It’s “Happy HEMI® Day” today, 4-26. This is a perfect time for Dodge and Mopar enthusiasts to ready their cars for the 18th annual celebration of the brand’s sponsorship of NHRA’s Dodge HEMI® Challenge at the iconic U.S. Nationals, held on the Lucas Oil Raceway dragstrip outside Indianapolis on August 30-31.
This year’s NHRA Dodge HEMI® Challenge is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Mopar-powered 1968 Super Stock cars, the 1968 Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracuda, most iconic of the Mopar package cars. A $15,000 winner’s purse has been allocated for this brand-specific race, and there will be cash rewards for all 16 drivers who qualify for eliminations in this race-within-a-race on Labor Day weekend.
Dodge planned the announcement on this particular day, April 26, the date celebrated by Dodge and Mopar enthusiasts as HEMI® Day in honor of the historic 426 HEMI® engine that powers the classic Super Stock cars, as well as all current NHRA nitro-powered Funny Car and Top Fuel racers. The Dart and Barracuda were called “package” cars because they were purpose-built for use solely on the drag strip; today’s package car is the Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak.
“The Dodge brand is proud to serve as title sponsor of the NHRA Dodge HEMI® Challenge, an event that spotlights the legacy and power of the 426 HEMI® engine,” said Steve Beam, head of passenger cars, Dodge/SRT, Chrysler and FIAT, FCA North America. “This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracuda Super Stock cars. They debuted in 1968 and are still competing today, which makes our support of this edition of the HEMIi® Challenge extra special.”
In addition to the $15,000 winner’s purse and bragging rights, the victor receives naming on the unique 42.6-pound NHRA Dodge HEMI® Challenge trophy, created as a callout to the 426 engine. “The Dodge HEMI® Challenge is one of the most hotly contested events for our Sportsman racers during the season,” said Brad Gerber, NHRA vice president and chief development officer. “The interest Dodge has in this program is greatly appreciated by the competitors.”
NHRA’s Dodge HEMI® Challenge was initially won by Bucky Hess at Indianapolis in 2001. There have been a total of 10 winners, with two father-son duos claiming victory over the years: Charlie Westcott Jr. has six victories in the Challenge, while his father Charlie Westcott Sr has a single win. Jim Daniels earned bragging rights in 2010 while his son Jimmy Daniels is the defending champ, claiming back-to-back wins in 2016 and 2017 at this event.
Dodge has been a proactive manufacturer in NHRA competition over the years; its Dodge Charger R/T is the race car selected by Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) for the team’s four Funny Car combatants, and Dodge increased sponsorship of Leah Pritchett’s DSR Top Fuel dragster. The brand has a new 4,800-square-foot exhibit in NHRA’s Manufacturers Midway that attracts huge crowds at every national event and has a new, one-stop destination for all Mopar and Dodge drag racing news, Dodge Garage.