In 1967, many drag racing fans were stunned to learn that the team of Stone, Woods and Cook were swapping their popular AA/Gas Willys coupe for a Mustang funny 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.
Funny car match racing was where all the money was, however, and the “Pebble, Pulp and Chef” gang was ready for a new challenge. So they set aside the Willys in favor of a blown Mustang they christened Dark Horse 2.
Although the fiberglass flip-top style funny cars were starting to come into their own, the SWC Mustang was not a flopper. Instead the team mounted a steel Mustang body shell on a light weight 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 gassers, 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 gasser. At first the car ran alcohol, with a splash of nitro. As time wore on, the team tipped-the-can and used an ever greater percentages of nitromethane.
The Mustang funny car immediately followed in the footsteps of the Willys gassers, winning the 2400 pound class at the famed Bakersfield March meet two days in a row. From there, the team set off on a blistering barnstorming tour that has seldom been equaled.
It seemed that 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 Drag News from 1967, and you will likely find numerous stories recounting the exploits Stone, Woods and Cook at different tracks.
In addition to racing at most of the five-star tracks, Dark Horse 2 also showed up at small hole-in-the-wall venues; dragstrips with ragged asphalt, dim night-lighting and inadequate shut down areas. The fans wanted to see Doug Cook in action, and the team was more than willing to grant their wish.
Racing several times a week, SWC ran against most of the famous funny cars of the era, taking on the lighter weight, injected flip-top cars as well as other steel-bodied blown entries. Cook wasn’t always victorious, but he racked up an impressive win/loss tally.
Just when the Stone, Woods and Cook team appeared to be on top of their game, tragedy intervened. A crash destroyed Dark Horse 2 at Alton, Illinois. Doug Cook, one of the most popular and respected drag racers of all time, sustained back injuries that ended his racing career.
Stone, Woods and Cook were not finished, however. They built a new Mustang that was a near copy of the original. The Ghost of Dark Horse 2 continued the torrid match-race pace, with a number of hired drivers replacing Cook behind the wheel.
By 1969, even the SWC team could not remain competitive with a steel bodied car, and they built a Mustang flopper, assigning the driving chores to Dee Keaton. In the early ’70s, Tim Woods built the first Pinto funny car and ran it under the Stone, Woods and Cook banner with Mike VanSant as the pilot. Still later a Chrysler powered Corvette gasser toured under the Stone, Woods and Cooke banner. That is not a typo; on the ‘Vette the name Cook was spelled with an e on the end. Reportedly, none of the original trio was actively involved with the Corvette.
Eventually, all three members of the colorful team retired from racing. Doug Cook passed away in 1999.
The Dark Horse 2 legacy continues, however. Mike Cook, son of the famous driver, is reconstructing Dark Horse 2. Pictures of the car’s construction can be seen on Cook’s website, as well as photos of the fully restored Swindler A and Swindler B Willys coupes.
Four decades have passed since the Dark Horse 2 Mustang barnstormed its way into drag racing history. It is nice to know that Mike Cook doesn’t intend to let the famous funny car be forgotten.