Here in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the drag strips are all a fair distance away, over an hour’s drive to find the nearest ¼-mile track to be exact. On this sunny Sunday morning seven years ago, I was making the trek with some fellow Dodge brothers to Rock Falls Raceway in neighboring Wisconsin.
The sun was just beginning to rise as I drove east on I-94 heading to my destination, and it gave me time to think about my one and only goal while at the track: “DON’T BREAK THE CAR.”
The car in question was my 2005 Dodge Magnum R/T, the first of two that I’ve owned. At the time, it had just turned 100,000 miles and was my only source of transportation. I’m not going to say I was a nervous wreck when I finally pulled into the track parking lot, but, boy, was my heart racing! We were queued for the track to officially open, and once the gates swung wide, we headed to our pits, so the other guys could prep their cars.
Prep for most of the crew usually involved just throwing drag radials on the rear and possibly some skinny wheels/tires for the front. Me being the rookie, I didn’t have drag radials, or even grippy summer tires. I was riding on some run-of-the-mill all-seasons.
I decided it would be best to first watch some of my friends make passes before I had to stare down the tree. After about 45 minutes of taking pictures and chatting with other friends and complete strangers, I finally got the courage to do it.
I went to the rental booth and picked out a helmet, then made the slow walk back to my car. The nerves were getting the better of me, but I plowed forward. During the drive to the staging lanes, I was trying to convince myself that I knew what I was doing and I was going to blast down that strip without issues. As I approached the water box, a track worker asked if I had drag radials, when I informed him I did not, he guided around the water box to skip the burnout.
What!? Skip the burnout!? All of the other guys were doing these massive burnouts and it looked like an absolute blast – I had to partake! I shut off traction control, lightly held the brake and then floored the gas pedal. Being on water, there was nearly no resistance and my RPMs jumped up quick. So quick, the transmission disengaged completely. I couldn’t go forward, couldn’t go backwards. I thought to myself “You idiot, you just wrecked your transmission, 100 miles from home, and on a Sunday!” All I could think of was the tow bill back home, the repair bill waiting for me on Monday and the “I told you so!” stare from my very loving wife.
I had to be pushed backwards out of the lineup and while sitting there, I had plenty of time to think of how I hurt my baby. I also had time to think about all of my friends laughing at me for messing up so badly before I even got to the tree! I was just hoping that none of them were filming (and they were not, thankfully).
As I was saying my apologies to the car, I thought about shutting it off and seeing if it would magically come back to life. So I put the car in park, shut it off and turned it back on. The 5.7 HEMI® engine roared back to life like it always did and when I put the car in drive, it moved!
It was in that moment that morning that I learned first-hand about the built-in protection that Dodge put into the transmission, affectionately called Limp Mode. This mode is to protect the transmission from damage and is one of the reasons the NAG1 transmissions are so reliable and beloved.
Now, a wiser man would have called that good enough and went home. Not me, I was more determined than ever to at least make one successful pass down the track. I looped around and got back into the staging line. This time, I was going to get it right.
When it was my turn, I drove around the water box, and didn’t do any burnouts. I got staged correctly and anxiously waited for the light to go green. It felt like an eternity waiting to go.
The light turned green and I mashed on the go pedal like there was no tomorrow. There was a lot of tire spin, but I finally started moving; going faster and faster heading towards the timing boards. There have been plenty of times I’ve driven that fast, but there’s something about being on a racetrack that makes it feel that much faster.
As I finished my run and drove around, I was filled with adrenaline. That was the most fun I had behind the wheel up to that point. I skipped the pits and went straight to the staging lanes for another pass. I corrected the wheel spin, but was still struggling with reaction time. Drag racing really is an art form, and I appreciated it much more after my day at Rock Falls.
It’s been many years since this eventful day, but if memory serves me right, I broke into the 14s and I called that a win for my first attempt at drag racing. That Magnum continued to serve me well and was a very solid car that I only sold to buy a brand new 2013 Charger R/T in the spring of 2013.
The moral of the story is this: Listen to the track guys; they know what they’re talking about!