Racing with a Shaker is a Kelly Family Tradition

Mike Kelly was 19 years old when he bought his 1970 Plymouth ’Cuda with the Shaker hood back in December of 1972 for $2,100. Owning Mopar® vehicles was a family tradition, dating back to Mike’s grandfather, Oliver Sr. and continuing with Mike’s father, Oliver Jr., and Mike’s Uncle Charlie. After serving in World War II, Oliver Jr. worked as a mechanic at a Chrysler-Plymouth-DeSoto dealership where Charlie worked in the body shop. Oliver Jr. taught Mike how to do mechanical work and Charlie taught him how to do body work, which led to Mike working in the body shop after graduating high school in 1971. That job in the dealership body shop allowed Mike to buy his 1970 ’Cuda with a Shaker hood in 1972.

Mike Kelly shared this story of getting his 1970 Plymouth ’Cuda:

“I opened the garage door to tell [Oliver Jr.] ‘I bought a car!’ and he said, ‘Yeah, but you didn’t buy an automobile.’ He was always afraid I would hurt myself in it. My dad never got to see me make a pass with the car but he would always help me wrench on anything. One time, he drove it to his work 35 miles away because he wanted to show it off to his coworkers, particularly a younger one with a GTO. He came home later that day and started telling me about how the GTO tried to pass him on a 4-lane road up a mountain but he laid into it and drove right around the GTO. I had the hood open and was tinkering with it as he was telling me this story. He asked what I was doing, I said I was hooking back up the other 2 outboard carburetors of the 3×2 setup because I knew how he drove. He said, ‘If that’s how it runs on 2 barrels, I want nothing to do with that damn thing!’”

After getting his Shaker-equipped 1970 Plymouth, powered by a 440-cubic-inch big block V8 topped by a six-barrel carb setup and backed by a TorqueFlite® automatic transmission, Mike Kelly went racing with his ’Cuda. In stock form, he ran 13.0-13.1 at the track while proving to be quite a beast in the street scene. While at the dealership, where he was working on and around some of the most legendary muscle cars of that era, Mike became close friends with Chrysler factory representative Ed Eckenrode. Eckenrode was a fellow racer who helped Mike Kelly acquire a list of Direct Connection parts, which led to some serious upgrades to the ’Cuda engine that would propel the classic Plymouth muscle car into the low-11-second range in the quarter-mile, including a huge camshaft and high-compression pistons.

Mike Kelly left the dealership world in 1976 to work as a factory representative for Martin Senour paints for a few years, during which time he spent some time racing one of the original Sox & Martin Roadrunners, owned by Robert “Cueball” Mancino.

The first image below shows three generations of the Kelly family – Mike, Oliver Jr. and Kaleb – while the second picture shows Kaleb with his sisters, Cassie and Vaneesa, with Mike’s Cuda.

In 1978, he opened Kelly Refinishing, and as family life got busier, racing took a backseat. His 1970 Plymouth ’Cuda was parked in the corner of his shop after the 1981 racing season until his daughter Vaneesa suggested that he convert it back to a street car for his 20th wedding anniversary with his wife, Margie. The car was a part of their wedding and it was what Mike picked up to go out on dates early in their relationship, so the car had always been a part of their lives. In 1989, Mike repainted the car black and had the 440+6 engine freshened up by Buck Travis of BT Automotive, making some changes to make it friendlier for regular street use. The ’Cuda has remained similar since then. From his racing years, Mike was inducted into the West Virginia Drag Racer Hall of Fame, along with Ed Eckenrode and Buck Travis, who both played key roles in the history of this 1970 ’Cuda.

The images below show Kaleb when he was young, first working on his own car next to Mike’s ’Cuda in the garage while the second shows the car on display in a local mall.

