February 28, 2021

Vintage-Nitro

Still car-crazy after all these years

Stone, Woods, Cook on trailer

The Stone, Woods and Cook Mustang broke an axle and couldn't compete. But the fans knew they were there!

Stone, Woods and Cook at Detroit Dragway

Even though the Dark Horse 2 funny car never left the trailer, the Stone, Woods and Cook Mustang still made a big impression on the fans at Detroit Dragway.
Stone, Woods and Cook Mustang funny car at Detroit Dragway
The Stone, Woods and Cook Dark Horse 2 on the return road, Detroit Dragway.

Even broken, the Stone, Woods and Cook funny car was so popular that Detroit Dragway paraded the Dark Horse 2 down the track in front of the fans. Stone, Woods and Cook were the headline entry at Detroit Dragway’s Midwest Championships. One of the most popular funny cars in the country in 1967, the Mustang arrived at Detroit Dragway with a broken rear axle. Unable to run, the dragstrip still had the Stone, Woods and Cook team tow the car down the track so the fans could see the car up close.

I was quite disappointed that I didn’t get to see Doug “Cookie” Cook make a pass. The Championships were scheduled for Sunday, and Dark Horse 2 broke the third member at another track on Saturday night. Parts couldn’t be had on a Sunday morning, so the Mustang remained on the trailer. Even so, the crowd was excited just to see the Mustang tow down the strip.

In 1967, drag racing fans were stunned to learn that Stone, Woods and Cook were building a funny car to replace their popular AA/Gas Willys coupe. The team didn’t just excel at the gas coupe and sedan competition, the ruled the A/GS ranks. The Swindler A Willys was so successful that it was never beaten in national competition.

Still, funny car match racing was where all the money was, and the “Pebble, Pulp and Chef” gang was ready for a new challenge. So they set aside the Willys in favor of a blown Mustang A/FX machine they christened Dark Horse 2.

Although the fiberglass flip-top style funny cars were starting to come into their own, the SWC Mustang was not a flopper. Instead the team mounted a steel Mustang body shell on a light weight tubular chassis, with a long fiberglass front clip. Driver Doug Cook entered the car through opening doors, while the clip could be removed to work on the engine.

Following the same pattern as their famous gassers, the SWC team selected a blown 448ci early Chrysler hemi for power, backed up by a Torqueflite transmission. Because Stone, Woods and Cook were so successful in the gas classes, some people mistakenly refer to the Mustang as a gasser. At first the car ran alcohol, with a splash of nitro. As time wore on, the team tipped-the-can and used an ever greater percentage of nitromethane.

The Mustang funny car immediately followed in the footsteps of the SWC Willys gassers, winning the 2400 pound funny car class at the famed Bakersfield March meet two days in a row. From there, the team set off on a barnstorming match race tour that has seldom been equaled.

It seemed that every drag racing fan wanted to see the Stone, Woods and Cook funny car, and every track owner wanted to fill the stands by booking the Mustang for a match race. Pick up any copy of Drag News from 1967, and you will likely find numerous accounts of Stone, Woods and Cook at different tracks.

In addition to racing at most of the five-star tracks, Dark Horse 2 also showed up at small hole-in-the-wall strips; tracks with ragged asphalt, dim night-lighting and inadequate shut down areas. The fans wanted to see Doug Cook in action, and the team was more than willing to grant their wish.

The car ran against most of the famous funny cars of the era, taking on the lighter weight, injected flip-top cars as well as other steel-bodied blown entries. Cook wasn’t always victorious, but he racked up an impressive win/loss tally.

Dark Horse 2 tow rig
Today you would need a Peterbuilt, an 80 foot enclosed trailer and enough parts for two complete floppers to field a competitive nitro funny car. In 1967, Stone Woods and Cook got it done with an open trailer pulled by a pickup that was little removed from your average farm truck. Yet the team crisscrossed the nation with this rig, racing several times a week. Times have changed, not necessarily for the better!

Just when the Stone, Woods and Cook team appeared to be on top of their game, tragedy intervened. A crash destroyed the Mustang at Alton, Illinois. At the time, rumors circulated that the team was experimenting with a canard wing on the rear of the car. According to stories I heard ( which I can’t verify ), air got under the wing and lifted the Mustang, causing it to become airborne at high-speed.

Whether the wing tales were true or not, the Mustang was demolished. Even worse, Doug Cook, one of the most popular and respected drag racers of all time, sustained back injuries that ended his racing career.

The team of Stone, Woods and Cook wasn’t finished, however. They built a new Mustang that was a near copy of the original. The Ghost of Dark Horse 2 continued the torrid match-race pace, with a number of hired drivers replacing Cook behind the wheel.

By 1969, even the SWC team could not remain competitive with a steel bodied car, and they built a Mustang flopper, assigning the driving chores to Dee Keaton. In the early ’70s, Tim Woods built the first Pinto funny car and chose Mike VanSant as driver. Still later a Chrysler powered Corvette gasser toured under the Stone, Woods and Cooke banner, but reportedly, none of the original team was involved with the car. Doug Cook passed away in 1999.

The Dark Horse 2 legacy continues, however. Mike Cook, son of the famous driver, is reconstructing Dark Horse 2. Pictures of the car’s construction can be seen on Cook’s website, as well as photos of the fully restored Swindler A and Swindler B Willys coupes.

Four decades have passed since the Dark Horse 2 Mustang barnstormed its way into drag racing history. It is nice to know that Mike Cook doesn’t intend to let the famous funny car be forgotten.