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WIZARDS OF THE WILD WHEELS
Coles Phinizy
July 14, 1969
The Carolina partnership of John Holman, junkman extraordinary, and Ralph Moody, Model T U. cum laude, has helped put Ford on top in big-time stock-car racing—and In many markets
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July 14, 1969

Wizards Of The Wild Wheels

The Carolina partnership of John Holman, junkman extraordinary, and Ralph Moody, Model T U. cum laude, has helped put Ford on top in big-time stock-car racing—and In many markets

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It would be a shame if Holman and Moody, Inc. ever went broke. In a bankruptcy proceeding, the accountant hired to inventory the physical assets at the main Holman and Moody plant outside Charlotte, N.C. would risk his sanity. The plant has a good stockpile of the latest hot equipment from Ford, and the machinery and gauging devices necessary to refine these items to the point of ultimate efficiency. The value of such modern stock is easily determined, but heaven help the appraiser who has to put a price on all the memorabilia and all the uncataloged bits and pieces that Holman has collected over the years.

Gathering dust at one end of the main building of Holman and Moody there is an open sports car called "The Honker" that was driven unsuccessfully by Andretti a few seasons back on the Can-Am race circuit, where Chevrolet power consistently prevails. Nearby, under the same blanket of dust, there is a once-famous yellow Ford sports coupe, the first of the rare Mark IV breed to win a major endurance race.

Across from the main building there is an aircraft hangar that Holman bought surplus and had reassembled on the plant grounds. Inside the hangar there are a number of spiffy boat hulls that serve primarily as test beds for the marine conversions Holman and Moody make out of basic Ford street engines. The hangar also contains several Ford vehicles that were deliberately bashed in impact tests, as well as a few golf carts that have been dinged up a bit. The golf carts were formerly used in the main plant until employees got to horsing around, doing wheelies in the carts, like hotshot drag-strip drivers. A large part of the hangar floor space is taken up by 70 crumpled English Ford Cortinas, damaged in a freighter accident. Holman got them for almost nothing and has already sold half of them to people who want some kind of topless buggy for use off the public roads.

Outside the hangar there is a stack of 9�-by-15�-foot, heavy-framed glass windows that came out of the State of Wisconsin building at the New York World's Fair—another of those bargains that Holman could not resist. The windows got to the Holman and Moody plant in good condition. Today, however, the windows look as if they had been through the Battle of Stalingrad, and it's all John Holman's fault. Holman loves to operate forklift trucks. A short time ago, while forklifting the huge Wisconsin windows from where they were to where he thought they should be, Holman dropped them. ' "Employees warned me that the windows were not secure and might fall off," Holman confesses, "but I didn't listen to them. I did a no-no right in front of everybody."

Because his father died when he was young, Holman was obliged to go to work at the age of 15 in his off-school hours. From the mid-1930s through the early '50s he worked for a variety of auto body shops, machine shops and salvage yards in the Greater Los Angeles area, but the occupation most responsible for his later connections with the Ford company was one he undertook on his own. Even in the '30s, before Los Angeles had a super freeway system on which the populace could rumple their cars en masse, a good number of drivers were smashing into each other. As a consequence, in Southern California the demand for used parts—particularly bumpers, grilles, headlights, fenders and paneling—exceeded the supply. In Texas the situation was the opposite. There was an excess of used parts. Although in their big country Texans wore out their cars, in the tired heaps that went to the salvage yards there were many parts almost like new, particularly exterior components that suffered relatively little in the arid climate. On and off, from the late '30s through the early '50s, Holman made a decent, albeit taxing, livelihood trucking through the Southwest, buying car parts cheap and selling them high back in Los Angeles.

In 1952 the Lincoln-Mercury Division of the Ford Motor Company decided to enter a factory team in the annual 2,000-mile Mexican Carrera, a combination road race and survival test that is no longer held for humanitarian reasons. Lincoln-Mercury needed a good parts man who could also drive a maintenance truck in slam-bang fashion over Mexico's unpredictable roads. John Holman not only filled those requirements but had another strong point in his favor. Even in the poorest Mexican restaurants along the route he could usually keep his food down while those around him were losing theirs. Holman served the winning stock Lincolns in the Mexican ordeals of 1952, '53 and '54, and in one way or another he has been working with high-performance Ford products ever since.

Holman's "senior" partner, Ralph Moody, has been devoted to high-performance vehicles for more than 35 years. Moody's love of racing is easy to explain: as a small child he received a severe blow on the head. It happened this way. In the 1920s Moody's father—Ralph (Pop) Moody Sr.—ran a garage and a construction business in Taunton, Mass. Pop Moody housed the larger vehicles used in his construction business—including a splendid Larrabee truck—in a flimsy shed.

One day, in the absence of his elders, 9-year-old Ralph Moody Jr. decided to start up the Larrabee. Since he weighed less than 80 pounds, it was impossible for him to turn the 18-inch crank of the truck over in the normal manner. After giving each cylinder a dribble of ether to help things along, young Moody stood on the crank handle and pushed down with his feet while he pressed upward against the left headlight with his hands. The Larrabee kicked back hard, sending Moody into the air. He came to a halt with his head and part of his body sticking through the roof of the shed.

To divert his son from any further foolish acts, Pop Moody did absolutely the wrong thing. He gave young Ralph a Model T Ford that did not work. As any sociologist knows, the motor mania that afflicts many 50-year-old American males today can be traced directly to a boyhood association with a barking, chortling, cantankerous, secondhand Model T. After three days of cranking the car—without getting a single burst out of it—Moody discovered why the machine did not work: it had no ignition.

Thinking back on his boyhood now, Moody reckons that before he was old enough to have a driver's license, he owned about 30 cars—Fords, Chevies, Pontiacs, Buicks, Oaklands, Hudsons, Franklins, Hollywood Grahams, Airflow De Sotos, floating-power Plymouths and God knows what else. He would tune each of his acquisitions to perfection, then trade it to some other juvenile car nut for a little cash and a classier heap that was not in running condition.

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