There are a number of important players in this historic story. The owner, crew chief, and check writer behind this '62 Bel Air is Enid, Oklahoma's native son, Harold Clay. Veteran Chevy parts and he-knows-everybody guru Phil Reed, laid the groundwork for Clay to fulfill his decade-long dream.
Hayden Proffitt needs absolutely no introduction here (unless, of course, you weren't around during Chevy's millions of torrid motorsports successes beginning in 1955 and going nonstop, let's say, to 1980). All during this 25-year time period, he ranked right at the top as a driver/builder/tuner. Hayden was the only drag racer ever to be contracted by all of the American auto manufacturers (GM, Ford, Chrysler, and American Motors). That hints at how good he was. As drag car builders and drivers go, he was one of a handful who the competition dreaded lining up against. If you did not run your perfect/best-ever run, you usually did not stand a chance against him. How does a person get so good?
Imagine, if you will, being hired in '60-61 by the late Mickey Thompson to drag test parts, and a myriad of chassis and engine combinations on Super Duty 389 and 421 Pontiacs at Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach, California. Hayden easily made a few hundred runs a week. Add this huge hands-on experience to the thousands of races he made from '56-59 at Santa Ana Raceway. His machines back then included a few supercharged Chevy-powered dragsters, a record-holding '57 Corvette, a '59 street-driven 348 El Camino (he went to Bonneville and won his class at 136 mph), and more.
Hayden also tuned and tricked-up dozens of customer 283 and 348 Chevys. So many were there on any given weekend that the Santa Ana announcer nicknamed them as a group-the "Proffitteers." In '61, Hayden was so feared (and successful) in M/T's Pontiacs that Chevrolet stepped up and offered him a "business contract" to campaign a new '62 409 Bel Air sport coupe. Hayden was the real deal then and this is where things went big time, historically and personally.
A 409 Bel Air specifically for Hayden was loaded on a freight train about one month before the '62 NHRA Winternationals. Why a '62 409 car was not found locally at the GMAD Plant in Van Nuys is not known. We assume that perhaps because of their sales popularity, there weren't any extras available. promoted the '62 from kiddie hauler to Hayden hauler.
Hayden drove the Cone Chevrolet/Bill Thomas '62 409 Bel Air to one amazing performance after another, ultimately running a best of 12.17 at 119 mph. Besides trophies and kisses from trophy queens, he also pocketed a whole lot of cash. A great example took place the weekend prior to the '62 U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Everybody who was anybody converged on Detroit Dragway for a huge Super Stock eliminator-every bit as big if not bigger than what was to come at Indy. Hayden bested everyone at Detroit and he pocketed something in the neighborhood of $3,000 (about the cost of a brand-new car then).
At Indy, Hayden lost the S/S class final to Dave Strickler's "Old Reliable" '62 409 Bel Air tuned by the legendary Bill Jenkins. Some misinformation from the flagman led Hayden to think the race was yet to start. It did, Strickler launched and Hayden didn't. No matter. During the next few days, all top-stock entries would compete round-robin to see who had the baddest Super Stocker in the land.
The man himself says a few Ramchargers team members kept rattling their verbal sabers at all of the 409 Chevys and Hayden in particular during much of the event. (The Ramchargers were a team of factory Dodge racers in their off time and Chrysler engineers when on the clock.) This was supposedly a way to rattle the nerves of a competitor and cause them to drive poorly or jump-start the flagman (leave too soon). You don't hear much about lip service today, but back in the day, it happened a lot. Believe it or not, it also made many drivers perform better. For the record, Hayden was a native west Texan who stood 6 feet 2 inches and weighed 190 pounds. "Fear" was not in his dictionary. Neither was lipping-off. Let the faster car/better driver win.
So, wouldn't you know it, the last two cars in coveted U.S. Nationals SS/S Eliminator competition were Proffitt and the Mopar factory Ramchargers big, bad 413 Dodge. To watch Hayden in the left lane in the finals was like watching a man possessed. He knew the track conditions and he knew his 409 Chevy and he knew that if he could beat the Dodge off the line, the race and the coveted title was his. He felt the 413 Dodge could not match his 409 on the top end.
Everyone at Indianapolis Raceway Park was on their feet yelling and cheering (the overwhelming majority for the Chevy). When the flagman pointed his red flag at each car then waved the green flag in the air Hayden launched first. He feathered the clutch and hazed his 7-inch-wide slicks absolutely perfectly. From all those test runs for Mickey Thompson, his reaction time was also superb. His Bel Air had the Dodge by just over a car length at the instant he power-shifted into Second gear. At the end of Second gear, add another car length. By Fourth gear, he was four-plus car lengths out in front of the lip service Dodge. Remembering their verbal banter all week, he grabbed the steering wheel with his left hand, then reached back and extended his long right arm and hand back to the "bubbletop" rear window. He then gave the Ramchargers Dodge the "bird" all the way across the finish line. Yes, that was indeed the sporting thing to do. Wait, there's more ...
