Comella Drives ’68 Cuda to Victory At Dodge HEMI Challenge

The 20th anniversary edition of the Dodge HEMI® Challenge saw a new winner crowned at Lucas Oil Raceway as a determined Steve Comella drove his 1968 Plymouth Barracuda from a runner-up finish in last year’s event to earn his first victory at longest running, continuous, specialty race in National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) history.

Comella earned the victory at the fan-favorite classic muscle car competition from the No. 1 qualifier position with a dominant performance through eliminations to advance to an exciting final where he defeated Jim Daniels Jr., four-time (2016-2019) Dodge HEMI Challenge winner. He drove his iconic Super Stock ’68 Cuda to an elapsed timed (E.T.) run of 8.364 seconds at 161.17 mph to beat his opponent’s 8.423 sec/ 158.02 mph pass under the lights at Lucas Oil Raceway in a late night showdown during the 67th annual Dodge//SRT NHRA U.S. Nationals on Friday.

On his drive to the winner’s circle, Comella battled head-to-head against Steve Kent and inaugural event winner Bucky Hess, and had a semifinal solo run when defending event winner Stephen Yantus III wasn’t able to make the start due to a mechanical issue. In the final against Daniels and his vintage ’68 Dodge Dart, Comella overcame his opponent’s early lead by chasing him down and turning on the win lights with a 0.0202-second margin of victory.

Photo courtesy Dodge/Mopar

Highlights of Comella’s performance through five elimination rounds included a lightning 0.001-second reaction time and a trio of 8.3-second runs, the last of which gave him low E.T. and top speed of the event. His efforts were rewarded with the coveted custom-made 42.6-lb. trophy crafted from a 426 HEMI cylinder head, a $15,000 award, and the immense satisfaction that comes with a first career win.

“At the moment I’m exhausted, but this means a lot,” said Comella, who finished runner-up to Yantus in last year’s edition of the Dodge HEMI Challenge and has previously earned two runner-up finishes in overall NHRA Super Stock competition. “We’ve been chasing this for a while. Last year kind of felt like a stone in the shoe all year, so we decided to really kind of put everything into [this race] this year. It was a lot of work and here it (the trophy) is.”

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While last year’s winner Yantus saw his efforts to defend his title come to an end in the semifinals, his ’68 Barracuda came away from the Dodge//SRT U.S. Nationals as a winner after being presented with NHRA’s special award for “Best Appearing Car”.

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