The Mopar brand will highlight its commitment once again to Sportsman racing competition within the NHRA by holding the ever-popular Hemi Challenge for a 14th consecutive season at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis in August. This year’s edition will include a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Gen II 426 Race Hemi as part of Mopar’s yearlong commemoration of the iconic engine.
The Hemi Challenge made its debut on the quarter-mile track at the 2001 edition of the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis and featured '68 Hemi Dodge Darts and Plymouth Barracudas, the classic muscle cars that contributed to the brand’s legendary reputation and success at the dragstrip.
This year’s edition celebrates the 50th anniversary of the iconic second-generation Hemi engine that powers these vehicles with a winner’s award of $15,000, a unique Hemi 50th anniversary Challenge trophy, and a custom Mopar Hemi 50th anniversary winner’s jacket. Every participant in the Mopar-powered Super Stock/Automatic Hemi (SS/AH) class participating in the Hemi Challenge will receive a special Hemi key chain and a limited-edition print of the 50th anniversary Hemi heritage wall display, and drivers of the top 16 cars advancing to the eliminations rounds Friday, Aug. 29, will receive a cash prize payout.
“The legendary 426 Hemi engine was introduced 50 years ago through motorsports and went on to power the classic Mopar muscle cars that still are such a big part of our heritage thanks in part to the passion of our Sportsman competitors and fans,” said Pietro Gorlier, president and CEO of Mopar, Chrysler Group LLC’s service, parts, and customer-care brand. “That passion and heritage comes alive every year with the Hemi Challenge and the NHRA Sportsman drag racers who compete in this annual showcase. This year, we’re excited to celebrate this half-century of the Hemi with the group of racers that are truly the backbone of the sport with their dedication to the brand and drag racing.
“Continuing to support the Hemi Challenge and our Sportsman racers is important to Mopar. A strong contingency program, Sportsman barbecues, the establishment of the Tom Hoover Sportsman Challenge in 2013, and now a 14th edition of the Mopar Hemi Challenge are just a few examples of how much we value their contributions.”
“For years, this has been one of the most competitive race-within-a-race events in the NHRA,” said Tom Compton, NHRA president. “That’s one reason why our fans love it so much; there’s never a clear-cut favorite.”
Among the Mopar Sportsman competitors taking part in the U.S. Nationals, one will be chosen as Mopar’s Top Eliminator in the long-running customized and performance vehicle program that highlights passionate and dedicated Mopar enthusiasts who display unmatched skill in modifying or preserving a classic or modern-day Mopar vehicle. Last year’s winner was the '10 Knox County Driller Mopar Challenger Drag Pak owned by Brent Jones, of Wheatland, Ind. A total of four 2014 Top Eliminator selections will be made from entries at the Carlisle Chrysler Nationals in Carlisle, Pa., and Mopars in the Park in Farmington, Minn., and a final one will be chosen from an online contest with fans voting to determine the winner.
In addition to the Hemi Challenge, Mopar offers Sportsman racers support in the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello and Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series with a grassroots contingency program that provides financial awards for those running specified parts, as well as a Sportsman barbecue.
Mopar also established the Tom Hoover Sportsman Challenge in 2013 and will continue the program through 2014 with a winning driver selected from the Super Stock or Stock classes by amassing the most points behind the wheel of a Chrysler Group vehicle during the season at NHRA races nationwide. Last year’s winner was talented 24-year-old Austin Williams, of Texas, who drives a Stock class '72 Duster.
The 2001 inaugural edition of the Mopar Hemi Challenge was won by Bucky Hess. Previous winners also include Richard Beshore (2002), Jerry Jenkins (2003), and five-time NHRA Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. (2004). Charlie Westcott Jr., of Parma, Mich. has five Hemi Challenge wins, (2005, 2006, 2008, 2011, and 2012), with his father, Charlie Westcott Sr. (2009), Jim Daniels (2010), and defending winner Rick Houser (2007 and 2013) interrupting those victories.
This year’s Hemi Challenge is scheduled to take place Thursday, Aug. 28, and Friday, Aug. 29, during the 60th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, set for Aug. 27-Sept. 1.
Mopar’s commitment to professional motorsports competition was established in the 1950s when a partnership ignited with drag racing pioneer Don Garlits, resulting in the breaking of numerous speed and performance barriers in Hemi-powered vehicles in the next several decades. In 2014, Mopar celebrates the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the Gen II 426 Race Hemi and looks to defend back-to-back NHRA world championship titles in the Pro Stock class and battle for another Funny Car world championship after wins in 2011 and 2012. While Mopar remains involved in a various professional motorsports series, it continues to honor its roots by being a proud supporter of amateur racing in the NHRA with its sponsorship of the Hemi Challenge and Mopar Sportsman Cup.