It was far from easy, but Jimmy Daniels somehow managed to extend his win streak to four-straight years in the Dodge Hemi Challenge at Lucas Oil Raceway Indianapolis. Daniel, in his vintage Hemi-powered ’68 Dodge Dart, held off first-time finalist Rich Locker to win the special event and the $15,000 top prize that accompanies it. Daniels is unbeaten in the special event since his debut in 2016 and now has an unblemished 19-0 record in elimination rounds. A staple of the U.S. Nationals for more than a half-century, the Dodge Hemi Challenge features heads-up competition between Hemi-powered Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracuda factory race cars built specifically for NHRA Super Stock competition in 1968.
Daniels, using engines from Ray and David Barton, entered the final holding a significant performance advantage over Locker’s Plymouth Barracuda but most, if not all of that edge evaporated when he spun the tires at the start. Daniels was able to recover and held on for the win with an 8.576 to Locker’s 8.629, one of his best runs of the event.
“I felt like we had a good shot to win this race again because the car did what it was supposed to do,” said Daniels. “Then, we spun the tires in the final and I thought it was all over. It wasn’t until we got to the eighth-mile that I knew I was going to catch him. It was closer than it should have been. Of all four wins, this was the toughest by far. I want this streak to keep going and it gets tougher and tougher every year. I was more nervous than I’ve ever been.”
Daniels, whose father, James is a former Dodge Hemi Challenge winner, entered eliminations as the top qualifier in the 19-car field with an 8.473, 156.66. Following a round one bye run, Daniels topped Doug Fazzolare, Wendell Howes, and past Hemi Challenge winner Jim Pancake to advance to the final. Traditionally, Daniels has been one of the best drivers in the class, especially when it comes to his starting line reaction times but he missed the Tree in the semi’s against Pancake and nearly paid the price for it. Daniels ultimately won the battle, 8.493 to 8.652, but the margin of victory at the finish line was a miniscule six-thousandths of a second.
“We had a couple of rounds where I tried to give it away and that was one of them,” Daniels said. “I just missed it, but luckily we had enough horsepower and the car saved me. Sometimes you need a lucky round and that was one of them. Overall, I was really happy with the car. We thought it might have been able to run a little quicker than it did, but we were still pretty strong. We had a few issues, but nothing major.”
Ohio-based Locker was incredibly consistent with three-straight 8.66-second runs in his elimination round wins against Skip Loeffler, Gary Wolkwitz, and Bucky Hess, who was a tenth quicker, but lost on a holeshot in the quarterfinals. Locker’s performance on the starting line was also admirable with consistent reaction times throughout eliminations.
For Daniels, the latest Dodge Hemi Challenge win comes not only with a $15,000 winner’s check from Dodge, but he’s also earned the SS/AH class title at Indy for the fourth-straight year, and he’s won the specially designed Dodge trophy, that features a cylinder head from a Mopar Hemi Engine.
“We’ve got four cylinder heads now and my dad keeps joking that we should trad a couple in for an engine block,” said Daniels. “Like I said, this race gets harder and harder to win every year and I’m just happy to be here. We’re going to take the car back to Pennsylvania and get it ready for the next race in Reading. That’s a Dodge-sponsored race so that’s a big one. I just want to keep this going.”