NHRA Handicaps the HEMI after U.S. Nationals Domination
https://www.hotrod.com/articles/nhra-ha ... omination/
I don't like the idea of the HEMIs being handicapped, but I did love seeing the headline!Four decades ago, Tom Hoover, Godfather of the 426 Hemi and Chrysler Engineering genius, exclaimed, “The only thing that can slow us down is a pencil.” He was right back then, and his warning still holds true today. When Hoover made that infamous comment to his colleagues, the 426 Hemi was dominating the NASCAR super speedways and NHRA dragstrips across the country. During the golden era of AM Top-40 radio and cheap, high-octane gas, Chrysler’s 426 Hemi kicked butt on the track every time it rolled off a car hauler or ramp truck, much to the outrage of the Chevy racers and heavily funded Ford/Mercury teams. Eventually, mob rule would take place, and the opposing camps lobbied the NHRA and other racing-sanctioning bodies to either ban or handicap Mopar’s Mighty Elephant engine.
Today, the story appears to be the same. On September 7, the NHRA slapped a 25-pound weight penalty on the Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Paks, while knocking 25 pounds off the COPO Camaro and Cobra Jet Mustangs competing in the NHRA School of Automotive Machinists and Technology (SAM Tech) Factory Stock Showdown (FSS) class.
Before this rule change, all three makes had the same minimum weight: 3,550 pounds. But since the rule change on the Friday following the Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals, the already large, full-figured Challenger will have to stuff another 25 pounds in its ballast box, while the Ford and Chevy competitors can remove 25 pounds of weight. Bottom line: the Mopar Drag Pak cars now have to haul 50 more pounds than the COPO Camaro and Cobra Jet Mustang. This seems rather ironic for the Challenger, which dwarfs its ponycar competitors and looks like an SUV in the staging lanes next to the smaller COPO Camaro and Cobra Jet Mustang.
So, how and why did this happen so quickly?
First, we offer a little back story for you. The FSS class was created by NHRA a few years ago to showcase the current-production muscle cars coming from Detroit’s Big Three. Following the introduction of the class, it didn’t take long for the politics and mudslinging to start, after Mopar’s dominance in the FSS class at the Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Many consider that event to be akin to the Super Bowl of drag racing.
If you’re not familiar with FSS, it’s a heads-up class for the Challenger Drag Paks, COPO Camaros, and Cobra Jet Mustangs. With the emphasis on “Stock,” these competitors use current-production OEM engine architectures such the Chevy LS, Ford Coyote, and Dodge/Mopar Gen III Hemi. All three engine types make easily 1,000-plus horsepower and must use a NHRA-approved spec Whipple blower. The equalizer among the teams are the 9-inch slicks they use, thus making it a driver’s race. Tuning skills are required to know just how much ignition timing to pull out during the launch and when where to ramp it up down the track. Remember, these things run low-eight seconds and more than 170 mph in the quarter-mile on tires that are probably narrower than the production rubber on their street counterparts like the Demon, Hellcat, ZL1, and GT-350.
When Leah Pritchett’s 354ci, supercharged Hemi Drag Pak led the field of 16 qualified entries at Indy with a mind-numbing 8.002 at 172.56 mph, one could assume the Dodge/Mopar teams had focused all their time and energy on her. That was not the case, however, as fellow Don Schumacher Racing (DSR)/Drag Pak teammate and ex-Pro Stock driver Mark Pawuk qualified second with an equally impressive 8.027 at 170.39 mph. Both numbers had the other FSS racers buzzing, as these runs were made in in late August in the heat and humidity of the Midwest. Indy is generally not the place to run big numbers, but the Drag Paks did.
Another ex-Pro Stock driver and former world champ, Allen Johnson, captured the Number Four starting position at Indy in his Plum Crazy Challenger with 8.101 at 169.08 mph.
It was the 2016 Mustang Cobra Jet of Chris Holbrook that prevented the Dodges from taking the top three spots, as he snuck into the Third qualifying position with an 8.090 at 167.63. Holbrook had the fastest FSS Mustang on the grounds at Indy.
The nearest Chevy was second-generation engine builder David Barton’s 2018 COPO Camaro. Barton was in the middle of the pack and qualified Sixth with an 8.107 at 166.70 mph.
