MM: There have been major developments in the Hemi cars over the last 5 years or so. I would venture a guess that your shop, Southland Performance, has a hand in some of the “new power” that is showing up in Hemi Shootouts. What are some of the major improvements in the Hemi Super Stock program?
JOE T: First, I think improving the chassis by stiffening them up and making them certify to 7.50 is a great start. Now we have a platform that can handle the torque and the speed. Engine-wise I would have to say it is mostly intake and camshaft changes. We couldn’t have made the cam changes without better valvetrain components and Jesel has a very reliable system for us right now. On the dyno we are over 900 hp and we are able to shift at 8800 rpm and hit the finish line at 9100. These are rpm’s we could not attain on a regular basis until we got more reliability out of the rocker arm systems.
MM: Who has been your favorite Hemi driver to race against and beat over your career?
JOE T: One guy, Ronnie Sox. He was the best in the early ‘70s and it was never easy to get a win light against him.
MM: Most of our readers at MoparMax know the cost of racing is climbing for everyone. They are also wondering what it costs to build a competitive Hemi for SS/AH racing. They are aware that it is probably the most expensive engine to build for Super Stock. That said, what would it cost to order one?
JOE T: That’s a tough question but in a nutshell we figure you will have $65,000 in a competitive Hemi. Add dyno time, spare parts and probably a spare engine to the trailer full of parts and you begin to see the picture of racing a Super Stock Hemi.
MM: Now that someone has a Hemi ready to go, how long will it run or usually go before it needs serviced or freshened?
JOE T: They will require constant service as they are being stretched far beyond where they should be. Valve springs, check bearings, things like that. You could also “pop” one on the first burn-out. You never know when it could just quit.
MM: Now that you guys are well into the 150-mph range how do you get these big old cars stopped?
MM: Do you think there is anything else that could be done to make these cars safer?
JOE T: I think making the 7.50 chassis certification mandatory would be a good idea and the steering system needs looked at. We are still required to use the stock 1968 aluminum steering gear box and drag links. Some of these have thousands of wheelstands that have beat them up and they are starting to fail and there are no real good alternatives. Letting the SS/AH cars run a rack and pinion steering set up while retaining stock control arms would be safer and probably not noticeable to the average race fan.
MM: Since the Speed Channel starting showing us the Barrett-Jackson auto auctions it is becoming quite evident that some of these “Original Hemi Cudas and Darts” are worth about $250,000 if restored. Are there any of the “originals” still being raced or are they being replaced by clones?
JOE T: I can think of six off the top of my head that are original. Randy Hopkins’s Dart is original but I think he is retiring that car and building a new Dart. John Friel races one. Jim Pancake does as well. George Baptist. Chuck Rayburn has two original cars. They are getting to be too valuable to stick one into the guardrail, and with these cars and the power, that could happen on any given run.
MM: The torqueflite is still the required transmission for SS/AH. How have they changed to withstand the new power?
JOE T: We started out with the Turbo-Action stuff and it served us well for years. Then we found more power one season and we never made it past the burn-out box for one season. We had the transmission in and out more times than you can imagine and we can’t have a removable trans tunnel so it is a lot of work. We met up with the guys from Pro-Trans one day and got to talking. They needed some more power, which we had, and we needed a better transmission, which they had. To keep it short we no longer break transmissions. We change them to get a different gear ratio, but the days of burning them up are over and has been for several years.