For the record, when Hayden first told me what he did in besting the Dodge (circa 1974), he made me promise never to tell anyone. Being a man of my word, I did-until I realized that telling would benefit him. Super Chevy magazine inducted him into its then-Hall of Fame 22 years ago in '88 at the SCS event at Texas Motorplex, Ennis, Texas. He and I stood together on the starting line next to another red '62 replica (created by Odessa, Texas, friend Delmer McAfee). Here we were in front of thousands other Texas Chevy fans. I decided instantaneously to tell his '62 Indy S/S story.
As I spoke you could hear a pin drop. I thought that he might be giving me the bird, but no, he stood there like the great man he was so I continued. When I ended the story with the "gesture" he gave the Dodge, everyone in the grandstands howled and hooted with overwhelming approval. Hayden was a lad of 62 years in '88. His unassuming, quiet reaction was, "Ah, it was nuthin'-don't mess with a Texan!" Today, he is just as loved, honored, respected, appreciated, and funny at age 84.
Enter Clay. His decision to build his beautiful replica was made in large part by knowing all the help he was going to need (and get) from Classic Motors' Reed. (Historical note: The original '62 Hayden Bel Air body no longer exists. It was destroyed in an accident in '64.) Most Chevy veterans think of Reed as the granddaddy in the '58-up Chevy parts/cars/engines/you name it business. Back at the '88 SCS Texas event, he had a midway display with Hayden happily signing autographs, shaking hands with fans a mile deep, and more. Hayden and Reed have been friends ever since.
Clay's replica '62 buildup was no small potatoes, cost-wise or even an easy deal. These '62 Bel Air sports coupes are not easy to find these days in any condition. But he had a good one-he thought. But it turned out to be a real rust bucket. No thanks. There is a fairly new term today called "re-body." It used to mean putting another body on to your frame then putting your old body's ID tag on it. It was "re-bodied." Clay has re-defined "re-body." He combined what he could use from his rusty '62 to a mint '61 Impala bubbletop. All he could use from the '62 was the firewall and the roof.
The '61's tail assembly was removed and a primo '62 from a parts car four-door was then installed. The car was then examined at the Oklahoma Department of Motor Vehicles and given a 2010 ID number. Talk about a one of a kind! Sounds like it probably took years to build, eh? Nope-try four months!
Hayden was to be inducted into the U.S. Drag Racing Hall of Fame in Gainesville, Florida, in April 2009. Their "we gotta deal" handshake came in December 2008. Clay's Christmas present to Hayden was a guarantee that he'd have his '62 replica on hand for the Hall of Fame invocation, four-day tow included. Hayden thought not. No way, not a chance, he thought.
His lead man/builder was transplanted Chicago native Jose Hernandez, Clay's best kept secret. A transplant to Enid thanks to family and relatives, Hernandez is as talented a body, paint, and mechanic as there is-period. He spearheaded this ground-up total re-bop by telling Clay, "No problem Boss, just keep getting me the parts."
We can't begin to describe the entire buildup but suffice to say that Hernandez and others performed a miracle. If you think I'm blowing smoke, chew on this: Some Chevys look good from 20 feet away. You take your photos then leave. I spent two days inside and outside Clay's Hot Rod & Custom Shop and left with 648 photos taken with three professional digital cameras. So well done was the combined Hernandez/Clay's Hot Rods work, I made the mental decision to photograph virtually everything possible-much of it for future use.
1962 Chevy Bel Air - SPECIFICATIONS
Builder: Tony Shaffer, Day Automotive Independence, MO 816/461-7861
Compression Ratio: 11.00:1
Pistons: Diamond +0.060
Crankshaft: Stock steel
Connecting Rods: Eagle H-beam big-block
Camshaft: COMP Cams Street Roller
Block Casting Number: 068
Head Casting Number: 690
Valves: Manley stainless steel
Rocker Arms: COMP Cams Roller
Tubular Headers: Jerry Jardine
Clutch & Flywheel Assembly: Centerforce
Ignition: Tony Shaffer, Day Automotive
Carburetor Ram-Air Box: Progressive Metal Shaping, Oklahoma City, OK 405/619-9988
DRIVELINE & CHASSIS
Transmission: Borg-Warner Super T-10
First Gear Ratio: 2.64:1
Builder: Wayne Transmissions, Richmond, MO
Shifter: Hurst Competition-Plus
Driveshaft: Factory two-piece
Differential: Original '62
Third Member: 4.56:1 Positraction
Front Coil Springs: Station wagon
Rear Coil Springs: Stock
Front Steel Wheels: 14x5
Rear Steel Wheels: 14x6
Lead Man: Jose Hernandez
Frame: Factory original "X" frame
Frame Prep: Bill White
Hood Lip Molding: NOS - Phil Reed
Headlight Bezels: NOS - Phil Reed Classic Motors 816/587-1109
Body Color: '62 Roman Red
Paint Brand: DuPont Basecoat-Clearcoat
Wiring Harness: American Autowire
Upholstery: Joe Poindexter, Ace Auto Fabric, Kansas City, MO
Carpets: C.A.R.S., Detroit
Rubber Weatherstrip: SoffSeal
Aluminum Dash Face: Harold's Hot rods
Gauges: Stewart-Warner 25/8-inch diameter
Hand-Painted Body Lettering: Manny's, Oklahoma City, OK, 405/412-8287