Dallas: Mopar preview

Reviving a Drag Racing Legend; Mopar taking huge strides. ENNIS, Texas (Oct. 9, 2002) -- Bob Frey's familiar voice echoed over the Route 66 Raceway speakers. Like always, running down the 16 Pro Stock qualifiers for the Sept. 29, Craftsman 75th...

Reviving a Drag Racing Legend; Mopar taking huge strides.

ENNIS, Texas (Oct. 9, 2002) -- Bob Frey's familiar voice echoed over the Route 66 Raceway speakers. Like always, running down the 16 Pro Stock qualifiers for the Sept. 29, Craftsman 75th Anniversary NHRA Nationals. But what he was saying was not familiar.

"And starting third in the DBP Motorsports Dodge Neon R/T - Greg Stanfield," Frey boomed."The No. 2 qualifier is Allen Johnson with a Dodge Neon R/T; and your No. 1 qualifier for Mopar, Hemi and Dodge is rookie Gene Wilson."

Frey noted that Hemi-powered Dodge Neon R/T's had taken the top-three qualifying positions. Add to that John Geyer's performance in the famous' Motown Missile' Dodge Neon and you have four Hemi-powered vehicles in the top half of the field. Historically speaking, it's a first for Dodge. In July, six Dodge Neon R/T Pro Stockers grabbed one of 16 qualifying positions available at Infineon Raceway (Sonoma, Calif.). Also a first for Dodge.

The winds of change blew through the ranks of Mopar at the beginning of the 2000 NHRA season. Without much fanfare, Darrell Alderman made the first complete pass on the new 500-cubic-inch Pro Stock Hemi engine in the second round of qualifying and posted a 6.990-second elapsed time at 196.87 mph. Not an earth-shattering event, but a starting point nonetheless. Even though Alderman's weekend best pass of 6.952 seconds was not enough to crack into the field, it was the first block in the new Hemi foundation.

"Bringing back the Pro Stock Hemi engine was a big step for us," said Brett Fischer, DaimlerChrysler drag racing program manager."It got us back to our roots, back to why Mopar was so popular in the first place. We owned drag racing. With the new development of the Pro Stock Hemi we wanted to bring back the legendary name and performance. We went from computer screen to a national elapsed-time record in 16 months (Memphis, 2000). That was a pretty stout statement for our company. That legacy is really important to Mopar and to the Chrysler Group. It's something you can't buy with marketing, or just snap your fingers and decide to go out and do it.

"This was built over a long period of time, and it's a jewel for our company to have heritage like that," Fischer continued."We're trying to get back to where we were-- dominating the sport. It's something that our employees are proud of. We haven't been winning here in Pro Stock, and in the fuel classes for quite some time."

The Pro Stock Dodge Neon R/T made it's well-documented debut during the 2001 Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo. Alderman set the tone for that race as he grabbed the fourth-qualifying position and quickest elapsed time of the fourth session. Despite losing in the second round, a seed was planted. The Neon came of age the very next weekend in Seattle as many speed records were broken and the first all-Mopar final since 1995 took place.

"When we started the Neon project, which probably took a little longer than all of us expected, it was done half old school and half new school in terms of engineering technology," Fischer noted." It started out as a hand-modeled piece, which we optimized in the wind tunnel. We kept going back and forth from the full-sized car and developed a pretty slick Pro Stock race car.

"The Neon is what I call a design study," Fischer added."It's not an optimal car. We hadn't built a new Pro Stock car in 10 years, and, in racing, that's an eternity. So there are a lot of things that our internal designers had not kept up on because they hadn't designed a Pro Stock car in so long. Of course, with that being said, things aren't going to be optimized. We really used it (Neon project) as an intermediate step between the Avenger, we used to run, and the Stratus R/T, which we will be running next season. The new Stratus will be a lot more efficient and a lot more optimized for Pro Stock racing than the Neon is. Even though we did a tremendous job with the Neon, when compared to the Avenger, you just can't expect engineers, that haven't been involved in the sport for 10 years, to go out and design a car that's going to be perfect; But it's still not where we want it to be. It has put us on par with the other car manufacturers, but in racing, or at least our philosophy has been, that you want to leap frog the competition every chance that you get."

The Dodge Neon project has had some large measures of success as seen by the addition of new and more competitive Pro Stock teams. Drivers like Allen Johnson, Thomas Lee, Greg Stanfield, John Geyer, Mike Corvo, Jr., and Vinny Barone have all competed with a Dodge Neon R/T and Hemi power this season.

More change is on the way. Mopar engineers have spent the last year and a half developing the next generation of Pro Stock racer. The new Dodge Stratus R/T will be introduced to the public just prior to the season-closing Winternationals at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway, Nov. 7-10.

"What we're doing with the Stratus R/T Pro Stock car is taking it a step further," Fischer said."We're doing it absolutely the correct way for a large company to produce a new race car."

Fischer also talked about what drag racing means to Mopar.

"Drag racing is very important to Mopar," Fischer said."Drag racing is a very unique sport. There are a lot of skill sets involved in going down a quarter mile as quick as possible. It's something you can't find in Winston Cup, truck, road racing or Formula One. There are a lot of areas you can look at that actually help other motorsports because they don't focus on those specific areas. You're basically trying to get a car form point A to point B in the quickest time possible. So when you start breaking it down to its components throughout the car, you're looking at drive line efficiencies, fluid friction, bearing friction, and all of these very small parts that can make a big difference because the field are so close. A couple thousandths of a second can qualify an entire field these days. So if you can find something in the car, some design or area that you thought wasn't optimized, it could mean a hundredth of a second in a quarter mile. It's a huge accomplishment when you find that."


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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Darrell Alderman , Gene Wilson , Greg Stanfield , Allen Johnson