In 2009 Chrysler, taking a cue from Ford’s then year-old Mustang Cobra Jet, revealed its Dodge Challenger Drag Pak — an NHRA-approved, factory-built racing machine intended for Stock Eliminator and Super Stock competition. Three years later, Chevrolet joined the fray, delivering the final ingredient in the recipe of a long-awaited return to the factory drag racing wars of yesteryear. But a trifecta of highly-competitive heads-up racing amongst Detroit’s “big three” never fully materialized, as the Cobra Jet and COPO Camaro went toe-to-toe with superior engine packages, while the Drag Pak, with its largely naturally-aspirated engine offerings and even a heavy V-10, were relegated to, for lack of a better term, back-marker status.
But that all changed earlier this year when Mopar made available — and the NHRA guidelines permitted the use of — factory-produced aluminum blocks and cylinder heads to replace the cast iron pieces that shipped in the limited-run 2015 and 2016 year model Drag Pak cars. That option allowed engine builders to push their Gen III Hemi engines into the same performance territory as their Ford and Chevrolet counterparts. Finally, after eight years, Mopar was off to the races.
The Mopar contingent have been steadily chipping away at the performance chasm over the last year, at the same time inching their way into contention in the NHRA’s heads-up Factory Stock Showdown that was largely void of any Chrysler products previously. At The NHRA U.S. Nationals, Decatur, Illinois racer Geoff Turk, a veteran Mopar racer, quietly qualified No. 3 with his 2015 Challenger in a field of 22 — that featured just two Dodge’s.
Last Friday, Turk returned to Indianapolis for the annual Fall Classic and, in the first session of qualifying, cemented Chrysler’s march to the top by recording the quickest Stock Eliminator run in history: an 8.029 at 170.43 mph. Although elated, Turk admits he came for the first “seven” and anything less was going to be a consolation prize.
“It was a good weekend. It wasn’t quite what we were looking for, but we’re going to give it another go this weekend [in St. Louis] and see what we can do. We’ve had the power since the Nationals to run like that, but we’ve just been sorting out how to get it there. After Indy we made some more improvements to it and went out and ran a couple 8.0’s and then we figured we could take a little weight out of it, and coupled with good air, try to get that seven. Unfortunately we didn’t get the good air and we could only take so much weight out of it. I’m a pretty big guy and it’s a big car.”
Turk shifted to Factory Stock/A for the Fall Classic in his effort to get into the sevens, allowing him to remove all of the ballast from the car, down to 3,500 pounds versus 3,550 in Factory Stock Showdown trim. The minimum weight for his combination in FS/A is 3,410, meaning he came in with one arm tied behind his back to begin with.
“Luckily I haven’t gotten the rating [the NHRA’s AFHS factory horsepower rating system, based on vehicle weight and engine] hit yet, so I can run at 3,410. If I could lose about 80 pounds, I could easily go sevens.”
“I didn’t really get after it — it had a pretty conservative tune in it that I knew would get it down the track. It wasn’t really getting after it that hard — no antics or big wheelies or anything.”
Turk acquired the new engine and block from Mopar this summer, and engine builder Tony Bischoff and his crew at BES Racing Engines got to work assembling the record-breaking powerplant, which measures 354 cubic-inches and is topped with a 2.9-liter Whipple supercharger. The power is backed with a TH400 transmission heavily massaged and tweaked by Jason Coan and company at Coan Racing, who Turk says have played a vital role in his success.
“Jason is a world renowned transmission guy and a great racer himself, and he was onboard to build us a transmission. We’ve worn each other out trying different things — I think the transmission has been out of the car 10 times and I’ve probably had nine different torque converters. But the transmission converter package is a big part of the magic.”
“The other thing that really allowed me step up and really play with all of the parameters to tune it to the max switching to the Holley EFI. It’s given me the tuning capability to do all kids of magic when I’ve been behind the eight-ball in power and you have to squeeze everything you can out of it.”
The Challenger, which Turk purchased from Chrysler “about 70 percent complete”, was finished by Mike Roth at MR2 Performance in Lebanon, Indiana and originally campaigned in Super Stock before Dale Aldo at Mopar convinced him to give the Factory Stock Showdown a try. Even with an engine based on that which shipped with the car — essentially a 6.1-liter truck engine — Turk was in the ballpark, running 8.20’s earlier this year in Gainesville.
Bischoff had the new engine complete in time for the U.S. Nationals, and Turk hasn’t looked back since.
As you would expect, being the first in the sevens would have great meaning to Turk, as it would anyone else in Factory Stock Showdown competition.
“It’s a big deal for me. It’s a big deal for all of these people that have poured themselves into making this car run. We’re a pretty small team, it’s just my wife and I when we go to the track. With a two-person crew, and running a Mopar, we look like an underdog, and we’ve been hearing the underdog stuff all year, so it would be nice to prove ourselves at the end of the year.”
It didn’t seem possible a couple short years ago, but a Dodge now sits atop the Stock Eliminator world. And if the weather cooperates this weekend, the brand with so much heritage in class racing just might lay claim to the arenas’ most coveted barrier.