Rick Holladay Still Prefers A Clutch Play

April 5, 2017

Story by Jim Hill

That insatiable drag racing bug chomped down on Rick Holladay in 1964. At the time Rick was a student at the University of Arizona. On a whim, he took his daily driver, a ‘64 GTO, to the local track at Tucson. Holladay was at once thrilled by the speed rush, power-shifting the four-speed transmission and making several runs that afternoon. When Class Eliminations were called Rick managed to win his B/Stock class trophy. The speed rush plus the chance of competing against other drivers proved to be a huge stimulant. That very first class win was so influential that it set in motion a drag racing obsession that would last more than half a century! With Rick Holladay the hook was set so deep that he’s been severely addicted ever since.

After college in Arizona and back home in Virginia, Rick ordered a new 389 ’65 GTO. The ’65 had even more of the famous go-fast stuff that Pontiac Division had become famous for. At the local Pontiac dealer Rick checked all the right boxes when he ordered his new GTO. Creature comfort items were ignored and high performance options were the focus.After the ordering process was complete, Rick had the car delivered not to his home in Virginia, but to Morrison, Illinois.

Loads of torque, a working chassis and good track conditions means front wheels up! Rick Holladay’s “Jolly Green Giant” GTO is known for its crowd pleasing wheelstands.

Anyone who’s a drag racing fan and a Pontiac devotee knows that Morrison is home to the first, forever Pontiac hero, Arnie “The Farmer” Beswick. Beswick’s drag racing fame began in the late 1950’s, where he campaigned a massive ’58 Catalina in C/Gas class. Beswick’s day job was in agriculture, but his weekends were filled with serious quarter mile competition. The corpulent yet rapid Catalina was followed by Super Stock, A/Factory Experimental and then nitro Funny Cars, all remaining faithful to Pontiac power. Beswick’s skills as a driver and tuner earned him legendary status. Although now in his 70’s, Beswick still runs a highly modified, nitrous-oxide fueled Pontiac Tempest, the “Tameless Tiger” on the nostalgia match race circuit. “Farmer” Beswick shows he hasn’t lost his touch going deep in the seven’s at 200+ mph.

Once Beswick took delivery of Holladay’s new GTO he opened up his tool chest and bag of tricks, performing his Poncho magic to set up Holladay’s new GTO for all-out competition. Once he was finished, Beswick loaded it onto his race transporter and delivered it personally to Rick. The delivery took place at the fabled York U.S. 30 Dragway, outside York, Pennsylvania, where Beswick was appearing in a match race.

An obviously delighted Rick rolled the new car off the trailer and following a few break-in time trials, promptly won B/Stock class. No big deal, except in those days B/Stock was where all the hot GTO’s and SS-396 Chevelles fit. That meant there were always loads of fast, expertly prepared B/Stockers to run against, and it was a daunting task to win the B/S class trophy. Rick’s new “Farmered” ’65 GTO later set track records across the Southeast, took home plenty of B/Stock class trophies and several Stock Eliminator victories.

Besides being the subject of a 60’s “hot rod song”, (“Little GTO”) Pontiac’s 389 cubic inch V-8 engines could be ordered in a high performance package with “…three deuces”, three two-barrel carburetors and a more radically timed camshaft.

Holladay’s next ride was just a little bit faster… in fact, it was a bunch faster, and quicker. Although Rick’s loyalty to Pontiac was strong, he knew that a much faster ride could only be had by switching brand preferences. Rick exercised this option by buying one of Chrysler’s original killer muscle cars, a ’64 Plymouth Belvedere 426 Hemi. That meant a factory engineered and built race car equipped with two four-barrel Holley carburetors, the storied A-990 option with the cross-ram intake manifold. The car also carried an aluminum front end and other lightweight components. Inside the glovebox was the factory delivery paperwork, which made the point of formally noting that the car was intended strictly for off-road, acceleration racing competition. The anticipated hard use and abuses of racing also eliminated Chrysler’s famous “Five Years or Fifty Thousand Miles” Factory Warranty! That was a disclaimer ignored by purchasers, as they knew full well that the limited mileage would be spent under wide-open-throttle conditions.

The Hemi Plymouth ran in NHRA’s A/Factory Experimental class, and in NASCAR Drag Racing Division’s Ultra Stock. Although other considerations kept Holladay’s racing realm confined mainly to Virginia area tracks, he did make occasional trips to North Carolina.

Rick’s next drag racing activity involved a Dodge R/T. It was built by famed Bob Banning Dodge and carried the Banning pedigree as well as indelible stamp of Banning’s ace wrench, Dave Reitz.

Next up, and Rick’s all-time favorite, was a ’68 Plymouth Barracuda, one of the cars built inside Hurst Performance’s Detroit assembly facility, and equipped with a maximum performance, 426 Hemi. These fabled Barracudas and Dodge Darts were the era’s fastest and quickest examples of the “factory hot rods”. ’68 Hemi Barracudas and Darts marked the high water mark for the 1960’s car culture, a mark never bettered by racing’s major auto firms.

Rick’s Barracuda was named, as were many drag race cars of the age. Rick called the car “The Little Red Snapper”, referencing, of course, the tasty fish. Rick’s Snapper set records in several classes, A/Modified Production, Super Stock/B and AHRA B/Hot Rod Formula-1.

In 1970 he also briefly ran the car in the brand new, heads-up Pro-Stock Eliminator. The ’68 Barracudas and Darts were used by many former Super Stock racers to jump into the brand new Pro-Stock category launched by NHRA and AHRA for the 1970 season. Through the first year they were competitive, but fell quickly behind once Pro-Stock technology kicked in by the finale of the 1970 season. Still, Rick scored surprise round wins over such luminary drivers as Don Carlton, Ronald Lyles, Reid Whisnant, Bill Stiles and Ed Miller.

Rick Holladay’s B/Stock GTO competed against other similar Pontiacs and loads of 396 Chevelles. B/Stock was easily the most heavily entered and competed during the 60’s. Rick’s Arnie Beswick-prepared “Jolly Green Giant” took home a roomful of class win trophies and several Stock Eliminators as well.

Rick had become friends with Ed Miller, an upstate New York racer and former NHRA World Champion, and in 1971 Rick drove Miller’s 426 Hemi Dodge Scamp. This car was a ’68 Hemi Dart that had been cosmetically converted to a Scamp. That same year he finished his own ’71 Hemi ‘Cuda Pro-Stocker. He also worked with Ed Miller in Miller’s factory-backed, Pro-Stock racing campaign.

Although he no longer toils the long days and nights of a pro racer, Rick Holladay’s lifetime affair with drag racing continues. His current ride is a ’65 Pontiac GTO, a convertible he calls the “Jolly Green Giant II”. With the GTO Holladay runs the “Pro-Stick” circuit, faithfully rowing a manual Hurst shifter as he has since ’64. The ‘Giant has gone as quick as 9.88 at 137+ mph, showing it’s no weakling, and on occasion, is known to take home an Eliminator win, showing the younger racers that old dogs can still deliver a fierce bite! More ironic is the car’s appearance makes it look like it just drove in from a Saturday night cruise.

For a lifetime spent drag racing, Rick Holladay was inducted into the East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame in October, 2016. Here Rick accepts his HOF plaque from Vance County (NC) Tourism Executive Director Nancy Wilson during induction ceremonies in Henderson, NC.

Rick and Beverly Holladay now live quietly in Virginia Beach, Virginia, that is until Rick fires up the Jolly Green Giant for a little driveway tune-up.

The East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame is proud to welcome Rick Holladay as a member of the 2016 Hall of Fame.