Nhra handicaps the hemi after u.s. nationals domination – hot rod network

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 ass 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.


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.

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.

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.

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.