POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 3, 2003) -- The much-anticipated wait for Mopar's 2003 Dodge Stratus R/T Pro Stock effort will finally culminate on Feb. 6, as the POWERade Drag Racing Series opens the NHRA season at Pomona Raceway with the 43rd annual K&N ...
POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 3, 2003) -- The much-anticipated wait for Mopar's 2003 Dodge Stratus R/T Pro Stock effort will finally culminate on Feb. 6, as the POWERade Drag Racing Series opens the NHRA season at Pomona Raceway with the 43rd annual K&N Filters Winternationals.
Gene Wilson, 2002 NHRA Rookie of the Year, has teamed up with Larry Morgan and an expanded Larry Morgan Racing operation for this season. The Ohio-based Mopar factory Pro Stock team will be the first to run the Dodge Stratus R/T in competition. The other two-car Mopar factory program features Tennessee's Allen Johnson and three-time POWERade Pro Stock World Champion Darrell Alderman. That team has targeted the historic Gatornationals at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway for its Stratus R/T unveiling.
"I haven't been this pumped in a long time," said Wilson, 30, who made three final-round appearances in the second half of the 2002 season. "We had some strong finishes last year and I want to carry that momentum into the upcoming season. I'm anxious to get underway.
"Larry is just a super guy," Wilson continued. "And that's just one of the reasons why I'm real confident about this upcoming season. Larry's been working on a lot of new things and, combined with the Mopar engineers, we have all the tools to be successful. It's not just been the Mopar aero engineers either, their mechanical engineers have really made a lot of innovations to the Hemi engine and I think a lot of the Mopar fans will be pleased with what's been produced."
Morgan has been busy putting all the pieces in place for his larger operation. As a one-car, Mopar-supported independent last season, Morgan proved his metal by grabbing a national event victory during NHRA's Infineon Raceway tilt in Sonoma, Calif., last August. It was Morgan's first taste of victory lane since 1994.
"I'm very excited about having a two-car team," said Morgan, who has nine NHRA Pro Stock and seven Sportsman category national event victories to his credit. "We're going to learn a lot from both cars and that's our goal -- to step up and do it right. I've never had that opportunity before, so I'm real positive about it.
"It's been pretty hectic," Morgan continued. "Everybody here has been pretty worn out taking trailers over, getting these new cars straightened out and getting my new teammate Gene (Wilson) taken care of. It's been quite a job. We also have a new dyno, so we've been trying to get that straightened out as well. If we do well in Pomona -- it will be a good thing. I would understand if we don't do as well there because we've certainly had a lot of things going on. To be honest with you, if we just get there and make runs -- I'll be happy."
Morgan recently took delivery of the first Jerry Haas-built Stratus body, and has loaded his team with experience and talent. Former (Ron) Krisher Racing wrench Jim Coakley; Jim Yates former crew chief Rich Purty and former Mark Whisnant crew chief James Riker all joined Larry Morgan Racing over the offseason.
"We're really lucky to have these cars ready for Pomona because we've been working day and night, "Morgan stated. "And so have the guys at Haas. I can't say enough for those guys over at Haas, for what they've done. I took a body there about five weeks ago, and I have a car in front of me right now. That's hard to do. We've been lucky. We're going to have two cars. To do that, we're pretty lucky to have a chassis builder that would do that.
"We hired a lot of good, influential people," Morgan added. "We feel that all of us together can make the right moves and do the right things. I think it's going to be good."
Both Alderman and Johnson have been strong in early season testing. Alderman, winner of last season's Gatornationals, recorded a very quick 6.72-second unofficial elapsed time in Bradenton, Fla. And last year's Atlanta Dragway national event Pro Stock winner Johnson recorded an amazing unofficial lap of 205.85 mph during the same testing session. The current national elapsed-time record is 6.750 seconds; while the national-speed record is 204.35 mph, set by a Hemi-powered mount in 2001. Johnson joins the Mopar program after campaigning as an independent Mopar team the past few seasons.
"Bradenton typically has 'mineshaft' conditions during winter testing," said 28-time NHRA national event winner Alderman, referring to the perfect weather and track conditions. "But we were very pleased with what Allen and (engine builder) Roy (Johnson) learned about the Hemi over the offseason. The car feels real comfortable right now, which has me excited at making a run at this championship. I sure would like to win another one before I retire."
Mopar Motorsports Drag Racing Program Manager Brett Fischer spoke about the project coming together.
"We've spent a lot of time perfecting this new Dodge Stratus R/T Pro Stock car," said Fischer, who took over the program at the end of the 2000 NHRA season. "Our Mopar engineers, especially lead Terry DeKoninck have done a tremendous job on this car. The wind tunnel numbers have been outstanding, and I know both teams have found some more horsepower in the Hemi engine over the break. We have the tools to win the championship. Now we have to prove it on track."
As for how the new Stratus looks to the naked eye...
"It's the most awesome looking car that I've ever seen," Morgan said.
It's a whole new ballgame for Mopar this season.