Inductees were chosen based upon having advanced and enriched the sport of drag racing by leadership, excellence of performance and outstanding contribution to the sport.
Joe Ralph began racing in 1961 at a time when Chrysler and other auto makers were entering the race for the American Muscle Car. It was a time of experimenting with engines and gear ratio’s as well as tires and traction. Joe Ralph was an independent racer and was not supported by Chrysler as numerous cars were in those days. In those days the only people who could receive Hemi parts were a dealer. The cars advertised dealers so that parts could be shipped to the dealer and picked up there. That later changed and he could receive the parts.
As his cars began to increase in speed and setting records, Chrysler engineers took note of this guy in Pansy, AR and sent an engineer to see what he was doing. He would often try different combinations in his cars so it was not unusual for the class that the car was competing in would change from week to week.
Joe Ralph’s cars broke numerous State, Regional and National Records. He raced not only in Arkansas but numerous other states. He was named Arkansas State Champion for numerous years. He won what is referred to as the “Grand Daddy of all races”, the Nationals. He took top honors in the B-gas division of the national meet of the National Hot Rod Association at Indianapolis, Indiana. To win at Indianapolis, the car bettered 471 entries and then led 26 in the finals of the meet. The driver was Ronald Cheshire.
The cars were always red, except for the Dodge Polaris; it was white with red lettering. He was often teased as to why all of his cars were red. He simply said, “I like red”.
The 1961 Dodge Polaris was the first car he raced. Often on weekends you would hear the radio announcement that this Sunday Joe Ralph Thompson would be racing. The car weighed 4,390 pounds and that is why his competitors would often refer to it as a box car. He used a Hurst Four Speed shifter. The gear ratios and rear ends would change depending upon the strips he raced. He completed in sportsman class with this car, usually B-modified. He paid a local drag strip owner to set up the first match race. This added to the fun for spectators and increased attendance at the local drag strips. The Special Match Races were with cars that were not in the same class. He raced local cars as well as cars from Oklahoma, TN, LA, FL, NV and other states.
As additional cars were added to the Thompson Racing Fleet his son Ronnie Joe Thompson drove the Dodge Polaris. Ronnie’s racing time was cut short due to the Vietnam War. Joe continued to drive and he added other drivers as he added cars. They were: Derwood Reep of Warren, AR, Ronald Cheshire of Pine Bluff, and Gene Graham of Little Rock.
A 1964 Plymouth Savoy, Hemi Powered was the second car to be added. This car was later modified to an altered car. He like to joke that he cut it into and put it back together, but that is exactly what he did in his shop in Pansy AR. It ran an elapsed time of 9.98 seconds when the national mark was 10.30 seconds. According to a post by Fred Otts in Drag Racing Magazine this is probably why in 1965 the world started calling them “funny cars”.
Fuel injectors were added to the car and it was bored and stroked to 500 cubic inch engine. The car competed in various classes and combinations from B/A (altered) to B/G (gas). It was later modified to C/A (altered) which required it to lose 200 pounds to qualify with times in the 10:33 range.
A 1965 Plymouth, Hemi Powered was added later. The car was lightened depending on the class it ran by changing fenders, hood and grill work. During this time he was running Nitro fuel Injectors and working with different combinations in the cars.
A Dodge Demon and a Dodge Dart became members of the Thompson Fleet. It was said that the Dodge Dart did not leave the starting line running, it exploded like a missile. The Dart competed in Pro Stock and was a constant winner.
Three of the cars are still racing today. The 1964 Plymouth is owned by Mr. Jim Miller from Texas and is presently in Bushmasters Rockin Race Place & Hot Rod Museum in MO. It had previously been at the Don Gartlis Museum in FL.
The cars were featured or mentioned in notable magazine and publications: Car Craft 1970, Hot Rod Magazine, 1968 Drag Race, High Performance Cars 1971, and The Dawn of Pro Stock.
His daughter, Robbie Thompson McKinney accepted the award on behalf of the Thompson Family. She said that this is a great honor and we appreciate this award. She said that the best memories are of the fans and fellow racers and the many wonderful people that the family has met over the years. We like to think we provided fun for the spectators and hopefully some headaches to fellow racers when they pulled up to the line next to us. She said her father would be honored to receive this award and probably would say – “boys thank you very much, but I just like to build engines to go faster and faster and drive fast cars, especially red ones”.