Bill Hancock

Bill has been a car guy forever. Born in 1945, and raised in Virginia, where at age thirteen he towed an old WW2 Jeep home so he could rebuild it. When he turned 15, a drag strip opened nearby, and Bill built a 55 Chevy gasser and began secretly racing at the track. One day when he returned from the track, he was confronted by his father who had been to see him race and said if he wanted to continue, he should build a faster car and consider going to engineering school if he had any hope of winning. Never considering for a minute his dad would approve of his racing, that conversation lit the fire.

While he was at Vanderbilt getting his BSME degree, he and his partner raced an AA /Fuel Altered and, along the way, he built and raced a Super Stocker for Country music star Hank Williams Jr. When he was not racing, he would crew for Doug Cook or KS Pittman, well known pro drag racers from Los Angeles. Crewing for Doug led him all over the country on the match race circuit. If nothing else, being on tour all over the country with race cars while working closely with genuine characters like Doug, KS, Hank Jr., and his cast of rowdy friends and then later Larry Rathgeb, provided a constant stream of anecdotes that has afforded Bill with some wonderful tales.

Upon graduation, Bill was offered a job as an engineer with Chrysler in Highland Park. After a brief rotational engineering program, Bill was soon offered a job working in the original race group for Larry Rathgeb who was the Manager of the Stock Car Racing program and reported to Dick Maxwell. Working for Larry, he helped launch the Chrysler Kit Car program and worked on the NASCAR and USAC programs. Bill took over the track testing for the oval track activities and soon was asked to move from ASG over to engineering in the special vehicles group with Scott Harvey, but still reporting to Tom Hoover. Bill coordinating all the drag and oval testing programs, wind tunnel work, and off-road trucks. During the off season, Bill was one of the speakers on the Direct Connection Drag Racing Seminar tour. Needless to say, he spent a fair amount of time outside of the office.

In 1979, Chrysler fell on hard times and eliminated the race group. After a brief but colorful career in Product Planning, Bill moved to Chrysler Defense where he soon became the Chief Engineer on the HMMWV (aka Hummer) program. Shortly thereafter, Chrysler Defense was sold to General Dynamics, where Bill’s department was tasked with building and entering a fleet of 13 vehicles in a three-way runoff for the Hummer contract. Despite not winning, the program had a great upside for Bill.  It was there he met his soon to be wife Pam, an automotive designer.

When the race group was disbanded, Bill had quietly started his own company called Arrow Racing Engines where he coined the Mission Statement; Do it Right-Do it right Now! and began building engines for a small group of customers. As the HMMWV program was ending, Dick Maxwell, former head of the race group, gave Arrow a contract to provide support for various corporate performance projects. Soon, Arrow had programs with Direct Connection and, shortly after, that began working directly for Chrysler Engineering.

One day Pete Gladysz asked if Arrow would build engines and provide a building and support for a small all-volunteer road race team.  The Team was comprised of Chrysler employees racing Shelby Chargers. Over the next several years, Team Shelby won numerous championships and reestablished the Dodge name as a force to be reckoned with. Young engineers from all over the corporation who became involved quickly learned about winning and losing. When the cars encountered a problem at the track, the engineers returned to work Monday morning, quickly diagnosing the fault, and fixing it. The production cars ultimately became the real winner due to the numerous “fixes” developed by Team Shelby engineers.

Meanwhile, Arrow moved from a small row of rented buildings with a handful of employees in downtown Rochester to a former Ford tractor Dealership just a mile from what would soon become the Chrysler Tech Center. By this time, Arrow had seven dynamometers and was running two and sometimes three shifts just to keep up with the demand, literally building hundreds of engines annually as well as manufacturing parts for Mopar Performance and others. After a successful career as a freelance designer Pam soon became the Vice President and Comptroller which allowed Bill to focus on the business side of Arrow while she took care of the financial side.

Soon, Pete Gladysz asked Bill to attend an important meeting in which Arrow was asked to provide engineering support for a secret sports car project. For Bill and the crew at Arrow, the Viper program was like a Team Shelby reunion. The Arrow group was soon working with the same guys that they had come to know and trust. Arrow’s tasks were primarily centered around engine and fabrication work, but soon expanded to include transporting prototype vehicles and supporting the offsite race-track testing program.