Today, Mike Kelly’s 1970 Plymouth ’Cuda 440+6 is close to stock form with the exception of a set of headers, a higher-than-stock stall torque converter and a reverse manual valve body in the 727 transmission. When fitted with the same American Racing 200S “Daisy” wheels that he used when he raced in the ‘70s and a set of Hoosier drag radials, Mike’s ’Cuda runs in the mid-12s today. He has now had the car for 52 years and in that time, it has only had one mechanical failure – when a motor mount broke when his son, Kaleb, was racing the car in 2020 at the Nostalgia Nationals race at Keystone Raceway Park.

As for Mike’s son, Kaleb, he got his first Mopar vehicle when he was just 8 years old. His grandfather – Mike’s father Oliver Jr. – gave him a 1968 Plymouth Fury that was acquired brand new by Oliver Jr.’s Uncle Jess, just four months before passing away. Kaleb still has that Fury today and it is still in incredible shape, stock and unrestored with a 318 V8. It is also the only car that Kaleb has owned that he hasn’t taken down the track.

The images below show Kaleb with Oliver Jr. and a shot of Uncle Jess with the Fury.

Like his dad, Kaleb got the racing bug early in life and by 2018, he was driving a Dodge Challenger Scat Pack Shaker, but when the 1320 package was introduced, he immediately wanted one.

“When Dodge announced the 1320 package in mid-2018 for the 2019 model year, we didn’t know if they would be a limited production or hard to get like the then-recently released 2018 Demon, so dad called Ed Eckenrode to see if he could use his contacts to get a hold of an allocation for us. He called back a little later and said he had two claimed, ‘just in case’. We asked which dealership to go through and he said Paul Schimizzi at Hillview Motors up in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. The ironic thing is that’s exactly where I got the 2015 Scat Pack Shaker I was racing at that time and already somewhat knew Paul. Eddie and Paul were crucial to getting the car and making it a Shaker car and I’m extremely grateful to them. I got to know Paul well through that process and in the years since. I’ve even suggested multiple people to Paul and his dealership and I have moved probably 8 or 9 cars off his lot to people I know despite being over an hour north of my area. He’s just a fantastic guy and always does his best.

“Anyway, we placed the order for the car and the Mopar Shaker kit at the same time and invoiced it all together. We tried to make it as ‘legit’ as possible. The hood actually showed up early and in enough time before the car to get it painted such that as soon as the car arrived, they immediately started getting the hood swapped. Technically, before I even showed up to sign papers and officially take ownership, it had a Shaker. I’ve never even seen the car without it. I get a kick out of people when they walk by and see the hood then notice the ‘1320’ badge on the fender and, if they know what they’re looking at, stop and ask if it’s a real 1320.

“Aside from the wheels/tires, I’ve also done a mid-muffler delete, catch can, 180 thermostat, lightweight battery, aluminum front bumper support, a differential brace and special detailed attention based around optimizing the airbox. The Shaker’s open filter style airbox has a tall/thick weatherstripping but it doesn’t actually seal the box against the bottom of the hood perfectly so dad and I fabricated a cover to seal off the box from hot underhood air. We sprayed it with a rough textured black finish to make it look OEM, I don’t think many people at a glance realize it’s custom. With that cover, it’s forced to draw air through the Shaker scoop, the Mopar headlight duct, and I even redirected the brake cooling duct from the driver-side lower grille into the bottom of the airbox. Pap always said, ‘a horse can’t run if a horse can’t breathe’. After I did all that, I taped pieces of string in front of all 3 locations and all pieces of string got sucked into their respective inlets when I would whack the throttle, I also watched the Intake Air Temp gauge drop a few degrees each throttle whack. The current best out of that car is a 1.59 60-ft and 11.250 @ 120.96 MPH off the footbrake, which I believe is the 2nd quickest stock tune 392 HEMI® in the world.”

Since getting his Dodge Challenger Scat Pack “Shaker”, Kaleb Kelly’s modern muscle car has been displayed alongside Mike’s 1970 ’Cuda at some prominent automotive events, including the inaugural Greenbrier Concours d’elegance show in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, and the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Kaleb’s 1320 Shaker is far more than just a show car, having competed at a long list of motorsports events with a large national draw, including the Mopar Nationals, the NMCA HEMI/Direct Connection Shootout events, Modern Street HEMI Shootout events, the Hot Rod Power Tour, the Jeff Smith Memorial 1320 Shootout class at MoParty, and various events at many other tracks along the East Coast.

