Interview with John Holt
Saturday, 24 September 2011 08:24

An Interview with John Holt, Reknowned Chassis Builder for the SS/AH class.

John Holt of John Holt Race Cars is not only the primary sponsor of this weekend’s Hemi Shoot Out event at the JEG’s Northern SPORTSnationals, but he has become one of the go-to chassis builders for the SS/AH race cars. Like so many, Holt spent the mid sixties going to the races as a teenager and after two years in the Army he took a job at the Rod Shop speed shop doing a little bit of everything from manning the front counter to whatever needed to be done in the machine shop in the back. Of course the Rod Shop was known for running a number of Super Stock Dodges and on the weekends Holt was running his own AHRA Modified Production entry. In 1978 Holt open the doors to his own shop. He chose to do it with a tubing bender rather than building chassis kits from companies like Alston or Zeeker. His “out-of-the-box” thinking style has credited him a number of firsts; such as building the first Super Stock S-10 Chevy pickup ever (1998), which held the NHRA national record for six months; the first to incorporate a legal SFI 25.4 spec roll cage into an NHRA SS/AH car (Jim Pancake Dart), which was once thought impossible. Also on the list of accomplishments are two in the NHRA professional categories: a pair of Best Engineering awards. One for building the Jim Head "Smokin Joe" Top Fueler in 1993 and one in Pro Stock for the Larry Morgan Dodge Neon in 2002. The Dodge Neon was created on very short notice when Holt, and his two sons Andy and Ben, worked almost non-stop for a month with a Don Ness chassis (originally intended for a Chevy Cavalier) to fit a Neon body in accordance with NHRA supplied body templates, then locate the motor and front suspension in the car, build the aluminum and carbon fiber interior, and finish the car in time for the Mopar sponsored Mile-High Nationals near Denver, Colorado. Recently we had the time to catch John Holt at his shop in Columbus, Ohio and talk a bit about the current status of SS/AH Darts and Barracudas.

HSO:  What was the first SS/AH car you worked with?

Holt:  Jim Pancake knew me from the local racing scene and he asked me to work with him to update his car.  That was ten years ago or so.  Back then there was an attitude amongst the SS/AH car owners that this was how we’ve always done it, so why change.  The rest of the racing world had moved on though.  So we did a little outside-of-the-box thinking and started to make some changes to the cars.

HSO: Engines have gotten bigger, the cars are going faster….

Holt: Well the technology has been there.  Technology starts in F1, IndyCar and NASCAR and then finds its way to the Pro Stock engine shops.  The Hemi cars have been the last to really take advantage of that – which is a matter of economics.  It’s much easier to embrace technology when you have more cars to make it for.  There are 30 AH cars for a handful of engine builders to apply the technology.  As for the cars themselves, you use to have to use an original car or create a clone – with the light weight glass, and fiberglass fenders and frankly, there just weren’t a lot of parts out there.  Now we have parts – for the engines and for the cars.  So that makes it better.

HSO:  We’ve seen a lot of guys go to Sticks recently; does the 40lb weight advantage play into that decision?

Holt:  Sticks run faster.  But just to clarify, NHRA didn’t give them the advantage.  Remember they use to run the stick and automatics as separate classes.  It was the automatic cars that triggered the index shift, so when they put the classes together, that’s just where it ended up.  I don’t think that it’s a factor though.  Sure the stick is quicker and gives you 2 to 3 more horsepower, but it’s hard to drive.  There is a lot going on for the driver, not only at the line but three times down the track.  As for the automatics they have an advantage of 5 to 6 hundredths, because they can use the radial tires.  Sticks can’t use the radials. It’s has to do with the way the tire is designed and the way the stick cars launch.  So each has their advantages and in reality most people can’t get their cars that light anyway.  So the decision is in what’s best for the driver.

HSO:  So as the cars get quicker, are owners progressing in other areas like the brake package?

Holt:  Anybody that’s building these cars or working with one is making the upgrades as needed.  Remember that at 150mph you’re supposed to be pulling a parachute, but we have brakes on these cars that carry over from pro-stock that can stop us up at 160 to 200mph.  So even at 3200 lbs. the brake package is good enough.

