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Stephen Yantus III earns his first Dodge Hemi Challenge title

South Carolina’s Stephen Yantus III claims first Hemi Challenge victory at Indy while Jimmy Daniels’ four-year win streak comes to an end.
04 Sep 2020
Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor

For the first time in five years, the Dodge Hemi Challenge has crowned a new champion, and his name is Stephen Yantus III. A trucking company operator from Charleston, S.C., Yantus defeated Steve Comella in the final round of the special event that highlights competition between 1968-model Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracuda factory race cars. In the final round, Yantus got off the starting line first and then shifted his way to an 8.410 to take the title after Comella slowed to an 8.760. With the win, Yantus earned $15,000 and a special 42.6-pound cylinder head trophy from  Dodge.

“This is absolutely huge, I can’t thank everybody enough,” said Yantus. “I really want to thank Charlie Westcott back at Militia Racing Products, he gave us the horsepower to run in the 8.40s all day long. I want to thank my family and all my friends who supported me. This is really great.”

During Thursday’s qualifying, Yantus was the quickest driver in the 15-car field with an 8.477 in his Barracuda, and in eliminations, he ran another string of 8.4s to complete the rout with wins against Russ Campbell and past Hemi Challenge winner Bucky Hess, who broke his Barracuda and was unable to show for the semifinals. Consistent as well as quick, Yantus ran 8.413 on his single run in the semifinals.

Comella, who finished the 2019 season as the four-ranked driver in the NHRA Super Stock class, also enjoyed his best day of Hemi Challenge competition at Indy. Comella had trouble in qualifying on Thursday and didn’t’ get down the track. He was the 15th quickest out of a field of 15 but recovered to wheel his flat black Plymouth to wins against Jim Pancake, Gary Wolkwitz, and former Pros Stock driver Steve Kent, who fouled in the semifinals.

Yantus’ win aside, the biggest news from this year’s event came in round one when Jimmy Daniels suffered his first defeat in Hemi Challenge competition. Daniels, who had won every Hemi Challenge event since his debut in 2016, came into race day as the No. 2 qualifier, but his unbeaten streak ended at 18-rounds when he lost to Joe Teuton, 8.58 to 8.60.