Don Grotheer may not be a household name, but he was a Super Stock NHRA/AHRA heavy hitter during the 1960s. He was also a pioneer of the Pro Stock class in its infancy.
In the early 1970s, in addition to his factory-sponsored Plymouth race program, Grotheer was one of two factory teams that ran the Plymouth Performance Clinics throughout the country. Grotheer and Sox & Martin were contracted to run the clinics at Plymouth dealerships, and Dick Landy handled the Dodge dealerships.
Above Left: B&M Automotive Products advertised its products and congratulated Don Grotheer in the June 1969 Car Craft Magazine. Above Right: In the early 1970s, Grotheer ran up to 75 Plymouth Performance Clinics a year at dealerships throughout the United States. (Photographers unknown)
Before we get ahead of ourselves, Grotheer started racing a black ’63 Plymouth followed by a white ’63 Plymouth AA/Stock eliminator in 1965. He was able to win the AA/S championship, which caught the attention of Bob Cahill, product planner, and manager of Chrysler’s drag racing program. Cahill provided Grotheer a parts contract, which meant Grotheer would purchase a ’66 Plymouth, and the parts would be free.
Above: In 1965, Grotheer ran a black ’63 Plymouth and then an identical white ’63 Plymouth later in the year. He earned enough points to win a divisional title. (Photographer unknown)
Because of the parts agreement, Grotheer shifted away from a day-to-day job to become a full-time drag racer. For the 1966 season, he picked up a 4-speed ’66 street Hemi Belvedere. Grotheer claimed an NHRA Winternationals class win out of the box, followed by a Tulsa Gold Cup win. Next, he won an NHRA Division Championship.
Above: In 1968, Grotheer ran a Super Stock/B Automatic Hemi Cuda. The Cuda was successful, but much to his dislike, Plymouth made him run the hammer and heart logo on the car for a while. (Photographer unknown)
For 1967, Grotheer, in a ’67 Plymouth, again won the Winternationals class eliminations and won another Division Championship. By 1968, Plymouth had developed the Super Stock Hemi Barracuda, and Grotheer purchased one, which he raced in 1968 and 1969. As depicted in the June 1969 Car Craft Magazine advertisement, Grotheer was able to win his class at the ’69 Winternationals in his Super Stock/B Automatic Cuda with B&M “secret weapons” transmission parts and “race-stall tork-converter.”
Above: Grotheer rowed his own in the SS/B ’68 Hemi Cuda when he and mechanic Joe Smith removed the automatic transmission in favor of a 4-speed. (Photographer unknown)
When Pro Stock hit the scene in 1970, Grotheer built a series of Pro Stock E-body Cudas, which he constantly updated to keep them running among the best Mopars. He also developed a B/Modified Production Road Runner for 1971, which essentially ran a Pro Stock Hemi engine. Finally, for 1973, Grotheer updated his program by switching to a cutting-edge Don Hardy-built 1973 Duster.
Above: When Pro Stock eliminator was introduced in 1970, Grotheer was in the thick of it with his 1970 Hemi Cuda. The beautiful red, white, and blue color combination would be found on every Plymouth he campaigned during the 1970s. (Photographer unknown)
During his entire Pro Stock tenure, Grotheer ran up to 75 Plymouth Performance Clinics a year. Because of his grueling schedule, Joe Smith, Grotheer’s transmission expert and mechanic, was relied upon to keep the day-to-day racing program operating. After early Mopar domination of NHRA Pro Stock, in an attempt to slow down the Hemi cars, NHRA continually added weight to the Mopars.
Above Left: Grotheer prepped and raced a 1971 B/Modified Production Road Runner in 1971. It was powered by a 4-bbl Hemi, nearly identical to the Pro Stock engines he built. Butch Leal handled the driving duties on the day of this photo. Above Right: Grotheer updated to a 1971 Cuda for Pro Stock. At this time in Pro Stock, the bodies were essentially factory pieces, but that would quickly change. (Photographers unknown)
The weight and NHRA politics effectively stopped the wins for the Mopars, so at the end of 1973, Chrysler pulled its funding for the Pro Stock teams. Rather than run a team out of his pocket, he packed it in at the end of the 1973 season. Since retiring from drag racing, Grotheer occasionally attended automotive events and Chrysler-related shows, but now, Grotheer, in his early 80s, lives a quiet life in Oklahoma.
B&M Automotive Products (now B&M Performance and Off Road) began in 1953 as an automotive repair center by two high school friends, Bob Spar and Mort Schuman. The two soon found their strengths focused on high-performance engines and boosting the potency of automatic transmissions. Their niche became automatic transmissions.
Above Left: The Pro Stock class continued to evolve, and with the evolution, the cars became less stock, and the cost to run one continued to increase. Grotheer is lined up against Dick Landy in his Challenger in this photo. Above Right: Grotheer’s last Cuda was a 1972. The elapsed times continued to drop, and the trap speeds significantly increased by this time. (Photographers unknown)
By 1961, B&M patented its four-speed Hydro Stick racing transmission, based upon the GM Hydramatic. In an era of vehicle racing dominated by manually shifted transmissions, the Hydro Stick allowed the driver ultimate control of the automatic transmission by preventing shifting until the driver decided to upshift manually.
Above: For 1973, Grotheer campaigned a Don Hardy-built Duster. After NHRA allowed Bill Jenkin’s tube chassis Vega, Grotheer followed suit with the Duster. Do not park a stock ’73 Duster next to it. It appears to have an “altered” wheelbase and “drooped” front fenders. I bet there is a bunch more we cannot see. As it turned out, this was Grotheer’s last car. Chrysler ended its Pro Stock funding, and not wanting to run on his coin, Grotheer called it a day. (Photographer unknown)
B&M’s Trick Shift, the first performance automatic transmission fluid on the market, likely helped Grotheer to his multiple victories in the 1960s. Grotheer and other racers also benefitted from B&M’s increased torque converter stall speeds. These converters are now known as high-stall race torque converters.
Above: B&M Automotive patented the Hydro Stick in 1961. The four-speed automatic transmission provided the driver with control of the shifting.
Not to leave the do-it-yourselfers out, B&M introduced shift-improver kits that allowed the customers the ability to improve their automatic transmission shift firmness. Moreover, the modifications could be done on a Saturday afternoon on the driveway with rudimentary hand tools.
Above Left: B&M continues to innovate. Its latest product is the new Precision SportShifter. There are several designs to cover many Jeep and Ram models. Mopar Connection Magazine did a write-up on a Ram Precision SportShifter in 2021. Above Right: Continuing with the new products, the Stealth Magnum Grip Pro-Stick Off-Road shifter is a direct-fit console shifter for the Jeep TJ Wrangler, XJ Cherokee, and MJ Comanche models with an automatic transmission.
Keeping budget-conscientious drag racers, off-roaders, and street enthusiasts in mind, B&M, now a Holley company, continues to innovate and sell a wide range of products, well beyond the excellent torque converters and shift kits for which it was known. So, to keep your ride at its peak performance, check out B&M and all the Holley companies for the latest Mopar technology.