Challenger Drag Paks Ready for Battle at the NHRA Gatornationals!

Where did the time go? It seems like it just yesterday when the NHRA racing season concluded and the teams headed back to their shops for some much needed equipment maintenance and personal time. Whether you’re a Pro or Sportsman racer, it’s a long season that comes at the cost of parts failures and fatigued bodies. But once the racecar and trailer get stored for the long winter, the countdown begins for the new season to start and here we are, the dawn of the 2024 NHRA racing season. Instead of heading west to Pomona, California, for the Winternationals, a five-decade tradition that kicked off the season, NHRA switched up the schedule. Now the racing will kick off down in Florida for the 55th annual NHRA Gatornationals at the historic Gainesville Raceway. The unmistakable sounds and smells of burning rubber and screaming engines with permeate over the surrounding counties and that’s just what the crowds of snowbirds who fill the grandstands love while working on their tans and inhaling nitro fumes.

For the Dodge Challenger Mopar® Drag Pak racers competing in the NHRA Flexjet Factory Stock Showdown (FSS) class, they’re also ready to get this season started. Their old adversaries in COPO Camaros and Cobra Jet Mustangs are waiting for them. Like warriors in the arena of drag racing, it’ll come down to the last man or woman standing. This heated battle between Detroit’s automakers harkens back to the early days of Pro Stock and Super Stock. These highly tuned machines retain much of their assembly line sheet metal while using production based engine architectures. Over the past few years, FSS has gained a lot of traction among fans while the racers hone their driving and tuning skills. For 2024, FSS will be contested at ten races spread across the country and the competitors will be working hard chasing the championship. Last year, the FSS class saw seven different drivers win in this heads-up, dog-eat-dog class.

A racer who’s no stranger to the winner’s circle is Ohio resident Mark Pawuk. This Pro Stock veteran came out of retirement a few years ago from the urging of his good friend and drag racing legend Don Schumacher, who passed away back in December of last year. In a fitting tribute to his good friend, Mark had his Challenger Drag Pak painted as a tribute to Schumacher’s historic Barracuda Funny Car that raced to victory at the 1970 NHRA US Nationals. “I asked the family if they would be okay with it and they were, so out of respect to Don, I felt this was a great way to honor a man that made a huge impact in drag racing,” said Mark. Along with the retro look of his Drag Pak, Mark and his team, which includes 2022 FSS World Champ David Barton and longtime racing friends Mark Valerio and Frank Madonia, have been hard at work during the off-season. “We went through the whole car to reduce weight and improve the balance. We had some consistency concerns last year, so we’ve been addressing those issues. Unfortunately, we haven’t had a chance to go test so the Gatornationals will be our first pass of the year,” noted Mark. “I am curious to see how the class shakes out with all the changes, we spent a lot of time over the offseason getting ready and we have a new combination, and I am excited to get the season started. The Gatornationals is one of my favorite races and I always want to do well at this track. We set a new FSS class record two years at the Gators. The competition is so good at the Gatornationals, but this Drag Pak and my team is ready. With the support from son Kyle and daughter Kassandra, along with tuning help from David Barton, we’re looking good.” But racing costs money and lucky for Mark, he’s established some great relationships to help out. “This level of racing would be hard to do without my many sponsors that include Empaco, Mr. Heater/Heat Star, Ohio Cat, along with performance brands like Summit Racing, Diamond Racing, Redline Oil, ARP, Mickey Thompson Tires, VP Racing Fuels, Cometic Gaskets and others.”

Another Drag Pak racer, David Davies, is looking to claim his first win this weekend.  

“The Gatornationals is one of the biggest events of the year and to get the Flexjet Factory Stock Showdown Series started in Florida is huge. There will be packed grandstands all weekend. We have worked on this Dodge Challenger Mopar Drag Pak so much during the off-season, and I am confident we can run with anyone in the class. This class is great because we race against everyone every weekend,” noted Davies. “Last year, we made some big strides with our Drag Pak, but at the end of the year we had to regroup. I feel like this season will be super-competitive for everyone. There are some new tracks we’ll be racing at this year but getting the season started at the Gators is a highlight.”

Along with Pawuk and Davies, fellow Drag Pak racers Raymond Nash and Mike Clark will face the hordes of Chevys and Fords. “We are very motivated to win and race as family and this is the first time competing at the Gatornationals. I must say, it’s kind of surreal being at the Gatornats and the history at this track is awesome. I even took my kids to the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing down the road in Ocala to show them how the sport has progressed over the years, and they really enjoyed it,” said Raymond. “This year, we’ll be running the full NHRA Factory Stock Showdown schedule and will head west to Pomona and Vegas after the Gatornationals. With our recent partnership with Geoff Turk at Blackbird Performance and we’re very excited to see what our car will run. Geoff has a proven track record in developing new parts and making the Drag Paks run even faster!”

Our Drag Pak drivers might be outnumbered, but never outpowered. They’ll be hunting down the competition and hopefully snag the first win of the season. The FSS class will begin qualifying this Friday, March 8, and eliminations will start on Saturday, March 9. You can watch the livestream on and see our Drag Paks in action the first time this year. In the meantime, here’s some of our FSS Drag Paks doing battle at the 2023 NHRA Gatornationals you can check out.