HSO:  A while back there was discussion around fender modification.  What’s the latest there?

Holt:  At that time everybody was putting the bubble in, but I didn’t think it was really necessary.  And then NHRA stepped in and just stopped it.  It’s important to try and keep the cars from becoming funny cars.  While we may run for $10,000 dollars at the US Nationals, we need to remember that we have to adhere to a strict set of super stock rules.  We are just one of the classes.

HSO:  Can you talk a little bit about the current thinking on chassis set up?

Holt:  Well we’re working with the shocks and certainly weight distribution to efficiently use the energy of the car - keep it moving forward.  Smaller wheel stands, because when all the weight is resting on the back bumper is slows you down.  You still have to get weight on the back tires, and fortunately we run on pretty good tracks that have lots of traction.  That helps.  But it’s important to keep the car moving forward.

This is a special class of cars.  They are running fast and they are expensive to run.  It’s just not a class that everybody can jump in to.  But the fans love them and we certainly enjoy working on them.

Our thanks to John Holt for taking the time to visit with us here at HSO.  It is always great fun to watch John and his sons Ben and Andy “do their thing” at the race track.  It is often said that the SS/AH paddock is filled with some of the nicest folks – and the Holt family certainly contributes in a big way to the class of the field and to the caliber of the car class. 




Westcott Resets National Record
Thursday, 20 January 2011 11:24

and takes a moment to answer of few questions from HSO

Thanksgiving weekend five competitors of the SS/AH class were at Southern Georgia Motorsport Park (SGMP) deep in Division 2 territory to flex their muscles in the Georgia sunshine.  Bill Brooks, Jim Daniels, Wendell Howes, Charlie Westcott Jr., and Gary Wolkwitz.

SGMP was holding a National Open that weekend.  Not a national meet and not a divisional points meet.  However, driver points are awarded to allow attendance at national events and NHRA tech personnel are there to certify record runs.

SGMP, at 240 feet of elevation is known as a fast track.  East coast racers know they can be rewarded in their time slip to show up for this event because the weather usually cooperates and produces really good air density this time of year.

Last year Jim Daniels, who had previously set the SS/AH record at the Pennsylvania Dutch Classic at an 8.331 second E.T. at 157 mph on October 22, 2009, then traveled to Georgia and reset the record again at an 8.29 at 160 mph.

This year after the Pennsylvania Dutch Classic (Daniels eleven month old record still standing), Charlie Westcott Jr. and his dad brought the Warfish (# 3651) with one goal and that was to bump the national record.  A few other SS/AH drivers had similar intentions, but by the end of the weekend Westcott had it at 8.22 seconds at 162.72 mph, which makes Charlie “the man to beat” again.

HSO recently had a visit with Charlie and as always he was forth coming and completely open with his opinions.

HSO: With respect to the perfect schedule…..

Charlie: I think 5 races spread out are about perfect.  When you have them back to back, it’s tough on the racers who might not have spares.  It seems like everyone centers their schedule around Indy, for me it’s just about having it pay descent money.  I love Vegas, but when you tow 3,000 miles out to try and win $5,000 and only get 4,000 because there weren’t enough cars there it’s tough. 

HSO: So weigh the risk vs. reward for us…..

Charlie: Motors now are far more reliable at 10,000 rpm than they were two years ago at 8800.  Last year at Indy, the breakage we had were both flukes.  Dad’s piston developed some cracks that I just didn’t find, but part of running these cars, is doing so until you find the weak link and then you fix it.  So we’ve made changes for that.  The same is true for my car; I spun a bearing. And broke a rod and that hadn’t happened before – so again, we’ve fixed that.  The same with the valves breaking that we had for a while.  We learned a lot and have solved that problem too.

HSO: How do you feel about wheel stands vs. a less dramatic ride? Clearly the fans love the wheel stands…..

Charlie: Traditionally, sticks don’t stand much – it’s just how it works.  And it depends on the set up.  But wheel stands, just aren’t safe.  You have 3200 lbs, 4 feet up in the air.  When that comes down there can be all sorts of damage, it’s just not a safe way to make a pass.  I think the trend is moving that way and I think fans will be okay with that.  They are fans of the cars, the Hemi, the Barracuda, the Dart – I think you could have polka dots on the cars and they’ll still be fans.

