Dodge revs up with the Charger SRT-8

What's better than being in 'Sin City' on the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit? How about landing a ride in Kurt Busch's loaner car, a Dodge Charger SRT-8? John Fernandez, Director of Dodge Motorsports Operations was the driver and I was the passenger along for the ride!

Cruising down 1-15 wide open, I had an eye out for the fuzz while Fernandez had the pedal to the metal. The new Charger special edition was some sweet ride. It went bad-ass fast, with the roar of the Hemi engine harkening back to days spent riding around with my dad in his souped up muscle car in the early 1970's.

That is the feel Dodge was trying to create when they brought Charger back into the automotive market.

"I think the thing that I like about the Charger is that it harkens back to Dodge's past," said Fernandez. "You think about the Dodge Charger you think about a performance car. It's back into the muscle car wars of the 70's and late 60's when I was just an engineer at Chrysler growing up with performance cars.

"It's kind of fun to see all of those cars coming back into the market. It's also fun to see the SRT products that take the production version and add a little extra to it. Since there is only so many of them being produced it really makes them unique because everyone doesn't get to have one."

With the Charger back on the racing circuit and available for retail purchase, Dodge also creates a number of SRT products that are concept vehicles tricked out and produced in limited numbers. It's a project Fernandez has been overseeing since his days creating the Dodge Viper.

John Fernandez.
Photo by Bob Meyer.
"The SRT group started and spawned out of the Team Viper concept," explained Fernandez who has spent a number of years as an amateur racer in the Sports Car Club of America. "We had Team Viper and we were doing the second generation Viper and then we folded in the Prowler and then those two teams came together and we kind of looked around and had a big meeting in the garage and I said there is about 100 people in the room and I said when we get this Viper launched I am probably not going to need 70% of the people in this room to maintain the product.

"But I got this idea that how about we form this special group and do all high performance versions of production cars as well as the Viper and some other projects," he added.

Whether you're looking at the Dodge Charger or one of the SRT models they aren't going to resemble the cars on the race track. But with the SRT models you can count on a lot more bling then your daddy's passenger car.

"This has got a number of changes, the SRT Model has a different set of road wheels on it. The engine is the 6.1 high performance version instead of the 5.7 Hemi which is in the charger. It also has some graphic modifications," Fernandez described. "It's about the feeling you have with the car. It's the visceral sound you have with the V-8.your package is you have to have a great looking car.

"We were lucky because we started with a production car that we thought was pretty great. Then you put different wheels with have to have an engine in that is the top of the class. We have 425 horses behind it with bigger tires with different graphics on the inside and outside and different seats."

Although Fernandez admits, at 57, that some of his buddies aren't too comfortable in the performance seats of the Charger SRT-8 which are slightly smaller and almost race-car like. But Dodge is building for a different generation of muscle car enthusiasts and they have to keep their pulse on what a younger generation is looking for in a sports car.

"Kids are different now they are into four cylinder, turbo charged kinds of cars where when I was a kid it was all about rear wheel drive and horsepower, give me horsepower," laughed Fernandez. "They are different now, it's about electronics its more front wheel drive than rear wheel drive. Turbo-charging a small volume engine while with us (when I was a kid) it was all about cubic inches, give me massive cubic inches."

Neither Fernandez or I are anywhere near our teenage years anymore, but it was easy to feel like a kid flying down the highway at about 90mph with nothing but open road in front of us.