As the V10s finished the prototype phase, Arrow was asked to provide a proposal to build the first production engines. In the end, politics prevailed and the engines were built at the Mound Road engine plant then shipped to Arrow where they all ran on the dyno for two hours. Concurrently, Arrow was asked to form a new company called Viper Warranty Engine Center or VWEC which would be responsible for doing forensic teardowns and repairs on all the Viper warranty engines worldwide until the dealers were properly trained and equipped to perform the repairs. The warranty engine program never left VWEC. Meanwhile, in addition to the various crate motors they were building for Mopar Performance, Arrow began providing Viper race engines to various teams and individuals around the country.

As the Mopar Performance Parts (MPP) program rapidly expanded, Arrow purchased the assets of a CNC supplier and entered the CNC business. Bill bought the adjacent building and Arrow quietly began producing cylinder heads, connecting rods and manifolds for MPP.

Meanwhile, Pam and Bill had a son Billy, who became a car guy from birth when Bill literally stopped by the shop on his way home from the hospital with Pam and Billy so he could run a test on the dyno. Billy went on to get an engineering degree at Purdue followed by a job working at Roush Racing. He eventually left Roush, entered law school and today is an intellectual property attorney specializing in automotive patents.

Reflecting on his career in the automotive industry, Bill said “Viper was a prime example of the old adage about success being the result of preparation meeting opportunity.” At the inception, Chrysler was blessed with designer Tom Gale, a true hotrodder at heart, whose many designs were enjoying amazing success in the market, and CEO Bob Lutz who visualized what was to become and steadfastly remain a DOT legal race car. In hindsight, Team Viper was essentially the repeat of the earlier race group template in which a talented bunch of corporate misfits were cut from the herd, given a clearcut mission, budget, and timeline. The key to success however, lay in finding a program leader who could identify and recruit raw talent, pass the ammo, stay out of the way, and let the magic happen. The leader had to be very comfortable in the executive suites, crafty enough to romance the suppliers, and ward off the bean counters and naysayers while maintain credibility and loyalty with the troops. Roy Sjoberg fit that role to a tee.

The Viper program had one other unique component; a prenup. Bob Lutz knighted Herb Helbig as the “Grail Keeper” whose sole job was to steadfastly defend the Viper DNA. Over the years, all have seen vehicles which started as a gazelle and left at the mercy of the system as an inbred goat. Fortunately, Herb never let that happened with Viper!”

Bill’s favorite Viper began one day with a call from Tom Sidlik who wanted to do a special limited-edition car for the 2006 VOI-9 event. Arrow ended up producing ten hand built special order high output engines for the first cars. These cars were quickly snapped up by collectors, and because there were so few and never advertised or promoted, they eventually became known as unicorns. Years later, his son Billy found an original VOI-9 coupe with the Arrow engine for his dad who relates; “It has been quite a treat to own since Billy and I both worked on the engines while they were being built and tested at Arrow.”

In reflection, Bill said, “So many people work their entire career without having one, let alone four unique opportunities to work on a special team. By pure luck, I was able to work on four teams. The first was in the race group with Larry Rathgeb, Tom Hoover, and Dick Maxwell where we literally won so often, NHRA and NASCAR essentially outlawed us. Mopar Performance where we were allowed to develop and provide whatever was needed. Then Team Shelby came along, and once again we won until we were on the verge of being outlawed. Finally, Viper came along, and it was yet another chapter. It was like getting the band back together to produce hit after hit after hit.”

The common thread at the core of the various groups was individuals with pure unadulterated passion. Equal parts of ego, pride, drive, and intense loyalty leading to passion. In Bill’s mind, passion is perhaps the strongest legal motivator of people.

In 2008, Arrow was sold. Bill and Pam retired to Florida where he finished and published two books, tries to play golf, goes boating, and shots his guns. More importantly, Bill got to do things with Pam they were never able to do while owning Arrow. In 2016, Bill was honored to receive a Lifetime Achievement award and be inducted into the MCG’s Mopar Hall of Fame. Bill accepted an offer to join the engineering faculty at the University of North Florida as an adjunct Professor where, until Covid, he taught two courses on racing engine design and development. During Covid, his project has been to disassemble and restore a Dino Ferrari he has owned for 42 years.

In closing, Bill said, “In April, we received a somewhat vague Zoom invite. Pam and I were pleasantly surprised to be informed that I had been selected to be inducted into the Viper Hall of Fame. To be included in such a fine group of talented and passionate people is truly an honor that I will cherish. It serves as a nice ending for what has been a truly magical ride.”