The exterior of the production 2008/2009 Dodge Challenger will be identical to the concept version, according to Chrysler VP and lead designer Tom Tremont. "You're not going to be able to tell the difference," he told the Detroit News. While Tremont's comments likely relate to the exterior of the car, the interior will also get a lot of attention. "We knew if we screwed this up, we would lose a lot of fans," said Alan Barrington, who designed the concept's interior.
Now is when instinct takes over for a real drag racer and when everything that is unnatural about the staging process weeds out rookies like me. But, miraculously, as the yellow lights blink their way down the Christmas tree, I remember the words I've heard a thousand drag racers (including Hakim) repeat about launching: "As soon as the last light turns yellow, wood it."
I do and the Challenger makes a sound so American I almost break into the national anthem inside my helmet. All 510 lb-ft of torque go straight through Goodyear's best and into the heavily treated Las Vegas Strip. There's very little wheel-spin, and like Hakim said, it goes straight as an arrow. The crew at DaimlerChrysler engineering and Mike Pustelny Racing (who did the final assembly) built one hell of a drag car.
But it's over so fast I'm not sure I did anything right. Or anything at all for that matter. I notice the transmission is in 3rd gear as I'm on the return road so apparently I remembered to shift. Hakim is waiting to tell me the news and is visibly relieved to see the Challenger running on all cylinders. The result? An 11.53-second pass at 114 mph.
I'm told when I return to the pits that this pass is a record-setting run — as quick as the car has ever gone. I learn later, through the miracle of data logging, that 1st gear only lasts about one-third of a second and 2nd gear is over before the eighth-mile mark.
I make three more passes in the Challenger, including one early the next morning, with the sun warming the desert track. And it is there, with the lights blinking down the tree, the Challenger's brakes straining against the power of its Hemi V8, and the thousands of Mopars maniacs filling the grandstand, that I find clarity.
My impression of drag racing has been wrong. All wrong. This is cool. And this one-off American muscle car proves it.
Just then the last light turns yellow, so I wood it.