Is a race car a hot rod? For Formula 1, Indy Car, Top Fuel cars: I’d say no. For Stock and Super Stock drag racers: I’d say yes. For Tom Auger’s 1963 Dodge 330: I’d say hell yes.
GHR caught up with Tom and his crew chief Jerry Hatch at the NHRA Division 2 Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series meet at Atlanta Dragway. Tom drives the 330. Jerry drives Tom’s Super Stock Challenger and turns the wrenches for both cars.
Tom’s been drag racing since he was 17 years old, when he was driving an Ed Hamburger Plymouth Duster. Hamburger’s cars are legendary in Mopar racing history – he had the first Direct Connection dealership in the country.
Tom raced his Duster for three years, and then with his first child on the way, Tom’s Dad said “It’s time to go to work,” and his Dad sold the Duster for… wait for it… an Oldsmobile station wagon. Maroon, with wood grain on the side. Hello adulthood, goodbye drag strip.
“Fast forward to six years ago,” Tom told me. “I’m bored out of my mind. I’m watching Mecum. So I called them up to find out how to bid on cars.” Tom had his eyes on three cars: a 1970 454 Chevelle, a 440 Six Pack Barracuda, and a Dodge 330. The auction for the 330 started at $80,000 with no reserve. When it got down to $20,000 Tom bid. And won.
Turns out that 330 was built by Dan Dvorak, another superstar in Mopar drag racing. Tom didn’t know that, but the next day his phone started ringing with his friends telling him what a treasure he now owned.
So Tom talked to Dvorak, and started researching about him and his cars. And then, Tom said, “I started getting the disease.” He wanted to go racing again.
Tom’s research led him to Jim Bailey. Jim also had a Dodge 330 and offered to sell it to Tom. The Bailey car is the 330 Tom had at Atlanta Dragway.
Having been out of racing since 1977 – “I didn’t even buy a National Dragster,” Tom told me – he asked Jim for some assistance. “Best thing I ever did,” he said. “He really took me under his wing. Jim told me what to do, and what not to do.”
Dodge sold 330s from 1962 to 1964. That body style came in two higher trim models, the 440 and the Polara. Engines ranged from the indestructible Slant Six to the full range of Dodge V8s, small block, big block, and Hemi. Tom’s 330 has a 383 with a single four barrel carburetor.
I used to race in Stock Eliminator in the 70s, and back then, you could make some changes to the engine, but not a lot.
Jerry confirmed that was still true. “The parameters are pretty much the same,” he said. “You’re allowed a maximum of 0.060 overbore. You have to maintain the same pistons, the same stroke, same valve size, and the same valve spring height – all factory standard. We can use any camshaft, with any duration, but it has to have the stock lift.”
I pointed out that the cylinder heads were aluminum with “NHRA” stamped on them. These, I was pretty sure, did not come from Dodge. “About four years ago, NHRA allowed replacement cylinder heads.” Jerry explained. “They have to be to the same spec as the stock cast iron heads. These cars are 50 years old now. It’s really hard to find these heads, and when you do they’re pretty much junk.”
A stock dual plane intake manifold and factory four barrel carb sit on one side of those heads, with headers taking care of the exhaust on the other side. Tom’s 383 has an aftermarket MSD electronic ignition with a rev limiter.
Per the rules, the drivetrain is almost entirely stock. A TorqueFlite 727 automatic transmission drives a Dodge 8 3/4″ rear with 4.86 gears. A 4200 rpm stall speed torque converter and aftermarket axles are about the only aftermarket parts in the drivetrain. The suspension is stock except for the shocks and bolt-on traction bars.
Early 60s Dodges were famous (or maybe infamous?) for having push button shifters for the automatic transmissions. Turns out Tom still uses his for racing. There’s a line lock for his burnouts, but Tom’s a footbrake racer, leaving the line at 3000 rpm, front wheels in the air, with his finger on the Second gear button ready to shift. “It works,” Tom said.
“It works” is a bit of an understatement. With Jerry tuning, Tom’s had the car more than a second under the class index, and the car has set a few NHRA national records for ET.
“This is a thrill,” Tom told me. “I’m having a blast. I’m 63. I’ve had more fun now in my ‘old age’ than I did when I was young. I owe it all to finding out who the best guys were and working with them. Jerry. Steve Wann. John Shaul. Don Little. Without them it’d never be like this.”
Having fun with a classic American car, making lots of horsepower from the big block V8 under the hood, with the help and camaraderie of good friends. Is Tom’s 330 race car a hot rod? Oh hell yes.