HSO: About the recent record run….

Charlie:  I would have liked to have a little bit of a wheelie there, but on that run, my tires spun.  My 60’ time was .040 off for that day.  So I know that it could have been better.  I think my 8.22 pass could have been an 8.18.  When I set my record the altitude was at 0, for the old record we were at 1200’ below.  I think the 8.0’s are possible.  Some of the things that I learned this season had more to do with car set up – like the engine for that run had been in my car since Columbus and had 3 races on it.

HSO: So if you could take the best segment from each pass, how good could it be?

Charlie:  I always thought it would be interesting to take the best piece from each engine (in the field) and every car and see what would happen.  But of course that’s all theory.  All of us are just shooting for the moon.  Perfection can never really happen so you just get to give it your best.  And that’s what’s interesting for me.  We are doing things today that we didn’t even dream of 5 to 10 years ago.  And you really don’t know what that’s going to be until you start down that path.

HSO:  So where do see the series, the technology heading…..

Charlie:  Some people are saying that this is becoming Pro Stock technology; I think it’s just high-end technology.  We are certainly moving to the next level with more reliability.  For me, I can’t believe that I can make a living working at this.  I figured I would be doing drywall until I died, but to be able to make a living is great.  However as a living, I certainly have to look down the road.  This past season, Barton’s group certainly got me motivated, I was in cruise mode, so going faster is a part of it, but building a better part is what’s interesting for me.  I now have a camshaft grinder, CNC capability, a mill.  I mean when I first got my mill, I didn’t even know how to run it, but now I can do just about anything.  I love that I can dream it up in bed at night and then come out to the computer, draw it up and make it.  Would I love to try and build a Pro Stock engine, yes!  The fact that I can do the development work myself makes it possible for me to financially try it and of course building it is the interesting part.  I think that would be interesting to see if I could excel at that.  But Hemi is my core business and that’s not likely to change.

HSO: It sounds like as much as you love the race, it’s about building the parts for you.

Charlie:  Yeah, taking time out to prepare for a race, get there, do a couple of passes and get back can take two weeks out of your shop.  I like my shop.  I have a long time customer base and I’m surprised at how much work I have right now.  I’m now even making parts here for Jesel.  That’s just incredible to me.


It’s incredible to us as well.  Watching guys continue to be passionate about these cars, continue to wake up in the morning with the great idea that will make them better, faster.. is in itself impressive.  Our thanks to Charlie for taking the time to speak with us and for making the weekends something to look forward to! - HSO


Mopar Announces 2010 Schedule


Mopar Announce three Mopar Hemi Challenge Races for the 2010 Season....

Mopar has renewed its agreement with NHRA to support the Mopar HEMI Challenge Race Series with a three-event schedule of races that will showcase the world's fastest Super Stock race cars.  Drivers of the Dodge Darts and Plymouth Barracudas will compete for a lucrative $10,000 prize at the U.S. Nationals, while the winner of the other two events will earn $5,000 a piece. 

"The Mopar HEMI Challenge Race Series brings together the best SS/AH Hemi cars from all over the country to compete against each other in a program that continues to grow in popularity, " said Eric Lotz, Director of Field Marketing, NHRA. "The $10,000 HEMI Challenge race at the Mac Tools US Nationals has grown into an annual must-see event for all sportsman enthusiasts."

"The Mopar HEMI Challenge is for the weekend drag racers who are the core of the series," said Pietro Gorlier, President & CEO, Mopar Service, Parts & Customer Care, Chysler Group LLC. "These dedicated racers who compete in the Mopar HEMI Challenge buy Mopar parts from Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge or Ram dealerships and pour money, time and sweat into their Mopar HEMI-powered race cars.  They are a great example of the passion for the Mopar brand that exists in the drag-racing community."





