In 1967, many drag racing fans were stunned to learn that the Stone, Woods and Cook team were trading in their popular AA/Gas Willys coupe for a fun Mustang car. The team dominated the A/GS ranks with the Swindler A Willys, and many people expected them to continue competing in the Gasser ranks.
But fun car racing was all about the money, and the Pebble, Pulp and Chef gang was ready for a new challenge. So they set the Willys aside in favor of a blown mustang they dubbed Dark Horse 2.
Although the fun fiberglass flip-top style cars were slowly coming into their own, the SWC Mustang wasn’t a flop. Instead, the team assembled a steel Mustang body on a lightweight 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 carburetors, the SWC team selected a blown early Chrysler Hemi for power. Because Stone, Woods and Cook were so successful in the gas classes, some people mistakenly refer to the Mustang as a carburetor. At first the car ran on alcohol, with a dash of nitro. Over time, the team tipped the can and used increasing percentages of nitromethane.
The fun Mustang car immediately followed in the Willys Gasser’s footsteps, winning the 2400lb class at the famous Bakersfield March meeting two days in a row. From there, the team embarked on a fast-paced barnstorming tour that is second to none.
It seemed every drag racing fan wanted to see the Stone, Woods and Cook Mustang in action, and every track owner wanted to fill the stands by booking the match racer. Pick up any copy of the 1967 Drag News and you’re likely to find numerous stories detailing the exploits of Stone, Woods and Cook on various tracks.
In addition to racing at most five-star tracks, Dark Horse 2 also popped up at small hole-in-the-wall venues; Dragstrips with rugged tarmac, dim nighttime lighting, and inadequate turn-off areas. Fans wanted to see Doug Cook in action, and the team was more than willing to oblige.
SWC raced several times a week and competed against most of the famous fun cars of the era and took on the lighter weight injected flip top cars as well as other blown steel bodied entries. Cook hasn’t always won, but he has an impressive win/loss record.
Just when the Stone, Woods and Cook team seemed to be at their best, tragedy struck. A crash destroyed Dark Horse 2 in Alton, Illinois. One of the most popular and respected drag racers of all time, Doug Cook suffered back injuries that ended his racing career.
However, Stone, Woods and Cook weren’t done yet. They built a new Mustang that was almost a copy of the original. The Ghost of Dark Horse 2 continued the hot matchrace pace, with a number of hired drivers replacing Cook behind the wheel.
By 1969 even the SWC team couldn’t stay competitive with a steel bodied car and they built a Mustang flopper and gave the driving duties to Dee Keaton. In the early ’70s, Tim Woods built the first fun Pinto car and raced it under the Stone, Woods and Cook banner with Mike VanSant as the pilot. Later still, a Chrysler-powered Corvette-Gasser toured under the banner of Stone, Woods and Cooke. That’s not a typo; On the ‘Vette, the name Cook was spelled with an e at the end. Reportedly, none of the original trio were actively involved in the Corvette.
Eventually, all three members of the colorful team retired from racing. Doug Cook died in 1999.
However, the legacy of Dark Horse 2 continues. Mike Cook, son of the famous driver, is recreating Dark Horse 2. Pictures of the car’s build can be seen on Cook’s website, as can photos of the fully restored Swindler A and Swindler B Willys coupes.
Four decades have passed since the Dark Horse 2 Mustang made its way into drag racing history. It’s nice to know that Mike Cook doesn’t want the famous funny car to be forgotten.