Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi
It’s never too late to make a change, so after a lifetime of enjoying drag racing from the sidelines and the pit area, Gary Wolkwitz decided to plant himself in the driver’s seat.
Growing up on Staten Island, the native New Yorker (who now resides in New Jersey) has been involved in drag racing in some capacity since ’62 when he and his brothers first found the sport. His older brother, Bob, had a ’59 Chevy that he raced and Wolkwitz was by his side through the years along with his twin, Dave, and younger brother, Steve.
Fresh out of high school, Wolkwitz took a job with a company in midtown Manhattan in the mineral and metal mining and refining industry. After 24 years, he worked his way up from the mailroom in ’64 to Vice President. After spending several years living in Switzerland in the ’70s, when he came back, his brothers’ racing career was revitalized.
“We had taken some time off to raise our families, and got back involved in the mid-‘80s,” Wolkwitz, now 73, fondly remembered his yesteryears. “Drag racing had really changed from when we were running in the early ‘60s and ‘70s, and there was this bracket racing business, which did not exist back in our day,” he added with a laugh.
Being that his brothers had originally started out with a steel-bodied ’40 Willys, they wanted to race a Willys once more. A fiberglass version was fit for Super Gas, and the guys had fun with that for some time.
“We really aren’t bracket racers,” explained Wolkwitz, who decided in the early 2000s to have Ray Barton and his son, David Barton, lead the build on a ’68 Dodge Dart for heads-up use. Ken Keir Race Cars in Maryland took point on the roll cage and chassis work, then Ray Barton Racing Engines put together the 426-cube Hemi powerplant and Bucky Hess sprayed the paint.
That car, which was designed specifically for the NHRA Super Stock AH (Hemi-powered A-body) class, took home both the win and the Best Appearing Car award at its 2005 NHRA Gatornationals debut in Florida with Bob piloting the Mopar.
“It was a nice car and gave me my introduction to being a driver,” continued Wolkwitz, who went through a divorce that inspired him to reinvent himself. Wanting to be more involved with racing in a hands-on capacity, he attended the Doug Foley drag racing school in Florida at Bradenton Motorsports Park. “I had never driven that fast before, so I didn’t have the nerve to go fast enough to get my license at first. I went back to the school the following March of 2007 at Atco in New Jersey and finally put the pedal to the floor.”
With his racing license obtained, Wolkwitz finally took his rightful place behind the wheel.
“I had a lot of fun with that car. It was good looking and pretty fast. I won a few times over the years, but can’t remember where,” he reminisced jovially. Ultimately, Wolkwitz sold his Dart to a gentleman in Louisiana in 2012 and had a replacement ’68 Dart built instead.
Still focused on the SS/AH category that showcases the potential of the street-driven Dodge Darts and Plymouth Barracudas of the ‘60s, as well as the Mopar Hemi Challenge, Wolkwitz kept a close eye on the rulebook while working through the new project.
“We really wanted to improve on the chassis setup and start from scratch with this one,” he elaborated of why a second ’68 was commissioned.
Once again Wolkwitz employed Ken Keir Race Cars to handle the chassis and the Bartons to handle the engine and the rest of the build.
“We discussed what we could and couldn’t do to stay within the regulations of Super Stock A Hemi and were careful about the choices.” Being that the new car was expected to run quicker than an 8.50-second elapsed time, the roll cage was upgraded to meet the specs and a funny car cage was integrated.
In keeping with classic-era constraints, a Joel’s On Joy mated a 727 TorqueFlite automatic transmission and ATI torque converter to the Barton-built and cast-iron block-based Gen II 426ci Hemi bullet. The engine itself features a few upgrades utilizing modern-day aftermarket advancements such as Carrillo rods, Diamond pistons, and a Scat crankshaft. Topped with twin Holley 770-cfm carburetors, the all-motor setup sips VP Racing Fuels’ C25 race gas.
“The class is basically restricted to ’68 Chryslers as they were originally built by the Hurst Performance group, and we have to be in-line with exactly how those cars were produced,” Wolkwitz detailed of the heritage class. Fiberglass front ends and hoods are permitted, and he is running lightweight carbon-fiber pieces from Cynergy Composites. “There are also some other modifications like a fuel tank in the trunk and a parachute if the car goes quicker than 8.50,” he added.
Additionally, minor modifications to the vehicle’s interior, such as a rear seat delete, can also be made. Wolkwitz’s Dart has had its driver- and passenger-side windows replaced with Lexan pieces that are raised and lowered by a strap as the original cranks have been removed, but the rest of the Dodge sports factory-style glass.
As for the Super Stock entry’s suspension, it’s mostly the same as when the car was first created.
“They did away with the leaf springs, though, and that’s been thrown out and replaced with coilover shocks,” Wolkwitz shared.
Mickey Thompson Pro Drag Radial slick tires were installed out back and wrap around a set of Weld Wheels, and Chris DePascale had the honor of finishing up the Dart by spraying the eye-catching paint work.
By 2013, Wolkwitz was regularly racing his newly finished, 3,200-pound ’68 in NHRA divisional and national events, and set a class record of 8.28 seconds while racing at Atco Dragway that same year. He had the incredible honor of scoring a second “Best Appearing Car” award at the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis in 2015 with the new Dart and followed up with a new record of 8.22 seconds at Orlando Speed World at a NHRA Division 2 race in 2015 which was followed up by a quicker 8.21-second run at Virginia Motor Sports Park only two months later.
With a quickest 60-foot time of 1.117 seconds to date, Wolkwitz compares driving the Dart to the feeling of being shot out of a cannon.
