The History of the RAMCHARGERS can fill a library. The memoirs written by original member Mike Buckel, as well as the book "We Were The Ramchargers", written by original member Dave Rockwell and published by SAE Publishing, go into great detail on all of this. Mr. Rockwell’s book is heralded as the best-selling motorsports book SAE has ever released. That book literally catapulted somewhat of a second career for many of the original members (guest appearances, lectures, etc.) It even inspired a Super Bowl commercial. So, I won't dare attempt to step on those legendary toes. I'll try to keep it short and to the point.
Simply put, the RAMCHARGERS started out as a group of very smart guys who worked as Engineers for Chrysler in the 1950's. They all shared a love for the (then) new sport of Drag Racing. Each of them having their own home-altered hotrods that they tinkered with after work and raced on the weekends. The boys quickly realized that a bunch of cars, each with one handful of money, could only be "so" competitive. But.... ONE car, with a bunch of handfuls of money, stood a chance to do something much more productive. This is where the "club" started.
A 1949 Plymouth was purchased. An iconic name was conjured. And a legend was born. After breaking records on the very first night out with the (now named “High & Mighty") 49 Plymouth, the group of men turned that early success into momentum to close out the 1950's with a very dominate race car. By the time 1961 showed up on the Calendar, the RAMCHARGERS had secured some ink on paper with Dodge and began, very successfully, campaigning a 1961 Dart with a 413 and one of those super-cool Long-Ram intakes with dual quads. While developing countless new innovations for drag racing, the team was breaking records, winning races and rapidly becoming THE name in Super Stock drag racing. For 1962 it was the new, lighter generation of Dodge Dart that the team had acquired from Chrysler to modify and race. But this time when the hood opened, Dodge had already begun to pay tribute to their success. There, for all the world to see, the 413 Maximum Performance engine was now named the "RAMCHARGER 413", which was displayed boldly on each valve cover. - And for the record... There wasn't a fuel-injected Corvette in the country that could have "Shut Down" a 62 Dart with one of these engines! - In 1963, the tradition continued with another new Dodge for the year. Actually, TWO Dodges for this year! But now, they were quite identifiable. Bright white with 7 vivid Candy Apple Red stirpes running from the windshield to the rear of the trunk-lid. And a matching RAMCHARGERS in 16" tall letters down the sides of the car. They were instantly recognizable at every dragstrip around the country. And that was the point.
Many other incredible cars would make up the family photo-album of Candy Red striped, White Dodges over the next six years. The argument can be solidly made that these were the most popular cars at any track across the nation. Growing the Chrysler brands (Dodge, Plymouth, Chrysler, Desoto, Imperial) dramatically, with every race-win or innovation. Before the RAMCHARGERS, the average buyer of a Chrysler branded car was 55 years old. Within a few short years, even though styling remained vastly unchanged, that buyer's age was cut almost in half. At the same time, securing a gigantic 38% of the market for "Performance Car" sales, while only holding on to a mere 13% of the overall new-car market. This is an unheard-of statistic. It seemed that everyone that wanted a new fast car bought a Mopar. And most who bought Mopars, bought a muscle car. One small group of guys and their brilliance in developing parts/engines, (which found their way to the assembly line) and building and driving race cars, could change the entire landscape of new car sales and make the "Old-Man" brand become the "Go-To" brand for Young America and its desire to be not only the coolest, but also the fastest kid on the block.
Yes, the RAMCHARGERS laid the tracks for Mopar to become the icon that it is today. As time went on, developments continued to rise, and records continued to fall. The RAMCHARGERS can be credited with the NHRA's first passes to break the 9-Second, 8-second, 7-second, and 6-second quarter-mile barriers. Engines like the Max Wedge, the 426 HEMI, 440 Six Pack / Six Barrel, 340 Small Block and 340 Six Pack / Six Barrel, as well as the Cross-Ram intake, Tuned-Length Exhaust Headers, Tunnel Ram Intakes, W-2 Cylinder Heads, Altered Wheelbases and Acid-Dipped race-bodies are just a few creations born of the RAMCHARGERS. Even the modern-day Funny car is a branch from the RAMCHARGERS Tree.
By 1967 the group of Engineers and Part-Time racers had more accomplishments than any other team or group before them. And I believe their laundry list of successes will never be surpassed by anyone else. At that point, the majority of the original members felt they proved all there was to prove. They had the fastest cars on the planet and a reputation for being the absolute best in the business. A normal job at Chrysler and a long-neglected home-life was agreed to be more desired than a full-time racing career, so most of them retired from the group. The members of the Dragster team, however, continued to move forward, racing deep into the 1970's. Piloting a few different Top Fuel Dragsters, three different Funny Cars, a Challenger for the all-new Pro Stock class and still never letting go of their roots in Super Stock, running a couple Cudas, and a Duster, as well as a Dart Sport Super Gas car in the latter half of the decade. Other new branches also began sprouting during this time. A Machine Shop. Professional Engine Building. And of course, the famous Ramchargers Performance Connection speed shops around the Detroit-Metro area.
After the fires of racing seemed slowly dwindle, and the smells of burnt rubber and race gas dissipated over the next few decades, the retail stores marched on for new generations of racers and hobbyists. Though setting track records and winning Wally's was in the rearview mirror now, RAMCHARGERS continued to evolve as they supplied the masses with the parts and expert advice needed to build their own muscle cars and race cars. In 2005, however, with Mail-Order taking over the world, and the Internet becoming a very difficult store to compete with financially, it all came to an end. The last remaining flagbearers of the brand, Dick Skoglund, Leroy Palarchio and Sam Messina decided they'd reached the traps at the end of the retail dragstrip and pulled the chutes.
