Jimmy Daniels is just one month removed from his 21st birthday but he’s already got two Mopar Hemi Challenge titles to his credit following his latest victory on Friday at Lucas Oil Raceway. Daniels, driving the same Hemi-powered ’68 Dodge Dart, that his father, Jim Sr., drove to the 2010 Hemi Challenge title, successfully defended his 2016 title when he stopped Canadian Wendell Howes in the final round. Daniels made his best run of the weekend in the final with an 8.404, 155.96 to win in a rout after Howes spun the tires and slowed. Engine builder David Barton also drove the Daniels' family Dart to the Hemi Challenge title in 2000.
“I’m pretty happy right now,” said Daniels. “To win one of these is hard, but I had a lot of pressure thinking about trying to win two in a row,” said Daniels, who capped the win with a competitive .013 reaction time in the final. “I knew I had to be good because Wendell has a fast car. I knew we couldn’t afford to cut him any slack. We just worked on our car and picked at it until it ran good. I was pretty happy with that 8.40 in the final. It's cool to think this car has now won this race four times."
The Mopar Hemi Challenge, a staple of the U.S. Nationals for more than 20 years, attracted a field of 16 of the best Hemi-powered 1968 Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracuda factory race cars. in the country. Daniels qualified No. 2 in the field with an 8.501 and then worked his way to the final round with wins against Bucky Hess, Gus Mantas, and Steven Comella. The battle against Comella was one of the best races of the day with Daniels winning on a holeshot, 8.424 to 8.400. The margin of victory at the finish line was just .0072-second.
“I knew it was close but I didn't realize it was that close," Daniels said. "This engine is the same one we ran last year; actually it’s the same one that we used here in 2010 when my dad [Jim Sr.] won this race. It’s been really good to us but it needs to be freshened up now. I'm looking forward to coming back next year to try and make it three in a row. That won't be easy."
Gary Wolkwitz was the low qualifier with an 8.443 and then ran an 8.374, the quickest pass of the weekend, in round one but a foul start ended his day against Jim Pancake’s Dart. There was another major upset when Steven Hebert wounded an engine on his round-one single and could not return for the quarterfinals.
Howes, who resides in New Brunswick, Can., was the No. 3 qualifier with an 8.510. Howes was scheduled to race his son, Mark, in the opening round, but got a single when Mark reportedly hurt an engine. He scored additional wins against Stephen Yantus and former Pro Stock racer Steve Kent to reach the final.