You have to earn the title of a legend in drag racing — it’s not something that is just given to you by showing up. Twenty-three year-old Jimmy Daniels has earned his legendary status by amassing a 19-0 round record in the Dodge HEMI Challenge on his way to winning four straight titles behind the wheel of his family’s 1968 Dodge Dart. Even with a place in history firmly in place, Daniels has no plans of ending his reign as king of the HEMI Challenge anytime soon.
Daniels’ path to his multiple championships actually began with his father’s interest in the class. Back in 2004, the elder Daniels purchased a Barracuda to race in the SS/AA shootout at the U.S. Nationals. While the car wasn’t as fast as the others in the class, it was a great way to learn and eventually led to an opportunity that would change the Daniels’ racing operation forever.
“At the end of 2006 the opportunity came up to purchase Ray and David Barton’s Dart and dad made an offer. He raced the car starting in 2007 while doing some R&D work that helped take the engines to the next level. At the end of 2015, dad said I could get into the car and I’ve been in it since 2016. The car is a fun ride — it’s fast and great to drive. It really drives almost like a street car. As long as the car leaves the line straight I really don’t have to correct it much going down the track,” Daniels says.
Racing at a high level in the NHRA Super Stock category is extremely difficult and picking up a win on any given Sunday requires a lot of preparation. Winning the HEMI Shootout takes even more since the cars run on the ragged edge. Daniels and his team understand how difficult it is to run one of these cars so they spend more time preparing for events than actually racing.
“We prep all year for the HEMI Shootout. It’s a Super Stock car but it gets treated a like a Pro Stock car more than anything. We don’t race it much during the year and there’s a lot that goes into getting it ready. Ray and David do such a great job with the engine and car setup. We’re fortunate to own the car and I’m lucky enough to drive it,” Daniels explains.
The U.S. Nationals and the 2019 HEMI Challenge is in the rearview mirror, and after some time to let it all sink in, Daniels is still in shock that he won and has become so dominant in a very difficult class.
“To win four straight HEMI Challenges is really unbelievable, to be honest. To win that race, the toughest HEMI shootout there is, it’s something that’s really special. We have gone to other HEMI shootouts before and they really don’t compare. Indy is the Big Go, it’s the race that everybody wants to win at, and winning four of these is just so hard to describe accurately,” Daniels says.
So is Daniels planning to bow out gracefully with his record intact and legendary status solidified? Absolutely not — he and his team are already getting ready for other events this year while coming up with a game plan for the 2020 HEMI Challenge at the U.S. Nationals.
“We’re going to keep plugging away at it trying to go faster. There’s really nothing like class eliminations at Indy for the SS/AH cars and we appreciate everything that Dodge has done to support the shootout. The cars are 51 years old now and it’s great they keep this going. Ray and David are always looking for ways to keep making horsepower, so it keeps things fun for us,” Daniels explains.
Jimmy Daniels might be a young driver but he has a profound understanding of what his accomplishments mean. Winning class at the U.S. Nationals is a highlight in any racer’s career, but doing it four times and in the high-pressure environment of the HEMI Challenge is truly amazing. Can Daniels win a fifth straight? Only time will tell, but you can bet he will be ready when he rolls his Dart into the beams at Lucas Oil Raceway.