In 1957, two men who had a similar passion for racing but differing visions about their place in the sport joined forces in Charlotte, N.C.
One man, driver Ralph Moody, simply wanted to work on cars with his buddies in a garage behind the gas station and go racing every weekend. The other, John Holman, had a much broader view of the sport’s future. He imagined running a factory that built race cars and a machine shop that produced parts and pieces.
Holman’s viewpoint won out, and for the next 15 years the Holman & Moody race team was one of the most prolific organizations in motorsports.
On the track, Holman-Moody won 96 NASCAR Cup Series races and captured consecutive Cup championships in 1968-69 with the legendary David Pearson behind the wheel. Off the track, the operation became the dominant force in the Ford Motor Company’s racing efforts, producing cars for five different touring series throughout the 1960s.
“John Holman was one of those guys who came into the picture and recognized early on that NASCAR could be a really big thing,” said Bobby Allison, one of more than 30 drivers who raced for Holman-Moody, a list that includes Fireball Roberts, Cale Yarbrough and Mario Andretti. “He and Ralph Moody built an incredible organization. When they were going strong, they were really on top of the world.”
John Holman was born on Nov. 9, 1918 in Nashville , Tenn. , though his family moved to California when he was young. He began his career working as a tool and die maker, and then later became a trucker. In 1952 he got a job driving the parts truck for the Ford-backed Stroppe-Smith team competing in the Mexican Road Race (later known as the Baja 1000).
The team won the race, and Holman was hired to work as a mechanic and parts man at the shop in Long Beach . The organization was involved in a wide variety of racing, including dirt tracks, motorboats and Indy car. Holman once served on the pit crew for two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bill Vukovich.
Ford’s motorsports operations at the time were divided between California and North Carolina , and in 1956 Holman was hired to take over the Charlotte-based shop. But Ford and the other major auto manufacturers abruptly withdrew from racing the following year. As sort of a severance package, Ford gave each of its drivers a race car, a trailer and some spare parts.
One of the Ford drivers was Ralph Moody, who won four Cup races in 1956. He and Holman pooled their money to buy cars and equipment from any of the other suddenly unemployed drivers who were going to get out of racing. They also purchased the shop in Charlotte.
And thus the Holman & Moody race team was born.
“The first thing we did was to stop racing all of the existing cars,” John Holman said in an interview that is part of the historical material provided by the company. “They weren’t winning, so why race them?
“Then Ralph and I built a new car and Ralph drove it on the NASCAR track in West Memphis , Arkansas . It was a make or break race, financially. Ralph won it even though the windshield collapsed on the last lap, knocking out Ralph for a few seconds. He managed to come in first even though he was semi-conscious.
“That was the beginning of the (race team). Had the car lost, well, who knows? But it didn’t, thank the lord.”
The organization continued to experience early success with such drivers as Fred Lorenzen, Curtis Turner and Joe Weatherly. So when Ford ventured back into racing in 1962, the company decided to make Holman-Moody the focal point of their efforts.
The money, and the victories, began flowing in. In 1965, Fords built by Holman-Moody won an astounding 48 of the 55 NASCAR Cup races. Pearson won a total of 27 times over his two championship seasons. And Allison won nine times driving for Holman-Moody in 1971.
But Holman’s contributions extended beyond Victory Lane and the record books. He was one of the sport’s primary innovators in the 1960s. He helped develop the box steel chassis for NASCAR that became the standard for all the cars, and he worked on a number of safety innovations including window nets, fuel cells and the full shoulder harness.
“He expected the cars to be well prepared, but he also expected them to be safe,” said Holman’s son, Lee, who became president of Holman-Moody in 1978. “He couldn’t stand the thought of having somebody out there on something that wasn’t correct. He was a perfectionist when it came to finding a safer way.”
Lee Holman said his father had no problem sharing this technology with the other Ford teams, even though they were competitors on race day.
“He believed that we should sell the competition exactly the same thing we raced,” Lee Holman said. “His theory was that we should be better prepared, we should have a better strategy for the race and we should have better mechanics who will adjust our cars better.”
Moody sold his share of stock back to the company in 1972 and left the organization. Three years later, Holman died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 56. At the time of his death he was testing a new truck intercooler he hoped to patent. Ever the innovator.
“He took pride in the innovations and just getting it done,” Lee Holman said. “When they had a problem that needed to be solved, he was like, ‘OK, let’s go attack it.’ That’s just the way he approached things.”
Tickets available for the 2011 International Motorsports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, scheduled for April 14, 2011, at the SPEED Channel Dome in Talladega, Ala. This black-tie ceremony consists of a reception, banquet and awards ceremony. (Tuxedo Required Event) Individual tickets are $125 and a table for eight may be purchased for $1000 by calling 256-315-4631 or 256-315-4582. Visa, MasterCard and Discover are accepted.