Dick Landy, a legendary drag racer and a major pioneer in Super Stock, Funny Car and Pro Stock, was also known for his innovative race cars and wild wheel stands. His nickname "Dandy Dick" came from his neat appearance in pressed white pants and jacket and long unlit cigar clenched between his teeth. Landy was among the drivers who popularized late-model Super Stock cars in the 1960s, campaigned the first Funny Cars in the middle of that decade and helped establish the popularity of Pro Stock when the category was created in 1970.
Long identified with Chrysler and its parts division, Mopar, Landy came from the rural California car culture, where farm boys in modified pickups raced on deserted airstrips on weekends. As a freshman in high school, he drove a 1932 Flathead Ford at San Fernando Raceway. After high school, he studied mechanical engineering in junior college, and then designed boats for water skiers.
Landy got his start in racing when a local Ford dealer hired him to race its cars. It was the dealer who bestowed upon Landy his trademark cigar, which he never lighted. "I actually feel naked without one," Landy told the NHRA Web site. Landy's modifications to the Hemi engine brought huge increases in speed during the 1960s, achieving a quarter-mile run in just more than eight seconds at a top speed of more than 180 mph. Among the changes he helped introduce to drag racing were fuel injection and the use of nitromethane instead of gasoline.
Despite the exhaust pipes that shot out nitro flames and his cars' rickety fiberglass and aluminum front ends, Landy explained to the Hayward (Calif.) Daily Review, in 1963, that he stuck to drag racing because of safety issues. "There's more danger involved when you're racing around at 150 miles per hour with other guys just inches away and you do not know what they're going to do," he said.
In 1964, Landy was among the first to get one of the few factory built 426 Hemi cars from Chrysler Corporation. In the fall of 1964, Chrysler was building 1965 production cars and several special race cars known as the “A/FX’s.” In 1965, Landy's A/FX Dodge Coronet was one of the first funny cars. Moving the wheelbase forward by a foot or more to put more weight on the rear wheels increased traction and led to the signature "wheel stand." The Los Angeles Times described it as follows: (it would) "rear back on its bumper with its front wheels pawing at the air like a horse trying to throw its rides." The rear-mounted gas tank was protected by casters. The combination of horsepower and traction led to the banning of his vehicles by the NHRA and subsequent rule changes regarding extreme modifications. As a result, Landy was relegated to the match-race exhibition circuit. He then introduced nitromethane, mechanical fuel injection and supercharging to the equation and established the foundation for the highest tiers of modern drag racing.
As one of the early "factory drivers" directly sponsored by an automobile company, Landy gave workshops at dealerships around the nation on how to “soup up” Chrysler cars.
After winning the Street Class bracket at the AHRA Winternationals, in 1968, with his 1968 Charger (10.49 sec. @133.25 mph.) Landy received the Car Craft Magazine All Drag Racing Award. The following year, he won the Modified (Altered) bracket. At the 1970 Winternationals, he beat Herb McCandless’ Sox & Martin Plymouth Duster.
In 1970, NHRA created the Pro Stock class and "Dandy" Dick was right there. With his 1971 Dodge Challenger R/T, he posted a 9.60 sec. elapsed time at 145.30 mph. and was the West Coast Pro Stock Champion. He also won both the AHRA Pro Stock Championship and the 7th Annual NHRA Western Conference Championship with a modified 426 Hemi Engine.
Landy would reach a final round only once more, at the 1972 Summernationals at Englishtown Raceway, where he lost to Chevrolet legend, Grumpy Jenkins and his 427 Camaro.
Dick Landy continued racing until 1980, winning NHRA Pro Stock national events, claiming the AHRA world championship in both 1973 and 1974, and winning match races across the country.
Among his other accomplishments, he built a flathead that was good for 300 mph. at Bonneville and constructed the 440 for what is undoubtedly the most famous ambulance of all time- the Yates/Needham/McClure/Chaos TransCon Medevac.
After he retired from racing, he ran Dick Landy Industries (DLI) in Northridge, CA, where he created custom muscle cars and continued to research high-end automotive modifications. DLI also provided high performance parts for a number of manufacturers, including Daimler Chrysler and Mopar Performance. DLI closed shortly after Dick Landy's death at age 69, in January 2007.