Things heated up this past weekend at the NMCA All-American National at Summit Motorsports Park located in Norwalk, Ohio. With hundreds of cars competing in numerous classes, the racing was non-stop for three straight days. Among the favorite categories was the Holley EFI Factory Super Cars in which our Challenger Drag Paks go toe-to-toe with the Chevy COPO Camaros and Ford Cobra Jet Mustangs for bragging rights. Even though Mark Pawuk drove his HEMI® engine-powered machine to victory earlier this year at the NMCA Muscle Car Mayhem event down in Bradenton, Florida, it’s been basically a Ford and Chevy show for most of the season – until last Sunday at the NMCA All-American Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio.
AJ Berge drove his Whipple Superchargers, Security Dodge Power Brokers-sponsored Challenger Drag Pak to victory in the Holley EFI Factory Super Cars class. The 47-year-old Bayshore, New York, resident is also a co-crew chief (along with Kevin Helms) on three Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) Challenger Drag Paks driven by Mark Pawuk, David Davies and Warren Walcher, and they were also in competition at Norwalk. This is the first NMCA event win for Berge as a driver, but not the first time he’s visited the winner’s circle at a NMCA race as we mentioned; it was he and Helms that tuned Mark Pawuk’s Drag Pak to victory earlier this year.
“I’m pinching myself. It’s been such a long road to get here and to this level of performance. After purchasing my Drag Pak about a year ago and joining the Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) organization, we’ve learned a great deal as to what these cars want and have made changes,” said Berge. “We did struggle during qualifying this weekend, as we had some chassis set-up problems with the car, and it was fighting us. But, getting more power out of our supercharged HEMI was never a problem for our team. We did well at the NMCA Martin race up in Michigan a few weeks back, as we ended on the pole during one of the qualifying sessions, and because we couldn’t complete the Michigan race due to rain, we had to finished up the eliminations at Norwalk. Prior to this race, we had 35 runs on the engine, so we went home and swapped out the motor, trans and converter, and made wholesale changes before heading to Norwalk. So, we really didn’t have a chance to test prior to coming here (Norwalk). During qualifying, we made corrections to really take advantage of what we’re learning, and the car responded by going faster. It was tough to take out my fellow teammates like Mark (Pawuk) and Warren (Walcher) during eliminations.
“In the final round against Trip Carter’s Cobra Jet Mustang, I was ready,” said Berge. “Luckily, Kevin Helms was able to help coach me when it came to driving and we put our heads together to get our Drag Pak to the finish line ahead of the Cobra Jets that have been dominating all season. We took a big jump in the tune-up that normally we would not have done at a NHRA event, and it worked. In the heat, I was able to run a 7.85 ET for the win, but Tripp (Carter) was next to me with a 7.87 ET!”
Racing his personal Drag Pak serves many purposes for AJ, not just the thrill of running quick times and mind-boggling speeds. “Every run I make on my Drag Pak gives us valuable data. It’s part of my responsibilities to DSR to make sure all the team cars are taken care of. At NHRA events, I don’t race against my teammates in Factory Stock Showdown, I run Comp Eliminator, which is a totally different class, but it still allows me to gather run information for our team cars. In a way, my car is a guinea pig to try different things and if something works, Kevin (Helms) and I look at the data gathered from my car, decipher it, and apply that knowledge and changes to all the DSR Drag Paks. Our goal is to put a DSR car in the winner’s circle every time and with the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA US Nationals coming up, that will be our mission,” noted Berge.
For his efforts, not only did Berge collect a nice trophy and a check, but he also received a $10,000 bonus courtesy of the Dodge//Direct Connection Program that rewards Challenger Drag Pak racers who win in the NHRA Factory Stock Showdown or NMCA Factory Super Cars classes. A nice payday for doing burnouts and putting the competition on the trailer!
Here are more pics of Challenger Drag Paks burning rubber and planting their slicks on Norwalk’s starting line.