NHRA’s School of Automotive Machinists & Technology Factory Stock Showdown (FSS) Series was intended to be a place where factory muscle cars, built for the track, would have a place to compete, with obvious safety equipment being the biggest change to the cars in question. Open to Detroit’s Big Three hot rods, FSS has, since its inception featured the familiar Chevrolet COPO Camaro, FCA’s Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak and Ford’s venerable Cobra Jet Mustang models.
From the start, it appeared that these factory built, drag strip-only race cars filled NHRA’s need for a class that brings excitement of drag racing to the hobbyist looking for something other than the more expensive Pro Stock category to satisfy their racing needs.
With its popularity, former Pro Stock racers like Allen Johnson and even some big teams got involved, like Don Schumacher Racing, which prepared a Dodge Challenger Drag Pak for Top Fuel standout Leah Pritchett, then hired former Pro Stock whiz Mark Pawuk as her teammate.
As races previous to last weekend’s AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park outside St.Louis FSS showed, Mopar’s Dodge Challenger Drag Pak with its Gen III HEMI engine has become the package to beat. Despite its aerodynamic deficiencies, longer wheelbase, the FCA product appeared to have an edge.
Originally, all three prominent FSS models had a minimum weight of 3,550 pounds; after dominating the Norwalk and Indianapolis races, NHRA went about adding weight to the FCA runners while reducing weight by 25 pounds for both GM and Ford competitors. These three models are “package cars” that the factories build only for competition, maintaining production sheetmetal and basic engine architecture.
Dodge’s domination caused NHRA to step in right before the Gateway race, increasing minimum weight on the Dodge Challenger Drag Pak to 3,575. At the same time, all COPO Camaros and Ford Mustang Cobra Jets with Whipple superchargers went down by 25 pounds to 3,525; Ford Cobra Jet Mustangs with 2.3 Eaton superchargers received a weight reduction to 3,275 from 3,300 pounds.
NHRA was looking for more parity; the result was DSR duo’s complementary runs in the 7-second range and Leah Pritchett’s second consecutive Factory Stock Showdown victory, also the fourth straight class win for a Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak driver. Pritchett’s qualifying run of 7.936 seconds had her second in qualifying when teammate Pawuk upped the ante with his 7.929-second run.
After winning for the second consecutive race Pritchett said: “We carried that momentum from the U.S. Nationals really without a hiccup. We are in a fantastic spot heading in [to the final race], second place in the points. We have a little bit of freshening up to do but overall this has been an incredible weekend of just straight teamwork all the way around. The Mopar power just continues to show through.”
Because this is competition, not a parade, each manufacturer in this class is trying to get an edge, consistently submitting new and revised blocks and cylinder heads that push the definition of “production engine components,” a source close to one factory program told me. And now that the Drag Pak has shown its ability to produce horsepower – despite more frontal area and that weight gain – both GM and Ford are on the bandwagon for more penalties.
It’s doubtful those pleas will be heard before next weekend’s season finale for the class, which takes place at Dallas’ Motorplex the first weekend of October, but you never know. NHRA has been quite good about knee-jerk reactions to a competitor’s success and could inflict more pain on the Dodge runners as the sanctioning body tries to get other manufacturers into the FSS 7-second club.