On a weekend when he was admittedly not on top of his game as a driver, Charlie Westcott Jr. reaffirmed his unofficial title as the king of the SS/AH class by claiming his fifth career Mopar Hemi Challenge title on Friday night at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Westcott got a late start, but drove his War Fish Barracuda to an 8.39 in the final to hold off 2010 Hemi Challenge champ Jim Daniels, who surrendered the lead when he spun the tires and fell off the pace to an 8.48. The difference between the two drivers was just .019-second at the finish line.
“My lights have been terrible all weekend but here we are,” said Westcott, who also won Hemi Challenge titles in 2005, 2006, 2008, and 2011. “Thankfully, we had the power to get by because I wasn’t sharp at all. In the final I knew I was late but we made a good run. The track was a little better than it had been and in the semi’s my car bogged. I turned up the starting line rpm and loosened up the clutch and it did a huge wheelstand. When it landed, I knew he was ahead of me but I just kept going. When we got to the finish line I saw the 8.39 on the scoreboard but I didn’t see the win light. I wasn’t completely sure until they told me I’d won. It was a big relief.”
Westcott, who also builds engines for many SS/AH competitors, was the low qualifier in the 23-car field of vintage 1968 Dodge and Plymouth factory race cars with an 8.38 while Daniels was second-quickest with an 8.45. In eliminations, Westcott used a string of 8.4-second runs to defeat former Hemi Challenge champs David Barton and Rick Houser. In the semifinals, Westcott also gave up a big lead against Tyler Hard’s Hard Attack Barracuda, 8.43 to 8.50, in another race decided by a hundredth of a second.
“I had the best car all week but my lights sucked,” said Westcott. “It was the same deal in the semi’s. I was late and was lucky to get by. I was pulling on him. We run the same mph but my car is a little better in the middle of the track. It sure kept it interesting. I might have had the best car but this wasn’t easy. I raced all good cars. Barton, Houser, and Hard all ran in the 8.4s so I didn’t take any of them lightly.”
Westcott rarely shows much emotion, even after a victory, but he was quick to dedicate his latest win to his mother-in-law, Cheryl Crist, who passed away recently.
“Winning is great but I really wish my wife, Missy, was here with us,” said Westcott. “I want her to know that I’m thinking about her and I want to dedicate this win to her mother.”
Keeping with tradition, there were several upsets during eliminations including a round one loss by Westcott’s father, former Hemi Challenge champion Charlie Sr., who was beaten by newcomer Gus Manyos on a big holeshot, 9.65 to 9.54. Pre-race favorite David Barton also fell early when he lost to Westcott Jr.
Charlie Westcott Jr., near lane, won his fifth Mopar Hemi Challenge title when he defeated Jim Daniels in the final round, 8.39 to 8.48.
Daniels earned a spot in his second Mopar Hemi Challenge final when he drove past Lloyd Wofford, Jim Pancake, and Steve Comella, running consistently in the high 8.4-second zone. Well aware that he’d left first, it was hard for Daniels to hide his frustration after Westcott slipped the noose in the final.
“I Tree’d the [expletive] out of him, and then I spun the tires,” said Daniels. “I had him and it got away from me. My car was good, it just wasn’t good enough.”