Kaleb explained that he and Mike don’t race the 1970 ’Cuda much anymore, since they already have two cars that they race regularly. One is Kaleb’s 1320 and the other is a 1967 Plymouth Barracuda racecar named the Palindrome, that the father-and-son duo have shared since they got the car back in 2009. Kaleb explains that they both spend time racing the Palindrome, which does monster wheelies thanks to a 512-cubic-inch big block.

“We trade back and forth depending on what’s going on. We like to compete against each other on who cuts the better light and who pulls a bigger wheelie, he said he concedes that I won the wheelie contest because I nearly put it on the rear bumper one time!

“The car had long since been a racecar by the time we got it but it was a very old-school build. It had a 4-barrel 440, TorqueFlite with a converter and reverse manual valve body, super stock leaf springs, drum brakes, and ran low-mid 11s when we got it. That engine gave us trouble so we decided to revamp the entire car and took it up to Bob George Racing in Eighty Four, Pennsylvania, where it was turned into the car it is now. They redid the roll cage, put ladder bars out back, fresh/upgraded TorqueFlite with a transbrake, 4 wheel disc brakes, and at the time a 498 tall-deck stroker that we have since swapped to the current low-deck 512 I mentioned before. It’s gone 9.79 @ 139 MPH and has tripped the 60-ft timers with the back tires, it loves wheelstands!

“Aside from racing it, I’ll take it to shows like the ‘Kars for Kids’ charity show at Jennerstown Speedway benefiting the Children’s Aid Home, the local schools for their career days, and the local career tech school, MTEC, hosts a yearly car show. Dad has been on the Monongahela County school board since 2005 and believes there’s great value in getting kids introduced to the automotive world at a young age, hence why I take the Palindrome to the local schools on their career days. He also never shies away from the fact that he’s a gearhead while in the world of politics.

“We bought this one because we wanted to get back into racing more seriously but didn’t want to build up the ‘70 ‘Cuda to this level. Dad always loved watching guys and gals like Sox & Martin, Paul Rossi, Arlen Vanke, Shirley Shahan, Judy Lilly, etc., race in Super Stock and Pro Stock so he wanted to emulate that and this fastback Barracuda fits perfectly. He still remembers how happy he was to take an A-body ‘Cuda to the same ETs and speeds that he saw the big names doing when he was younger. For perspective, it’d be like if decades from now I end up having a Challenger that runs like my buddy Geoff Turk’s 7-second Blackbird!”

Going forward, Kaleb hopes to someday replace the factory 440 in the 1970 ‘Cuda Shaker with a non-factory 440, simply to protect that numbers-matching engine. As for the 1320 Shaker, Kaleb is hoping to see Direct Connection introduce some go-fast parts for the 392, so that both his modern Shaker car and his dad’s vintage Shaker car feature factory-issued performance parts. Meanwhile, they will continue to make adjustments to the Palindrome Barracuda to keep on going faster with the front wheels high in the air.



I met the Kelly family today at cars and coffee. Beautiful cars, love the Shaker hood scoops.
Great memories of helping their mutual friend Eddie Eckenrode,a former Chrysler rep. that had built an engine for them years ago from the direct connection parts selection. I at 15, had helped Eddie with his Hemi powered A990 64 Belvedere race car. Later at our local career center I completed in the Plymouth trouble shooting contest.
Dodge has always had a strong racing tradition through the years!


I wish these vehicles were built-in factory RHD versions for Australia, the automotive world is mistaken in investing in EVs, Dodge please revisit Hydrogen for internal combustion engines.


Awesome family story! The Shaker cars sure are eye catchers, have a 2019 Scat pack Shaker and I love it!