Daniels Throttles Dutch Classic Mopar® HEMI® Challenge Field
Written by Eric   
Sunday, 25 October 2009 17:16
Daniels Throttles Dutch Classic Mopar® HEMI® Challenge Field

Sets NHRA Class Record, Wins Third Career Event

Mohnton, Pa. — Bristol , Pa. , dentist Jim Daniels left no stone unturned during the 2009 Mopar® HEMI® Challenge Race Series Dutch Classic event at Maple Grove Raceway, lowering the NHRA class record and convincingly winning the event.

In an all-Ray Barton-powered final on Sunday, Daniels faced off his 1968 HEMI Dodge Dart against teammate and Ray Barton’s son, David, of Robesonia , Pa. , in his 1968 HEMI Plymouth Barracuda. Daniels ran a stout 8.284 seconds at 159.53 mph, even though David Barton fouled at the start.

“I’ve never driven a car that ran like that for the whole weekend,” Daniels said. “It was a ‘no-lose’ final, but it is awesome to have won the race and set the record. It was a total team effort all season long and it feels great.”

It marked the third time in Daniel’s career he has claimed a Mopar HEMI Challenge event win and backed up his first career win at this event in 2008. He also won a rain-shortened Columbus event last month. Daniel’s pocketed a $6,250 winner’s purse.

Daniels set the NHRA Super Stock/A HEMI class record run in qualifying Thursday, with a pass of 8.331 seconds at 157.96 mph. In setting it, Daniels also took home a $2,000 bonus from record sponsor Penske Truck Leasing. He ran quicker three times on Sunday, but according to NHRA rule, class records cannot be set after the first round of eliminations.

Daniels ran his first contested round in the semifinals against Darien , CT driver Bob Wolkwitz in a ‘Cuda, who earlier had defeated his brother, Gary Wolkwitz, of Annandale , NJ , in the quarterfinals. He bested Wolkwitz 8.297/158.84 to 8.418/156.84. David Barton ran 8.44/155.40 for an easy win against red-light victim Stephen Herbert of Westlakes , La.

David Barton defeated Delaware , Ohio driver Jim Pancake and his Dodge Dart in the quarterfinals with a run of 8.38/157.15. Herbert advanced with a quarterfinal solo pass of 8.487/156.06 when Wendell Howes of Rothesay , New Brunswick , Canada broke at the line.

The Dutch Classic is the largest all-sportsman event on the east coast featuring 467 entries in all classes. This was the final Mopar HEMI Challenge event of the 2009 season.

Written by Eric   
Sunday, 25 October 2009 12:39
Rain Pushes Back Dutch Classic Mopar® HEMI® Challenge

First Round Completed, Sunday Racing to Decide Winner

Mohnton, Pa. — Mother Nature held off long enough for a little bit of racing Saturday, but persistent rain eventually pushed the final three rounds of the 2009 Mopar® HEMI® Challenge Race Series Dutch Classic event at Maple Grove Raceway into Sunday.

Bristol, Pa., dentist Jim Daniels is still the driver to beat after qualifying at the top of the Dutch Classic field in his Ray Barton-built 1968 HEMI Dodge Dart with an NHRA Super Stock/A HEMI class record run of 8.331 seconds at 157.96 mph. Daniels had a bye run of 8.508 seconds at 155.65 mph in the first round Saturday when Chuck Comella of Sanibel, Fla. could not answer the call.

Ray Barton’s son, David, of Robesonia , Pa. , also had an easy first round win of 8.56 seconds at 151.26 mph in his Plymouth Barracuda when Mark Howes of Rothesay, New Brunswick, Canada red-lighted the start. Barton will face Delaware , Ohio driver Jim Pancake and his Dodge Dart in the quarterfinals.

The other quarterfinal match-ups include Bob Wolkwitz of Darien , CT in a Plymouth Barracuda vs. his brother Gary Wolkwitz of Annandale , NJ in a Dodge Dart; and an all-‘Cuda matchup of Wendell Howes vs. Stephen Herbert of Westlakes , La. HEMI Challenge quarterfinal eliminations are set to begin at 10:15 a.m. Sunday.

The Dutch Classic is the largest all-sportsman event on the east coast, with the Mopar HEMI Challenge taking Saturday’s center stage. Participants will vie for the $5,000 winner’s purse at the final Mopar HEMI Challenge event of the 2009 season.

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