Whether you’re a die-hard fan of Mopar®-powered NHRA drag racers or a vintage Mopar muscle car lover who thrills to the rumble of a 426 HEMI® engine on a summer night’s cruise, you owe Tom Hoover (the Father of the 426 HEMI engine) a heartfelt thank you.
Tom Hoover led a long life at full throttle, packing a lengthy list of milestones into his 85 years. The Pennsylvania native served in the Pennsylvania National Guard and later in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, earning three battle stars. He earned a Master’s degree in physics from Penn State University and a degree in Automotive Engineering from the Chrysler Institute. Hoover’s career would influence generations of Mopar® enthusiasts to come.
During his 25 years at Chrysler Corp. before leaving in 1979 to pursue other interests, Hoover played a pivotal role in nurturing the Mopar brand’s performance DNA on the street and on the strip. But, Hoover was perhaps most famous for his work in developing an engine that celebrated its 50th anniversary last year: the 426 HEMI® engine.
In his role as racing program coordinator, Hoover led a small team who developed the 426 race HEMI engine, which powered Richard Petty to the 1964 Daytona 500 win in its debut. After NASCAR rules blocked the 426 HEMI engine from competition in 1965, Hoover and his crew unleashed the formidable power plant on the drag strip. More than 50 years later, the basic blueprint of the 426 HEMI engine still fuels most modern professional drag race engines. The 426 HEMI engine also migrated to production vehicles in 1966, fueling Mopar rides during the heyday of the muscle car era.
Hoover was also a founding member of the Ramchargers, a group of Chrysler engineers/drag racers whose success at the strip signified the company’s performance capabilities. He helped develop the Hyper Pak, a group of performance parts for the renowned Slant-6 engine, and led the development of the Max Wedge big block racing V8. He also helped to create the Lil’ Red Express, a high-performance Dodge pickup released in 1978. Later, Hoover worked with Mopar as the team developed the third-generation HEMI engine in the early 2000s.
Mopar honored Hoover’s legacy by putting his name on the Tom Hoover Sportsman Challenge Award, which recognizes the NHRA Sportsman Class participant who earns the most season points behind the wheel of a Mopar-powered drag car. In 2014, Hoover attended the Mopar Mile- High NHRA Nationals as grand marshal and was presented with the Mopar President’s Award, joining a select group to receive the prestigious honor.
“Tom Hoover was an exceptional human being and an engineering genius who always wanted to go faster,” said Pietro Gorlier, President and CEO of Mopar Brand Service, Parts and Customer Care. “Today, at Mopar, we continue to live and honor Tom’s vision. He’ll be missed.”