The First Seven Second Pro Stocker?
Text by Danny White
Who was the first Pro Stocker to run a seven second time? That has been a good question for many years in the drag racing community. Three drag racing legends can lay claim to the run: Don Nicholson, Butch Leal, and Rickie Smith. We are here to provide the answer! Butch Leal ran his seven in 1977 and and Don Nicholson ran his in 1978, both in match races. Rickie Smith got his time slip during an IHRA national event.
The first such reported seven-second run by Butch Leal has largely been forgotten. Leal was racing his Ron Butler built California Flash Arrow in a match race at Orange County. The Hemi powered Arrow was seldom raced in NHRA Pro Stock and was mainly raced in B/G and match races. Leal was the B/Gas record holder and Car Craft Magazine Modified racer of the year. On his website, Leal claims to have ran 7.96 at 172.91 with his match race combination. I could not find out the date or the race at Orange County International Raceway, but it remains firmly entrenched in publisher Bill Pratt's memory!
The next seven second run claimed by Don Nicholson was better known by the drag racing community in part due to Nicholson being the defending NHRA Pro Stock Champion and the Norman Blake photo coverage of the race. Dyno Don was running one of many match races with Bill Jenkins, this time at Englishtown, New Jersey. The Don Hardy built Mustang II had a Jon Kaase built 516 cubic inch Cobra Jet for power. You could tell that Don was running his distinctive match race combo due to the Formula 5000 hood scoop and the lack of side windows. Nicholson ran an amazing 7.97 that night to down the Grump's similarly appointed Chevy Monza.
It would be almost another two years before another reported seven second run by a mountain motor Pro Stocker. This time it would come at a national event. In 1980, Rickie Smith was becoming a force to reckoned with in the Oak Ridge Boys Mustang II. The little car was powered by a Jack Roush built Shotgun Hemi when he made his run. The 7.99 was so stunning at the spring Rockingham race that Larry Carrier stopped the race to honor the feat.
After Smith broke the barrier, several others ran sevens later that year. Pat Musi, Warren Johnson, Bob Harris, and Don Campanello soon joined the ranks. The runs were also treated with much acclaim, fanfare, and suspicion, such as Warren Johnson’s 7.82 at a Maryland International Raceway match race. By 1981, the sevens were common in Pro Stock and soon became an expected level of performance. Just as they had in Top Fuel and Funny Car, the first seven second runs in Pro Stock received a great deal of press coverage and plenty of controversy that fueled countless bench racing sessions.