It was a debut that could hardly have been more historic — or perfect. In the inaugural race for the Magneti Marelli Quality Auto Parts Offered by Mopar Dodge Dart, and the first-ever event overall for the new Dodge Dart race car, Allen Johnson drove all the way to victory at the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida, on March 16, 2014. Shortly after his triumph, Johnson went out of his way to praise those from Chrysler Group LLC headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, who helped sow the seeds of his rapid success.
“It’s just amazing what SRT and Mopar engineers have accomplished, working together to develop the new Dodge Dart Pro Stock car,” said Johnson. “To perform like this and capture a win in our very first race, it’s an historic accomplishment. I’ll never forget this one.”
Planning began one year prior to the race introduction, when the green light was given to go forward and produce the new Dodge Dart Pro Stock car and retire the Dodge Avenger, which closed out its run with two championship seasons (2012–2013). The SRT and Mopar brands worked closely every step of the way in bringing the new race machine to life.
“There was a great deal of coordination involved,” says Dale Aldo, Mopar Motorsports Marketing Manager. “SRT and Mopar have enjoyed an excellent relationship over the past several race projects and teamed up on this one to develop a product that was a winner the first time out.
“Each step of the way presented a challenge, including fitting a race vehicle into a production timeline. You need wind tunnel time, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) time, and SRT and Mopar worked together to slot the Dart in for work between production vehicle projects.”
“For all of those steps, you need the right resources,” says Dave Bailey, Senior Manager – SRT Motorsports Engineering. “Once we were given the green light to proceed we quickly assembled the team and began working on it. Time was of essence to create the ground up race car. We utilized all of the talent, experience, suppliers and tools we had available.”
SRT and Mopar engineers kept the sanctioning body, the NHRA, in the loop throughout the process, first notifying the series on the car chosen for the build, and when the race machine was planned to debut. The brands teamed to create conceptual drawings showing the body style, conduct virtual testing, design a virtual race car and produce an initial body mold, all while in constant contact with the NHRA to make sure certain items, such as wheelbase, width and height, passed specific sanctioning body guidelines.
“You have certain hard points that every car must meet, and those are the confines to which the styling and design have to comply,” says Bailey. “At each point, Mopar and SRT engineering would meet with NHRA and review the project. Before we locked into the next step, we made sure to receive series approval.”
During the process, SRT and Mopar also reached out for assistance from others at Chrysler Group. “We leveraged all the strengths across the corporation for this project,” says Aldo. “The project involved SRT, including Mark Trostle and his team from the Product Design Office, Mopar, aerodynamicists and aerodynamic engineers from Scientific Labs. We utilized production technology, production facilities and production resources, drawing them into the process. It was truly a cooperative undertaking.”
After molds were made and the Jerry Haas chassis built, the new Dodge Darts were virtually finished by the time testing was conducted at the state-of-the-art Chrysler Group Wind Tunnel in Chrysler Group headquarters in Auburn Hills.
“We are very comfortable with the correlation between our virtual CFD models and wind tunnel testing for racecars,” shares Bailey. “We basically go right into a production mold with high-level confidence that the wind tunnel will yield the results that we are looking for. We have a very refined process to make this happen, and the people in the program make it happen.”
The race teams also provided input. “Throughout the process, we had close interaction with the teams, the chassis builders and the body designers,” adds Bailey. “We often visited each other, making multiple trips to ensure all was on course and everyone agreed to the timeline.”
SRT’s Bailey attended on-track test sessions in Bradenton, Florida, only two weeks prior to the NHRA Gatornationals debut of Johnson’s Dart, as well as that of his teammate, defending NHRA Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. Aside from the usual changes to gear ratio, springs, clutch and more performed by teams in order to dial in a race car’s overall performance package, zero changes were made to the body.
“The first test we conducted on the Dart, it tested slightly quicker than the outgoing Dodge Avenger Pro Stock car at the same track under similar humidity conditions,” says Bailey. “We felt very comfortable when we got those initial results that the car was there.”
That confidence was borne out at race time, when Johnson motored to his second straight Gatornationals victory in the Dodge Dart’s race debut, and also recorded his fastest career run with a speed of 214.04 mph during qualifying. Coughlin also posted a career best in the speed department at 214.62 mph in the maiden race for his Mopar/JEGS.com Dodge Dart. At the following NHRA event in Las Vegas, Coughlin claimed the No. 1 qualifying spot, giving the new Dodge Dart both a win and a No.1 qualifier in its first two events.
“I love this car,” Coughlin raves. “I immediately felt extremely comfortable in the driver’s seat, the sight lines are better than what we had in the Avenger, and the stability at speed is great.”
“We knew the capabilities were there, but in all honesty sometimes it can take a whole season to set the chassis up on a new body, as we’ve seen with other competitors,” says Bailey. “To earn a win and a pole at the first two events is absolutely remarkable.”
View footage of the new Pro Stock Dodge Dart in the wind tunnel. To see the new Dodge Dart race cars in action at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, North Carolina, April 11-13, visit nhra.com for a schedule of ESPN2 television coverage.