HOW THE MOPAR® DRAG PAK IS BACK ON TOP
In 2015, Mopar® unveiled the most recent Challenger Drag Pak drag racing car. The car is the latest in a line of drag racing-focused road cars. The original version of it goes back to the 1968 Dodge and Plymouth package cars.
Three years after the unveiling of the latest Drag Pak, a revival in the domestic Big 3 drag race battles has heated up in the NMCA and NHRA. With this increased focus from all three brands, Dodge, Mopar and SRT® have aligned with entrants in the Factory Stock class to further develop the Mopar Drag Pak. It’s a vehicle which, in two iterations, swept the prestigious NHRA U.S. Nationals in August, proving that Drag Pak is, indeed, back.
When it debuted, it was offered with either a supercharged 5.8-liter 354-cubic-inch cast iron HEMI® engine or a 7.0-liter 426-cubic-inch aluminum HEMI engine. When the package was unveiled, the Factory Stock class was firmly planted in the 8.5-second zone. The engine’s power and weight combination was aligned perfectly with the other cars offered from the competing manufacturers. However, the class has evolved and it’s faster than ever before. And with that evolution, Dodge, Mopar and SRT have certainly lived up to the pace of the rest of the class.
If you wanted to be competitive in NMCA or NHRA Factory Stock in 2015, the supercharged 5.8-liter 354-cubic-inch cast iron version was a great option for a team. By 2017, however, the class was now running in the low-8-second range. This may not seem like a lot, but in the world of “door slammer” drag racing, that is something that in most classes takes a decade to get to. Competitors like Geoff Turk, who was campaigning for the Challenger Drag Pak to return, worked with Dodge, Mopar and SRT to ensure that the car would be able to advance in performance as well. It was agreed by all parties to develop an aluminum version of the cast iron block. By the summer of 2017, the hard work paid off as the NMCA and NHRA approved the aluminum block for competition.
After some initial events to get the package tuned up, the results showed that the efforts were worth the work in spades. By October 2017, Turk laid down an 8.029 at Lucas Oil Raceway during the NHRA Stock Eliminator Fall Classic.
In addition to the efforts by Dodge, Mopar and SRT, another “resource” emerged for the Drag Pak Challenger. Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) announced a plan to begin competing with DSR Top Fuel pilot Leah Pritchett in the Factory Stock class. Schumacher, in turn, hired highly regarded Sportsman class driver/tuner Kevin Helms to lead the program. Then came the news that Don Schumacher Motorsports (DSM) would also extend their performance parts business into developing parts for the NHRA Sportsman classes, including a development and support program for the Factory Stock class.
In 2018, Geoff Turk made history in Bradenton, Florida, at the first event of the NMCA calendar. Turk’s 7.996-second pass was the first sub-8-second pass for the class. The finals found Turk facing fellow Challenger Drag Pak competitor Joe Welch. Welch took the first victory at the event.
It took a little bit more time to sort out the NHRA Factory Stock Class. Along with Turk, Welch and Pritchett, a second car for DSR entered with driver Mark Pawuk. Campaigning the NHRA series, the group worked hard to tune the Challenger for the tricky NHRA track prep realities. Unlike the NMCA events, the NHRA has to prep the track for a 1,000-foot Nitro class track along with the traditional 1,320-foot length used by all non-Nitro classes. This means that between the 1,000- and 1,320-foot mark, the track’s grip levels are not as consistent as they are at an NMCA event that has a single 1,320-foot track prep setup.
As the season moved toward the U.S. Nationals, it became clear that the Challenger Drag Pak teams were going to be a threat to win the most prestigious Wally of the season. A 7.98 pass for Leah Pritchett in testing a week before the U.S. Nationals was a glaring reason why. A second hint was the NMCA win for Pawuk that weekend at the event in Norwalk, Ohio, in the Factory Stock class. In the final round of eliminations, Leah Pritchett faced Mark Pawuk. This lockout of the class final ensured a victory for Dodge, Mopar and SRT and for the DSR organization. Pritchett was able to secure the victory in the finals.
The success of the Dodge Challenger Drag Pak in 2018 resulted in a response from the NHRA in the form of a 25-pound weight penalty for the Challenger. Meanwhile, the two other models in the class received a 25-pound weight break. However, with the focus from Dodge, Mopar and SRT, along with the efforts from Geoff Turk, Joe Welch, Kevin Helms, Leah Pritchett and Mark Pawuk, this penalty did not get in the way of the Challenger Drag Pak posting class-leading times and victories. The next NHRA event of the year for the Factory Stock class took place at Gateway Motorsports Park in September. Leah Pritchett qualified her Drag Pak with a 7.936 alongside her teammate Mark Pawuk, who ran an even quicker 7.929, for a 1-2 qualifying. On race day, Leah once again won the event, this time besting Arthur Kohn in the final round.
The 2019 NHRA Factory Stock class will likely continue to be a battle between the Big Three. For now, Dodge, Mopar and SRT have shown their competition that they have the formula to compete for victory.