The 11-second lesson in cool 2008 Dodge Challenger Super Stock Concept: low, mean, wide and Hemi powered. By Josh Jacquot, Senior Road Test Editor Date posted: 04-17-2007 "Everdragracebefore?" These words, like everything David Hakim, Mopar's performance parts manager says, come in a direct, rapid-fire burst and make no attempt to hide his obvious concern for what's at stake. In this case, what's at stake is Dodge's 2008 Challenger Super Stock Concept car, which we came here to drag race. "Well, um..." Hakim isn't interested to know that we've driven plenty of cars as fast as this one. Or that just last week we wheeled a $120,000 Porsche for the camera — sideways, even. Nope. None of that matters. Because this Challenger is one of only two in the entire world. Which, as far as we can tell — and certainly as far as DaimlerChrysler is concerned — makes it priceless. Risky business That's right. It's got a Hemi. Well, as much as any modern DaimlerChrysler has a Hemi anyway. The 2008 Challenger Super Stock Concept is the sister car to the orange Challenger Concept which has been on the show circuit for 15 months — the car which inspired DaimlerChrysler to actually produce the Challenger as a 2008 model. And the car which has every Mopar geek worth his pushrods foaming at the mouth. It's justified, too. Both cars are stunning carbon-fiber-bodied examples of how a muscle car should look. They're low, wide, have huge rear haunches and Hemi power. I sheepishly admit that I've never really done any competitive drag racing. I don't mention that this is by design. I've secretly shunned it as a less-than-involving motorsport for those who bang pushrods together for fun and will never fully understand the true pleasure that comes with actually driving a car...around a corner. Mopars at the Strip The modern 392 Hemi crate engine uses a 10.5:1 compression ratio, forged internals and twin-plug heads to generate 525 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque. We've come to the "Mopars at the Strip" show, a three-day homage to all that was and is Mopar, to drive the Challenger on its maiden racing voyage. This show and drag race is a deadly serious collection of expensive Mopar muscle. Everything, and we mean everything, in the Mopar family can be found at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway drag strip this weekend. But we aren't here to browse. We're here to drive. Racing priceless cars is better left to those who have earned it and I don't rank. Hakim knows this and is no less subtle as he segues into a diatribe on burnouts, line lock and shift strategy. But his words fade to insignificance as he walks us over to the Challenger. Sitting in the late afternoon light, it has to be seen in person to be fully appreciated. It looks better than when we saw it at the SEMA show last year. Back then it was wearing the early 1970s red, white and blue Sox and Martin Plymouth Barracuda super stock colors. Now it's flat black. Bad-ass flat black. With a subtle but effective gloss-black stripe down its flanks. The hood, which wears a huge scoop, is sitting on the ground beside the car. On the side of the scoop in white and orange letters are the words "392 Hemi." Chrysler introduced the original 392 Hemi in 1957 to replace the 354-cubic-inch Hemi. Soon thereafter, Don Garlits piloted his 392 Hemi-powered Swamp Rat 1 to more than 180 mph in the quarter-mile without forced induction. He was also the first to break 200 mph in the quarter-mile using the 392. So the Challenger is powered by an engine with a legacy of speed so deep that simply printing "392" on the scoop will make disciples out of most show-goers. Hemi power Hold the line lock and mash the loud pedal — the Challenger is at home in the burnout box. Of course, the Challenger Concept's engine isn't an original 392 Hemi. No sirree, this mill comes straight from the Mopar catalog as a crate engine that's available to the public. And it's serious. There's a cast-iron block with aluminum heads housing two spark plugs per cylinder. A forged crank, rods and pistons give it race-engine credentials. The compression ratio is 10.5:1 and it's available in fuel-injected or carbureted versions. It comes with a complete wiring harness and a programmable engine management computer. The mill in the Challenger is injected and rated at 525 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. According to Brian Falzon, the Mopar engineer on hand, the Challenger's engine has undergone substantial dyno tuning to ensure that its wide-open throttle operation is dialed in perfectly. It's got leaf springs The Challenger's three-speed automatic transmission uses a reverse manual valve body. Upshifts are executed by pulling the shift lever toward the rear of the car. But the engine is just the beginning. This