As the 1965 racing season began, NASCAR rules had been changed to outlaw the HEMI-powered Mopars that dominated the winner’s circle in 1964. The Petty clan was still promoting Plymouth and decided to take some spectacular detours to drag strips nationwide with a new type of racing car.
Lee Petty and his then-young son Richard had not twiddled their thumbs waiting for NASCAR to change its mind. Instead, they built a HEMI-engined “fish bowl” Barracuda and campaigned it on demonstration runs throughout the South. This Petty Blue rocketship—completely restored and looking like new—recently showed up at the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals in Rosemont, Ill.
The first time they took the car out, it ran in the 10.50-second quarter mile bracket and hit speeds up to 140 mph. Richard Petty was well known and he had already done some exhibition drag racing before he and his dad built the Barracuda. Drag race promoters were willing to pay him to run at their strips.
Lee Petty built the car starting with a stock Barracuda that he drove into his shop in Randleman, N.C. Then, he gutted the car until there was literally nothing original left. Naturally, Lee had a stockpile of 426 Race HEMIs, but he knew they produced too much torque for the factory chassis and sheet metal. He reinforced both with heavy steel tubing that ran all the way from the front of the car to the back to attach the sub frame solidly to the rear body section.
Stock car building tricks were used to beef up the structure while lowering the weight of the package. An extra-heavy-duty front suspension was crafted to handle the weight of the big HEMI. Lightweight magnesium front wheels, aluminum brake drums, and aluminum firewall and other aluminum parts offset the weight of the hefty underpinnings.
The car was named 43/Jr (a take off on Richard Petty’s No. 43 Plymouth stock car) and it was a hit at the exhibition races. The track operators would sprinkle the asphalt with dance hall resin so the racing cars could lay down a patch. They helped prep the track surface for those rapid runs.
Richard Petty continued to race his dad’s cars at USAC tracks in 1965, but it was the anything-goes world of exhibition drag racing that made the 43/Jr a fan favorite. The car appeared in magazines and turned in some remarkable performances. It also earned Richard a bunch of money while he was sitting out the NASCAR ban.