One of the pioneers of 1960s Super/Stock and Factory Experimental (FX) drag racing and one of the sport’s first touring professionals, Dave Stickler of York, Pennsylvania, made his early reputation as the driver of the “Old Reliable” Chevrolets out of the Ammon R. Smith dealership that were turned by his friend, partner and fellow EMPA Hall of Fame member, Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins.
An Eagle Scout, the crew-cut Strickler is still recognized as the best and most-consistent driver with a 4-speed manual transmission in the history of S/S & FX drag racing. And he set the very first National Hot Rod Association National Records for what was then known as Optional Super/Stock (OS/S) in 1961 at the old York U.S. 30 Dragway when he covered the quarter-mile strip in 13.26 seconds at a speed of 107.65 miles per hour with his red 409-powered Chevrolet Biscayne “Old Reliable.”
Strickler then went on to set several national records and win the SS/S national title at the 1962 NHRA U.S. Nationals with his white 409-powered Chevrolet Bel Air (OR-II). And the “Old Reliable-III,” which was a white 1962 Chevrolet Impala power by a 409 engine, was also a national record holder in B/FX even though it was raced sparingly.
Early in his career, national events were few and far between, so Strickler – along with Jenkins – toured the country to participate in a variety of Super/Stock meets or highly-touted match races against other drivers.
An example of his success in this area may be found in 1963 when he drove his white 427-powered Chevrolet Impala (OR-IV) to victory in over 90 percent of his 200 matches. And then in NHRA “legal trim” he used the car to become the A/FX National Champion & “Little Eliminator” at the 1963 NHRA U.S. Nationals.
When Chevrolet decided to discontinue sponsoring racers after 1963, Strickler began a two-year period where he raced factory-sponsored Hemi-powered Dodge Coronets.
In the fall of 1964, he and his National Champion A/FX “Dodge Boys” entry went to England with the U.S. Drag Racing team to compete in the six-race First International Drag Festival. Then, in 1965, he ran his white A/FX in match races and national events with one of the very first factory-built Altered-Wheel-Base cars that gave birth to the term “Funny Car.”
Strickler returned to racing Chevrolets in 1966 and successfully matched-raced “The Old Reliable V” which was an extended-wheel-based Corvette Funny Car powered by a Jenkins Competition-built fuel-injected 427-cubic-inch Chevrolet engine.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Strickler teamed back up with his old partner and drove some of Jenkins’ record-setting “Grumpy’s Toy” Camaros. But he also used his bronze SS/F “Old Reliable” 1968 Z/28 Camaro powered by a 302-cubic-inch small-block engine to defeat Jenkins and his SS/D Chevy Nova to win the 1968 NHRA World Championship. And during this time the duo held their popular series of Strickler-Jenkins Chevrolet High Performance Clinics at every meet.
Strickler’s last years in Pro Stock saw him race his own “Old Reliable” 1969 Camaro and the “Grumpy’s Toy VIII” 1971 Camaro. And he ended his career with a star-spangled red, white and blue 1973 Chevrolet Vega that was the last car to carry the “Old Reliable” moniker.
In all, Dave Stickler won 16 National Class Championship titles in NHRA and American Hot Rod Association competition and he set 41 National and World records.
Unfortunately, however, he died of a massive heart attack on June 6, 1985, just 22 days short of his 45th birthday.