is a dedicated drag car — it's got a Dana 60 rear axle suspended by leaf springs. The LX platform's multilink rear suspension wasn't as effective or as durable as an axle in this application so the Challenger's builders simply did away with it. Plus, the Dana 60 was an option on the original Hemi-powered Challenger in 1970. The 4.56:1 final drive is backed up by a Spicer Power Lock posi-traction differential. The transmission is a TorqueFlite A999 three-speed automatic with a reverse manual valve body. For the uninitiated, that means upshifts are executed manually by pulling the shift lever toward the driver. There's no shortage of high-end race parts. Mark Williams axles fill the Dana 60 housing and the company's four-piston brake calipers and rotors are at all four corners. Height-adjustable coil-overs are installed on the front double-wishbone suspension and set to give the car an aggressive rake. The whole package weighs 3,588 pounds. Mean-looking Goodyear rear slicks sized 29x10.0 are wrapped around 15-inch American Racing Trakstar wheels. Beadlocks ensure they don't slip at low pressure. All this, of course, is to say that there's no reason even a novice drag racer should go slow in this car. Get in, fire it up It's all business inside the Challenger. A large tachometer dominates the instrument panel which is made up of Mopar/Auto Meter gauges. Hakim gives me the rundown on the importance of heating the tires. This requires a big burnout and involves a fairly complex regimen of brake torque, gear selection, engine speed monitoring and line-lock operation. Hey, it's only a priceless prototype so at least there's no pressure. Sure. After Hakim machine-guns instructions about driving the Challenger we move on to the "hands-on" drill. This involves riding around the parking lot as he demonstrates the Challenger's basic controls — neck-snapping throttle bursts included. It's clear he likes this car and doesn't want some journalist who's never drag raced sticking it in the wall or puking its crankshaft out the oil pan. "Does it go straight?" I ask, half expecting to hear a white-knuckle story about wrestling it down the track. Instead, Hakim's answer is simple: "Yup, like an arrow." In fact, he tells me it made an 11.6-second pass at 113 mph just the day before. But driving around a parking lot hardly prepares one for an 11.0-second pass in a multimillion-dollar concept car. "It's easy to drive. Just punch it and pull the shifter back," says Hakim. Yeah, easy, like piloting reentry in the space shuttle after watching it from the comfort of your couch. No problem. Get ready A Dana 60 rear axle with positraction replaces the LX platform's multilink rear suspension. And with that, it's time to race. Or at least make a solo pass which, it turns out, is all we're going to do. Apparently there's no class for priceless one-off concept cars powered by virginal crate engines. Getting in reminds me that this is a racecar. There's a complex roll cage that connects the front and rear shock towers via braces supporting a center hoop, a five-point harness and a series of switches on the dash in place of a traditional key. The starting procedure is cool. Flip on the ignition followed by the fuel pump and cooling fans, then hit the starter. After a few revolutions, the 392 bursts to life. Its high-energy exhaust pulses clearing dust off the tarmac in a 30-foot diameter. It sounds like Garlits himself tuned this thing, all bumpy idle and instant response. Once running it's obvious this is a one-off racecar. The plastic windows rattle in the doors, which themselves are sorely missing any sort of pull handle. The exhaust barks and burbles and stinks in a wonderfully purposeful way and the whole car shifts and shudders with every millimeter of throttle travel. The burnout isn't as easy as Hakim described. I pump the brakes a few times to build line pressure, hold the line-lock button on the shifter and gas it until the rear wheels gain speed. Then the fun begins. I lift off the brake pedal, but keep my thumb on the line-lock button to avoid shooting through the staging area like a Battle of the Imports rookie. I even remember to shift to 2nd during the burnout to keep the engine off the rev limiter. It's a weak burnout but at least I don't send the pistons through the hood. When Hakim gives the signal, I roll forward toward the staging area. Go Brian Falzon, the Mopar engineer on hand, shows the author data from a previous run. We learn later that the Challenger only spends about a third of a second in 1st gear. 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 wheelspin, 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. What's cool A preview of what's in store for the 2009 Challenger SRT-8? 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.