As denizens of the NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series conduct two days of testing for next weekend’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, the biggest and baddest drag racing gathering in the USA, remember that there are other important races being contested at Lucas Oil Raceway over Labor Day weekend.
One of those important events is the 18th annual NHRA Dodge HEMI Challenge, which the Dodge brand is title-sponsoring for the first time this year. There are 30 cars set to battle for the $15,000 winner’s purse, a record-tying entry list that comes from 17 states and two foreign countries.
Qualifying and eliminations for the sportsman NHRA Dodge HEMI Challenge are scheduled for August 30-31; NHRA professional Mello Yello teams start their five rounds of qualifying on Friday, the 31st. This year’s Dodge HEMI Challenge event marks the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Super Stock Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracuda, muscle cars which are continually winning races today.
Those making the elimination rounds will battle for the iconic 42.6-pound NHRA Dodge HEMI Challenge trophy, in addition to the lofty $15,000 winner’s purse. The weight of the trophy calls to mind the legendary 426 HEMI engine. Three returning event champs have entered this year’s contest, including two-time reigning titleholder James Daniels in his Dodge Dart, 2015 winner and Plymouth Barracuda racer Lloyd Wofford and inaugural 2001 HEMI Challenge race winner Bucky Hess.
Joining 22-year-old reigning champ Daniels in vying for the 2018 title is last year’s runner-up, New Brunswick, Canada native Wendell Howes, who is one of three Canadian competitors running at the vaunted Indianapolis-area track. Stephen Hebert, the 2016 runner-up, leads five drivers with Louisiana roots, the largest turnout from a single state. There are three Ohio and Pennsylvania competitors on the entry list. A total of 21 Plymouth Barracudas square off against nine Dodge Dart entries.
All of the NHRA Dodge HEMI Challenge competitors will park together in the Lucas Oil Raceway pit area. All drivers in the 16-car eliminations receive cash awards. Prior to the start of Friday eliminations, Dodge has scheduled a parade of entered competitors, while the final round to crown a 2018 champion is scheduled for prime time Friday night, prior to the NHRA nitro qualifying.
The NHRA Dodge HEMI Challenge showcases Super Stock/A-HEMI (SS/AH) NHRA Lucas Oil Sportsman class competitors battling on the quarter-mile in 1968 Mopar “package” cars, all powered by the legendary 426 HEMI engine, nicknamed the “Elephant” for its size and power.
These two models, the Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracuda Super Stockers, are among the earliest and most iconic iterations of the purpose-built vehicles created at and by the factory. They feature distinct race packages and are for use solely on the drag strip. They are precursors to the current-day Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak used in Factory Stock Showdown.