ‘Cuda has been treated to an extensive restoration to its 1971 race configuration and is in exquisite condition. It sports the best that the factory had to offer that year, including the famous 426 Hemi with dual-plug cylinder heads, dual quad intake and of course, the 4-speed transmission that Ronnie Sox shifted with such virtuosic skill. It is finished in the original eye-grabbing, red, white and blue “Sox & Martin” livery and never fails to draw huge crowds.
- Extensive restoration to its '71 race configuration and is in exquisite condition
- 426 CI Hemi engine with dual plug cylinder heads, dual quad intake
- 4-speed transmission that Ronnie Sox shifted with such virtuosic skill
- Finished in the Red, White and Blue Sox & Martin livery
- Races won in '71, Super Nationals, Nationals, Grand, Spring, Gator and Winter Nationals

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