This weekend the NHRA will head to Indianapolis, Indiana for the biggest race of the year, the ‘Big Go’ aka the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA US Nationals and they have decided to continue a fan favorite event, the Dodge HEMI Challenge.
This is the 21st edition of the Challenge, making it the longest running, continuous, specialty race in NHRA history. And you can see why it’s a fan favorite, this event features heads up, wheel standing, side by side racing of the vintage HEMI-powered 1968 Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracuda “package cars” that dominated the NHRA Super Stock (SS/AH) class for over five decades.
This year the NHRA have invited Paul Rossi, renowned Mopar drag racer, engine builder, development engineer, team owner and innovator, to be the grand marshal. This serves as acknowledgement of his contributions in the ’70’s, 80’s and 90’s to the development of the high performance products within the Dodge family. This includes building and driving a 1970 Challenger R/T powered by a 440 Six Pack, which was backed by Direct Connection when the performance brand was launched in 1974, that absolutely dominated the Super Stock class for years.
For his part, Rossi is feeling the love and can’t wait to lead the parade of iconic HEMI muscle cars up the famed Indianapolis return road for this year’s event, “I’m so honored to be called upon as grand marshal. I completely understand the appeal of the Dodge HEMI Challenge. There’s nostalgia there and fans like to see them going fast. It’s just fantastic to have a category that calls these classic muscle cars back out of the garage. I really love that.
“I had an original HEMI ‘Cuda and took it to the Super Stock (SS/AA) 1975 NHRA World Finals (held in Ontario, California), and while I finished runner-up, I was the last standing Mopar and the fastest HEMI in the country. I guess I’m now the face of the Direct Connection old guard. I’m happy to see the brand continue with this new generation of clean performance and happy to have Dodge still value their history with the HEMI Challenge and continue to build their legend at the event. My first US Nationals was in 1963 aboard a brand new Plymouth Ramcharger A/FX (Factory Experimental class like the current Factory Stock Showdown), the first Mopar to enter the class, and coming here to Indy was just the biggest thrill. As a competitor or as a fan, it still has that appeal.”
In addition to his many successes within the NHRA, Rossi was victorious in IMSA, winning multiple championships, and Pike’s Peak endurance races. He will join Direct Connection spokesperson Chuck Spieser for a Q&A session with performance enthusiasts on Saturday, September 3rd at 3:30 pm at the Dodge//SRT and Mopar exhibit in the NHRA’s Manufacturers’ Midway.
This year’s Dodge HEMI Challenge winner will get quite the reward. They will be awarded $15,000 and a custom-made, new look Dodge HEMI Challenge trophy created by Tom Patsis of Cold Hard Art, Brownsburg, Indiana based artist who is a former NHRA welder-fabricator and winner of the 2021 Netflix competition series “Metal Shop Masters.” Tom makes trophies for so many series, his work is genuinely incredible, definitely look him up if you’re not familiar with his work.
There are more than 20 entrants expected to vie for the trophy and bragging rights this year and one of them is defending champ, Steve Comella who had a dominant performance in his HEMI Barracuda, driving from the No. 1 qualifier spot to the winners circle as a follow up to his runner up finish in 2020.
Four time Dodge HEMI Challenge winner Jim Daniels Jr. (2016-2019) is back to compete this year with his vintage HEMI-powered 1968 Dodge Dart after finishing runner up last year to Comella in what was a very close, very exciting final round.
Along with Comella and Daniels Jr. a number of legendary figures will be competing in this race, including Bucky Hess II, winner of the very first Dodge HEMI Challenge (2001), with his ’68 Plymouth Barracuda, Jim Pancake and his ’68 Dodge Dart and Joe Teuton with his ’68 ‘Cuda.
For those interested in watching, the Dodge HEMI Challenge will be steamed live on NHRA.TV. Those with subscriptions can catch qualifying coverage on Thursday, September 1st and elimination rounds on Friday, September 2nd. Parade highlights and final eliminations are expected to be part of the NHRA Camping World Series qualifying show, Sunday, September 4th from 1 to 3 pm ET on FS1.