Geoff Turk’s “Blackbird” Drag Pak was the first FSS entry to legally crack the NMCA Seven-Second barrier back in March, when he ran an 8.123 at 170.47 in qualifying. There’s more performance left in Turk’s Challenger, but he was trying to get a favorable qualifying spot based on the Sportsman ladder. He was rewarded with an Eighth position on the sheet.
Joe Welch has been to the winner’s circle many times at NMCA and NHRA races this year. Welch had already won the NMCA season opener in Bradenton, and back-to-back NHRA victories at Bristol and Norwalk earlier in the season.
A total of 27 drivers showed up to fill 16 spots for the NHRA Factory Stock Showdown at Indy. If you look at the numbers, 16 COPOs, six Cobra Jets, and five Drag Paks came to Indy to play. After four intense qualifying sessions, all with their fair share of drama, all five Mopars made the field, leaving four Cobra Jets and seven COPO Camaros to round out the remaining spots. It was 1970 all over again, as all the domestic OEMs were well-represented at NHRA’s “Big Go” with their current crop of Factory Package machines disguised as production Pony cars.
At Indy this year, Mopars seemed to have the advantage based on how they ended up on the elimination ladder. They also got hauled down to the NHRA “Tear Down Barn” for a closer inspection and strip search. A few COPOs and Cobra Jets were also in the barn to keep them company.
Factory reps from Ford and Chevy took notice of how the field was stacking up. NHRA Tech Officials did as well, as they carefully monitored each pass these cars made. They even threw out a qualifying run from Joe Welch in his Drag Pak. It was in the heat of the day that Welch scorched the track with a 7.98 pass at 168.32 mph that got everyone’s attention, including the NHRA tech guys on the return road. The tech officials flagged him over and crawled underneath his Drag Pak, finding a rear-suspension technical infraction. As fast as Welch’s 7.98 run lit up the scoreboards, it quickly evaporated as word spread through the Sportsman pits that his run was disqualified. Welch also had his first-round win against Mark Pawuk disqualified for another technical infraction. This time for a modified throttle-body, which is a big no-no in FSS. Welch was out, and Pawuk was back in the field for the next round of competition.
During eliminations, Pritchett’s Drag Pak was fast and consistent in running the quickest passes of all the competitors, easily putting each of them on the trailer in the first three rounds. When it came to the final, she lined up next to Pawuk in an all–Drag Pak final. The Top Fuel ace, who does double duty between her Drag Pak and 11,000hp, Dodge/Mopar DSR Papa John’s Top Fuel Dragster, powered past Pawuk on an 8.108 at 170.26 pass to claim her first Factory Stock win in her first final-round appearance in the class.
As the Mopar champ cheered, Ford and Chevy factory reps marched down to the NHRA Tech Trailer demanding some immediate changes to the current FSS rules. Winning does come with a price and retribution, especially in NHRA class racing. Just days after the conclusion of the 2018 U.S. Nationals, the NHRA Technical Department issued the following statement:
“Based on performance numbers from the 2018 School of Automotive Machinists & Technology NHRA Factory Stock Showdown Series, the NHRA Technical Department is increasing the minimum weight on all Dodge Challenger Drag Paks from 3,550 pounds to 3,575 pounds. All Chevrolet Camaro COPOs and Ford Mustang Cobra Jets with Whipple superchargers will have a reduction in minimum weight from 3,550 to 3,525 pounds. Ford Cobra Jets with 2.3 Eaton superchargers will have a reduction in minimum weight from 3,300 to 3,275. This rule change will go into effect immediately for the 2018 AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals.”
Is the NHRA Tech Department taking a page from their 1972 rule book? Maybe, but first you need to know the background that led NHRA and its leaders to go down the path of handicapping Mopar Hemi door-slammers during the Nixon era.
When the super Seventies rolled in, Hemi-powered Pro Stock ’Cudas, Challengers, Dusters, and Demons put the big-block Camaros, Boss/Cammer Mustangs, Mavericks, and Comets on the trailer. Ford slowly withdrew any factory involvement, but Chevy still backdoored parts to a few racers in hopes of ending the Mopar juggernaut in the class. NHRA wasted no time in addressing Mopar’s dominance and worked quickly to stack the deck to ensure that the Hemi-powered Plymouths and Dodges would have to work much harder to win races in the 1972 season.
