Photos by Phil Hutchison and Diane Kubicke Story by Phil Hutchison and NHRA Communications
Only days away, the 12 annual Mopar HEMI Challenge is arguably, one of the most anticipated events at the 58th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. The shootout, which came to fruition after years of SS/AA class racing at the Indianapolis strip, features 1968 Hemi Dodge Darts and Plymouth Barracudas running for an $18,000 purse.
In 1968, Chrysler made approximately 100 fastback Plymouth Barracudas and Dodge Darts equipped with the Hemi for drag racing competition. The cars were assembled by Hurst Performance and featured lightweight items such as lightweight side glass, fiberglass front fenders, and hood with scoop, lightweight seats, and sound deadener and other street equipment such as rear seats omitted. A sticker inside the car indicated that the vehicle was not for street use. Go figure.
Right off the bat, the Cudas and Darts were putting down mid 10 second times, which for a race car manufactured by one of Detroit’s big three, made them the quickest Super Stockers in the NHRA.
Fast forward to 2012 (the class has been renamed SS/AH) and with the advances in cam and head technology, along with chassis improvements have these beasts running in the mid to low 8 second bracket with multi time Challenge winner Charlie Westcott Jr the current NHRA National Record holder with a 8.22 at 162.72 mph.
Now it must be pointed out that few if none of the original 100 cars produced by Mopar are still racing completively, they are worth too much on the market to chance having them crash or be damaged at the track. The Cudas and Darts racing at Indy are specialty built racecars with all the latest tricks that the Super Stock rulebook allows.
Twenty-seven drivers are entered in the Challenge at Indy including Division One racers Tyler Hard, Jim Daniels, Wendell Howes, Hemi guru David Barton and Gary Wolkwitz. Joining this list are former winners Rick Houser, inaugural 2001 winner Bucky Hess, Charlie Westcott Sr. and Charlie Westcott Jr.
“Grassroots racers who compete in the Mopar HEMI Challenge are the foundation of drag racing, and the reason why Mopar is involved in the NHRA,” said Pietro Gorlier, President and CEO of Mopar, Chrysler Group LLC’s service, parts and customer-care brand.
“We are excited to have the Mopar HEMI Challenge event return as part of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals,” said Eric Lotz, Director of Field Marketing, NHRA. “It’s become an important part of the event and a must-see for all Sportsman enthusiasts. The increased purse from Mopar will add even more excitement to the competition.”
Qualifying starts Wednesday August 29 with eliminations scheduled for Friday August 31 during Super Stock eliminations with the finals running in conjunction with the Pro Qualifying session Friday night under the lights at Indy..
Stay tuned to NorthEastDragRevieew.com for coverage of the Challenge along with all of the action from the Big Go East 2012.