With a dominant performance that included a blistering 8.364 elapsed time in the final round, Steve Comella earned the victory in the Dodge Hemi Challenge held on Friday during the Dodge//SRT U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. Comella drove his vintage ’68 Barracuda to a final round win against Jimmy Daniels, who was gunning for his fifth Hemi Challenge victory in six years.
Comella, a two-time finalist in traditional NHRA Super Stock competition and the runner-up in last year’s Hemi Challenge event, considers this win the highlight of his career.
“At the moment I’m exhausted, but this means a lot,” said Comella, who earned $15,000 for the win along with a special 42.6 pound Hemi cylinder head trophy. “We’ve been chasing this for a while. Last year, kind of felt like a stone in the shoe all year so we decided to kind of put everything into this race. It was a lot of work but here it is.”
Comella, using engines from multi-time Hemi Challenge champion Charlie Westcott, was the low qualifier for the specialty race with an 8.431 elapsed time and stepped up on race day with a pair of 8.3-second runs in his wins against Steve Kent, Bucky Hess, and defending event winner Stephen Yantus. Comella also did just job on the starting line, most notably in the semifinals where he cut a nearly perfect .001 reaction time.
Daniels who won the Hemi Challenge in 2016-19, made a statement early in eliminations when he drove to an 8.380 in his win against veteran Rick Johnson. Daniels also topped former Major League Baseball pitcher Eric Bell, and Jim Pancake to earn a bye into the final round. Daniels’ Dart, prepared by Ray and David Barton, was extremely consistent and never ran slower than 8.41 en route to the final.
Daniels grabbed a four-hundredths lead at the start in his final round race against Comella, but his 8.423 came up short against Comella’s 8.364 at a top speed of 161.17 mph, the best of the event.