When team owner Buddy Martin, of the hugely successful Sox & Martin team, met with NHRA VP Jack Hart in the fall of 1971, Martin knew the NHRA was not happy. The S&M red, white, and blue Hemi ’Cuda had been cleaning house in Pro Stock, and Martin knew NHRA wanted a change, even if it was to handicap the Mopar Pro Stockers.
“He [Hart] looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Our fans want to see Fords and Chevrolets running against each other in the finals. We couldn’t really care less what Chrysler wants,’” replied a reflective Martin who still harbors some bitterness over that decision over 40 years ago.
The Chrysler teams’ award for working so hard during 1970–71 was NHRA adding 100 pounds or more to the minimum weight of all Hemi Pro Stockers for the 1972 racing season. With a stroke of NHRA’s pencil, the Chrysler Pro Stock drivers/teams like Sox & Martin, Dick Landy, Don Grotheer, Herb McCandless, Arlen Vanke, Butch Leal, Don Carlton, the Rod Shop, and other fast Mopar drag racers had their fate sealed and were never competitive in NHRA Pro Stock again.
History may have its place, but Mike Rossey, supervisor for SRT Motorsport Powertrain, has been working on the Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak program since 2014. His job is to make sure the Drag Paks have the best equipment and are competitive while following the letter of the law when it comes to the NHRA rules. As of late, the Mopars have been terrorizing the FSS class, but it now comes at a cost.
“The Challenger Drag Pak claimed victory at Bristol, was winner and runner-up at Norwalk, and again at Indy. We also set the fastest Factory Stock Showdown qualifying time in NHRA history with an 8.002 e.t. The Friday after Indy, NHRA set up an impromptu call-in meeting to communicate what their plans were moving forward; they looked at the last race and the difference between average e.t.’s from the Drag Paks and COPO and Cobra Jets and decided to give the Drag Paks a 50-pound weight penalty to achieve better parity between brands. I tried to argue with their reasoning, but they had already made a decision—that afternoon they made a public announcement about it,” said Rossey.
“It’s been a team effort, we have partnered with some of the best in the industry and worked on the entire package. The success of the Drag Pak is a direct reflection of the full vehicle integration: having a powerful engine, a dialed-in calibration, the correct torque converter, a transmission with optimized gear ratios, and a suspension setup that manages the power to the track,” said Rossey.
A racer himself, Rossey is familiar on the “Balance of Performance” (BOP) rules used by many racing sanctioning bodies to equalize the playing field. The BOP is also a tool that keeps one manufacturer happy while, hopefully, not alienating another to the point of packing up his toys and leave. Rossey has been involved in professional racing for close to 20 years and was not shocked to get “the call” from the head of the NHRA Technical Department.
“Was I surprised? No. I’m not happy about the decision, we have worked really hard to achieve the success we have. It doesn’t seem that when the Drag Paks were struggling a year and a half ago, NHRA did not try to slow down the COPOs or Cobra Jets. This class has grown from then. While I’m not happy about the decision after achieving the success we have, our Dodge//SRT team has a history of rising to the occasion, and we will do everything we can to help our Dodge and Mopar teams continue to outperform the competition,” said Rossey.
Will the current 50-pound weight adjustment impact the Challenger Drag Pak’s performance and equalize the field in FSS while keeping the COPO and Cobra Jet racers happy? Remember, NHRA threw 100 pounds at the Mopar Pro Stockers in 1972, and they struggled to run with the small-block Vegas and Pintos.
We won’t really know until the Mopar Drag Paks will react to the additional 50 lbs. until the driver’s and crews attack the strip. You can count on new chassis and suspension adjustments make sure the cars still hook and handle down the track.
“Every Drag Pak team will deal with this how they feel best, I can only guess they will try to place the weight in the best location to not upset the balance of the car,” commented Rossey, as he’s already been on the phone with the drivers making recommendations on where to add the weight.
Even in the 21st century, the NHRA rules and policy makers will still find a way to thwart the Hemi’s dominance and performance potential, especially in the Factory Stock Showdown class. The competition will complain, and NHRA will try to handicap it by hauling more weight than its opponents. If Mr. Hoover was still with us, he’d shake his head but crack a grin knowing the Hemi retains its legendary bad-boy status, even after five decades.
Not too many engines can claim that honor these days.
#NHRA #USNationals #TheHEMI #HEMI #DragPak #COPO #CobraJet