The stores were closed, emptied, and sold off. And the name and trademarks were purchased by an enthusiast in Michigan. And for most, that seemed to be the heartbreaking end of the story. The new owner of the brand never really did anything with it. The name just laid dormant for what seemed to be a depressing eternity. I, for one, constantly checked up on the website (which was still up, but very stripped down), just hoping to see some sort of new development. A new store. A new Car. New Merch. Anything. But nope. It never went anywhere. Just sat there idling and never leaving the staging lane.
Fast forward 15 years. Mike and Lora Wagner, local Michigan racers and Mopar Collectors, who licensed the rights years prior, to stripe and letter their "NHRA Top Eliminator" winning 2009 Challenger Drag Pack in the legendary livery, were fortunate enough to find themselves in the position to rescue the brand and team that Mike has loved his whole life. The Wagner’s acquired the Brand and its trademarks and set out on a quest to revive the once great name. It started slowly, as the brand had been stashed away in the back of the minds of most who remember it. Like discovering a Barn-Find Hemicuda, Wagner began to blow the dust off the brand, start the rebuild and make it known. Securing licensing for toys, models and merchandise, brands like Hot Wheels, Greenlight, Autoworld and many others began putting miniature Candy-striped Dodges and Plymouths out to the people. In the following years, Wagner would surround himself with a small group of volunteers who believe in the brand as a brotherhood and recognize its importance to the automotive and racing worlds. This new group, just like the guys in the early days, dedicate as much of their "after-work" free time as possible (sometimes more than they should) to help bring everything back to life. For this group, it has never been about money, but only the love and respect of the RAMCHARGERS brand, and their refusal to let it die.
In December of 2022, Wagner met up with established Drag Racer, and owner of HemiTuner Performance, AJ Berge, in Indianapolis, at PRI. You may know AJ's name though his masterful work as NHRA FSS Crew Chief for Don Schumacher Racing. Or possibly from his former position at Arington Motorsports. Or maybe even his personal success in 2022 racing his independently operated 2021 Drag Pack Challenger. AJ is a brilliant Gen III Hemi guy and Chassis guru who happens to own one of the most wicked Challenger Drag Packs on the planet. A multi-race winner in 2022, in fact. After numerous conversations and negotiations between Berge and Wagner, a deal was struck, and AJ Berge has become the new official driver of the new official RAMCHARGERS NHRA and NMCA Factory Stock Showdown Dodge Challenger.
AJ's new-look debut was at the World Series of Pro Mod in February of this year. And like the legendary drivers in Candy Striped Dodges before him, AJ shot right to the front of the pack as the #1 qualifier of the event! This event, not using a typical "ladder-bracket" like most national races, had drivers use a "chip-draw" to create matchups. As luck would have it, AJ got as tough of a draw as possible, and drew the #2 qualifier for round one. A late light was all it took for the weekend to be over. But that's racing. We learn, move on and race another day. The following week was the opening event for the NHRA 2023 season. The Gatornationals in Florida. AJ qualified in the top half of the field and managed to pilot the RAMCHARGERS Challenger to the Semi-Finals. A definite move in the right direction, as the racing world began to take notice. The next race of the season was the opening event for the NMCA. Trying to work out the bugs in qualifying, AJ managed to make the field way down in the #13 spot. But in round one, a glowing 7.67 ET on the scoreboard behind what appeared to be a blistering white and red vapor-trail, moving at the speed of light, landed the RAMCHARGERS Challenger the low ET of the event. 3 more Win-Lights later, and AJ Berge joined a RAMCHARGERS Race Car in the winner's circle at a National Event for the first time in more than 4 decades! This team has aligned itself with destiny. And the Racing Gods are looking down upon us all and smiling as so many Wrongs are now, once again, being made Right. The Ramchargers ARE back! The rest of the season would have its ups and downs like any racing team experiences. But with AJ putting the RAMCHARGERS Challenger in the Semi-Finals or Finals at every race following that first win, and Low-E.T. of the event at 5 races in 2023, including the NHRA US Nationals... well, we have a driver, a car, and a team that the legends before us are very proud of.
With many exciting things brewing in the new RAMCHARGERS camp, the future looks amazing. As early on in this restoration as they are, this is only the beginning. The RAMCHARGERS have no plans at stopping at a just couple race victories and a few toys cars. The Wagner’s and their team are determined to be successful in this revival... and beyond. All the while, insisting on staying true to the foundation in which it was created so many decades ago.
For many years, the name RAMCHARGERS, when mentioned, brought up only unclear mental images in faded Black and White. It's like thinking of something so far in the past, that your brain can't even visualize it in color anymore. Thankfully, "the right" someone finally took control of the brand with a deep heart and passion to restore it to its former glory. To make the original owners and members proud again. With full and enthusiastic support from each and every Original member ofthe RAMCHARGERS, the Wagner's and their team's mission is tto put the brand and name back on top. Back in the winner's circle. And back in those blazing, vivid, White and Candy Red, mental images, terrorizing the subconscious of their competition! The future is so much brighter when you can envision it in color!