Good to Be King
Kuda Reigns Triumphant
Story Arvid Svendsen Images autoimagery.com, PMR Race Cars and Arvid Svendsen
The proven consistency and success of his 1968 Hemi Barracuda SS/AH car seems to signal a new chapter in the class evolution. Hemi cars are really showing themselves to be true players in Super Stock competition. Recent trends are showing that an SS/AH Mopar ought not be counted out when lining up next to an up-to-the-minute SS/DM Cobalt.
A familiar sight at the dragstrip, Bucky (who owns a thriving auto body shop in Martinsburg, West Virginia) has been racing Hemi cars since the ’80s. His wild paint schemes have made a big contribution to his popularity. The paint on Bucky’s car is the product of Bucky’s son, Travis Hess, who signs his work with the “Kolor by Tuki” crest. Michelangelo with a paint gun, Travis’ prolific career has resulted in some of the greatest race car paint schemes of all time.
The King Kuda II is consistently one of the top players in the Hemi Challenge events. For 2011, Bucky stepped up his engine program by enlisting Pro Stock driver Jason Line and brother Lance to build some serious 426 Hemi elephant power. Bucky’s new motor will combine up-to-the-minute Pro Stock engine technology of Jason’s team at KB Racing with the Sportsman savvy of Jason and Lance Line, who have grown up racing in the Stock and Super Stock ranks.
All that power has to have a competent chassis in order to turn on the win light at the end of the track. Unlike a number of Hemi cars, the King Kuda II hooks well with consistency. Chassis builder Phil Mandella of PMR Race cars explains: “The thing that was different with Bucky’s car was the location of the weight bars and the placement of the engine. All of the weight bars were interchangeable so we could locate the weight where we need it in the car. Engine location was also a big part of getting the car to hook. Once NHRA allowed us to have the motor plate and the mid-plate, they became less interested in the stock location. In building Bucky’s car, we moved the motor down two inches, and forward one inch in order to get more weight to the front of the car.
“At Indy, in mediocre air, I had to put 160 pounds of lead in another Hemi car just to keep the front end down. The typical Hemi AH car has about 54 percent weight on the front end. But tires, torque converters, and transmissions have gotten so good that we don’t need the weight bias to the rear for getting the car to hook. With the way Bucky’s car is set up, with weight bar placement and engine location, we don’t have to bolt on weight to the front end.”
Getting the car dialed in was accomplished with Phil at the track. “When we first built Bucky’s car, we spent two days at Atco blowing the tires off the car. I was really questioning what we had done. We kept adjusting the car, moving weight around. I had Roger Lamb build some new shocks and overnight them to us. The shocks were too tight, so with the new shocks from Lamb, Bucky’s car hooked.”
Tagging along with Bucky to a number of events allowed me to get a feel for the intensity of these Hemi racers. At the 2009 Hemi Challenge at Indy U.S. Nationals, he was frustrated over blowing up his “good” motor just two weeks prior. The spare motor didn’t have the horsepower to compete. Some guys might be prone to giving up. Not Bucky. “This is my life. I didn’t sleep last night because I was thinking about getting in the big show. I want the big trophy, the national event Super Stock winner trophy. I’ve had the class records, and I was fortunate to win a Hemi Challenge. I’ve got all the right stuff, Mandella chassis, so now I want to win the big trophy.”
Bucky didn’t get the “big trophy” that day. Soon thereafter, Bucky did win the Super Stock Eliminator, bringing home the coveted “big trophy”, a Wally. Mandella said, “It’s really nice to go out and see a driver perform well. On his way to the finals in Virginia, I told him that the way it’s going, there were no excuses. Having been able to work with Bucky to build a car that was capable of winning a national event was one thing, but then for him to actually win it was great. Bucky is still the king.”
Talk to most SS/AH Hemi guys, and bragging rights are typically going to center around world records and SS/AH Hemi Challenge events. The prospect of an “AH” car winning a national event in the Super Stock eliminator has long ago been dismissed as next to impossible. Bucky and a few others are changing that perception. Bottom line, a well thought-out chassis, a repeatable state-of-the-art motor, and a great driver equal a Hemi car that goes rounds. It just keeps on winning.