Now on to Vegas, baby, the halfway point of our 5,000-mile trek in the widebody Dodge Challenger SRT® Hellcat. We were there for the SEMA Show, one of the largest trade shows in the world. It’s a gearhead paradise, as anything with a motor and wheels (from drift cars to rock crawlers and literally everything in between) is on display and modified for performance, or style, or both. Everyone who’s anyone in the hot rod industry is there; and for the last six years, I’ve been lucky enough to be one of the few artists chosen to have my work featured on the SEMA Art Walk. Oh, yeah, did I mention we’d packed my sculptures into the Challenger? So it was myself, Darla, our luggage and the weight of my metal art squeezed into the 2-door Hellcat! With its sport-tuned suspension, the 305 Pirelli P-Zero tires and 707 horsepower, I’d often forget what we had packed in the back of the car. But when we arrived at the convention center and unloaded the art, then made it to our AirBnB and unpacked our luggage, it was suddenly very apparent the widebody was happy to relinquish about a thousand pounds of excess stuff.
Darla also suffers from severe vertigo, the result of a pretty bad accident a few years ago, so I tend to keep things pretty low key when she’s my co-pilot. On a recent trip through the Smoky Mountains in a Jeep® Grand Cherokee SRT, I kind of forgot about her head. Halfway up the Tail of the Dragon, I was blasting through the corners doing my best Rhys Millen impersonation when she looked at me with a pale face and said, “Uh…Josh…you need to pull over.” Therefore, the tail sliding and stop light launches are kept to a minimum with her by my side. Probably for the best as, like I mentioned before, the police tend to keep a close eye on me anyways!
But for my daily commute to and from the show, I had the Hellcat to myself. The new-for-2018 widebody package shapes an entirely different animal from the car it’s based on; while the powerhouse supercharged drivetrain will still smoke the meats on command, it’s now much more than a burnout machine. If you wanna just stick and go or hold the corners, the car is much more accommodating. Taking exit/entrance ramps, merging with the highway flow and passing up slower traffic has a new feel; my confidence in the car’s lateral grip and acceleration is closer to Viper territory than Challenger.
The 20-30 minute drives to and from the convention center were actually some of the highlights of the trip; that and bouncing the booming exhaust off the towering casinos and hotels while cruising the Strip at night. Funny enough, one of those nights, we pulled up alongside a Pagani Huarya, a hypercar worth north of 2 million dollars. Remember I said the widebody broke necks? Even that car’s passenger couldn’t stop staring at our ride (to be fair, I was pretty smitten with the Pagani as well). Outside of Detroit, the world hadn’t really seen many of the new Dodge Challengers with the wide tires and fender flares in the flesh.
One evening after the show, there was a group of teenage boys gathering around the Hellcat as we were walking up towards it. They asked if it was a legit widebody, then if we could stick around a minute so they could pull up their car and truck to get pics next to ours. No problem! The one kid knew his Challengers, as his brother just picked up a ’16 Hellcat the day before. He asked if he could sit in it. Again, no problem!
“Can I take it for a spin?”
That wasn’t happening, but I couldn’t knock the hustle. After it became obvious I wasn’t letting him take off in it, one of the other boys laughed: “He’s not even old enough to drive.” It was pretty cool seeing young fellas enthusiastic about the Challenger. Clearly, this encounter meant something to them, just getting up close and personal with the car. This is the stuff that makes my soul happy.
The SEMA Show was another fantastic time for us. With my Dodge Challenger SRT Demon on its way and this being the third year I’ve embarked on the journey with Dodge and SRT, I wanted to pay homage with my art. Alongside of tig welded tattooed metal Dodge Rhombus and SRT Demon icons, I created a Dodge Challenger SRT Demon sculpture, and this was the first time it was displayed publicly. It’s shown at the start line of a fiery ¼-mile track, wheels lifted and the entire piece is distorted to give a sense of speed. In honor of the SRT Demon program’s mantra, I named it “Nines with Light”, and it proved to be a very popular piece in the Art Walk!
Every year at the end of SEMA, all the show cars line up and exit the convention center in a parade on Friday evening. We pulled the Hellcat in to pack up our sculptures and the display, and the parade was still going by the time we were loaded up and ready to go. So of course we snuck into the lineup! As we drove by the grandstand, the announcer was ready to wrap things up when he saw us. “What’s this, a Hellcat?” I dropped her to neutral and gave the crowd a rev or two. “Jeez, that’s only got like 900 horsepower!” he said sarcastically into his mic. “Looks like that’s the end of the line, thanks everyone for another great year!”
“Did we just end the parade?!” Darla was cracking up. With our jackrabbit-stained, bug-splattered-windshield-wearing, 1,000-lbs-of-sculpture-sporting, 2,500 miles down and 2,500 miles to go Hellcat, we “caboosed” the show, as she aptly put it.
But our adventure was just warming up!