“When you let go of the button and leave the starting line, it’s really cool. With the big wheelstands, you have to be on point,” he happily shared of how he needs to stay sharp to drive such a machine. It took a bit of getting used to at first, especially since Wolkwitz was late to the game as compared to most, but he’s having a blast making up for lost time.
In March of 2018, Wolkwitz smartly entered his ’68 Dart in the Coan Stock/Super Stock Combo category at the 16th Annual NMCA Muscle Car Mayhem season opener race at Florida’s Bradenton Motorsports Park. There, he qualified second in the group after running 8.404 on his 9.95 index, but wasn’t able to make the start of eliminations.
Although Wolkwitz had been going steady racing about 10 events per year, things have slowed for his program as of late.
“Now, we’ll run the US Nationals at Indy and then at Maple Grove and that’s about it. People are moving more toward the new cars like the COPO Camaros and Cobra Jets,” lamented the septuagenarian, who holds a place in his heart for historical hot rods.
So far in 2019, he has raced at the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series’ Southeast Division event in Florida where he won the Hughes Performance Number 1 Qualifier award in Super stock Eliminator.
“We really haven’t had the Dart out much since we’re busy preparing for Indianapolis and racing the COPO,” he explained, noting that he also plans to run his Dart at the 18th Annual NMCA All-American Nationals presented by Whipple SuperChargers in Norwalk, Ohio, in late August.
Even at 73, Wolkwitz is still more active than most folks half his age and has no intention of changing that any time soon. He is still involved in his business and career, and recently returned from a trip where he inspected a gold and silver mine in Patagonia in the wilds of Argentina.
“Racing is something to keep me going when I’m not traveling. I’ll continue to drive the Dart until I either can’t anymore, or I’m not having fun,” he asserted confidently.
Although he enjoys driving tremendously, Wolkwitz recently has also expanded his role to get back to his original roots of car owner. A few years back, he purchased a ’15 COPO Camaro that he drove a few times but sold in favor of purchasing a ’17 model instead that was picked up from Turn Key Automotive in January of that same year.
After years of working with Ray and David Barton, and developing a relationship with the men, Wolkwitz generously decided to have David do the driving duties of the both the ’15 and ‘17 COPOs.
“Driving two cars is too stressful; it’s more relaxing to not be a driver,” he laughed. “David is a good driver and tuner. I have a lot of fun participating as a crewmember and owner. I’m incredibly grateful to him and Ray both for their support over the years, as they’ve made my program what it is and I’m happy to be able to give back with this car and opportunity to drive it.”
Barton piloted Wolkwitz’s COPO to several NHRA Factory Stock Showdown victories and impressive accolades over the years, including the 2016 GatorNationals in Florida, the 2016 Summer Nationals in New Jersey, the 2016 Summit Motorsports Nationals in Ohio, the 2017 GatorNationals, the 2017 NMCA All-American Nationals, and the 2017 U.S Nationals in Indianapolis, Indiana. Barton was also the first unofficial national champion for the class in 2016 before going on record with the first official season championship for NHRA Factory Stock in 2017.
Earlier this year, a head gasket issue pushed some water out of the Camaro’s Magnusson-supercharged LS7 engine while racing at the 2019 NHRA Gatornationals in mid-March at Gainesville and Barton wound up in the wall. He escaped unharmed, but the COPO needed repairs. Wolkwitz quickly stepped up to do whatever was needed to get Barton back out there, safely and securely.
“We haven’t run any NMCA events with the COPO yet this year, we expect to run it at Norwalk,” he added—perfect timing as the NMCA will host the Chevrolet Performance COPO Camaro 50th Anniversary Shootout at that event.
With plenty of good times and great racing still on the horizon, Wolkwitz shows no signs of slowing down. He has plans for plenty of testing still this season, and has several races on his schedule before winding down to enjoy the winter off season and get back at it in 2020 with his ’68 Dart, the COPO, and whatever else he feels like picking up along the way.
Owner/Driver: Gary Wolkwitz
Hometown: Whitehouse Station, NJ
Class: Coan Engineering Stock/Super Stock Combo and SS/AH
Crew: David Barton, Todd Hoven
Car Make/Model/Year: 1968 Hemi Dodge Dart (clone)
Engine: 426 Race Hemi (Gen II)
Engine builder: Ray Barton
Displacement: 440 cubic inches
Block: Mopar cast-iron
Bore: 4.310 inches
Stroke: 3.763 inches
Heads: Mopar cast-iron
Valvetrain: Ray Barton / T&D
Cam type: 60mm Roller
Carburetor: Dual 770-cfm Holley carburetors
Fuel brand and type: VP Fuels C25
Headers and exhaust: Custom made at Ray Barton’s
Transmission: 727 Torqueflite
Transmission Builder: Joel Rabe (Joel’s On Joy)
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: ATI Converter
Rearend: Ford 9-inch
Body and/or chassis builder: Ken Keir Race Cars
Suspension (Front): Stock
Suspension (Rear): Custom by Ken Keir with coilover shocks
Brakes (Front): Lamb disc
Brakes (Rear): Lamb disc
Wheels (front): Weld Racing Alumastar
Wheels (Rear): Weld Racing
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson ET Front
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson ET Pro Drag Radial
Aftermarket body modifications: Carbon Fiber Fenders and Hood made by Cynergy Composites
Safety equipment: Simpson
Vehicle weight: 3,200 pounds
Quickest ET: 8.21 seconds
Best 60-foot: 1.117 seconds
Fastest mph: 160.69
Special Thanks: Ray and David Barton and Jim and Jimmy Daniels