Keeping It On The Track
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"They start selling these cars - it’s going to be less than 30 minutes before there will be major incidents and some fatalities."

 

Responsible. Not Responsible: Marketing the Demon to Create Outlaw Image for Dodge Brand

“With Demon, our goal was to build a car that would tattoo the Dodge logo into the subconscious of the general market, beyond even our loyal enthusiasts” said Tim Kuniskis, Head of Passenger Cars – Dodge, SRT, Chrysler and FIAT, FCA North America.  “To do so, we had to set records that have never been set before, do more than has ever been done before, go beyond even the legendary Hellcat. The result: an 840­horsepower, 9­second muscle car unlike anything that has ever come before it.”  

crashed hellcat5The quote was from a press release issued by Dodge.  If you read other car magazines, you may have noticed that Dodge is running ads with the title “Sorry. Not Sorry” and the tag line “Officially banned by the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association)” to promote the newly released Dodge Challenger Demon and, it seems, to create an outlaw image for the Dodge brand.  The ads also include a letter from Glen Gray, NHRA Vice President for Technical Operations.  Here it is:

To:  FCA US LLC, regarding its Dodge brand

Date:  November 30, 2016

This letter verifies that on Monday, November 21st, 2016 at Gainesville Raceway at Gainesville, Florida, the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon ran the quarter mile in an elapsed time of 9.650 seconds at 140.09 miles per hour.  Both the elapsed time and the speed on this run exceeded the limits on 2008 OEM (Original Equipment Model) model-year and newer production cars and therefore violate our rules.  The car exceeded our limits of 9.99 seconds and 135 miles per hour.  Therefore, before this car can be run again at an NHRA Member Track, it must be brought into compliance with the rules and regulations found in Section 4 of the NHRA Rulebook.  If you have any questions concerning this letter or the rules in Section 4 of the NHRA Rulebook, please contact me.

Sincerely,

Glen Gray

NHRA

Vice President, Technical Operations

We spoke with two law enforcement officers who also happen to have founded organizations to discourage street racing by encouraging people to come out and race with their members at drag strips. 

“Let me tell you some more of my credentials” said Lt. Tom Brown of Beat the Heat.  “I was an NHRA track operator and an NHRA tech guy.  I am retired now.  So, I can answer your questions on that Demon.  I am familiar with the vehicle.”

Continues Brown, “I think a lot of it is for the media hype and the NHRA didn’t say that we banned this car.  What they did was, if a car is under ten seconds it is required to havecrashed hellcat2 certain safety equipment.  Like it’s got to have a roll cage, you have to have a helmet, a fire suit, a window net and a five point harness.  All this fancy gear you are required to have.  It’s like my car.  I have a Camaro that will run 8 second quarter miles and it has to have all that.  Then I have a Mustang that runs tens.  It doesn’t have to have all that equipment.  At any NHRA sanctioned track, they are not banned.  They are just telling people that if you want to run, you have to have all the equipment that is required to go that fast.”

“I know it is a marketing draw,” says Sgt. Scott Graham of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies Motorsports organization.  “They are trying to be like the outlaws with these cars.  Dodge is.  And I get that, but I would hope that people would have enough common sense to use the power appropriately, if I could say that.  As far as NHRA, they didn’t ban it, you just have to have the safety equipment as every other car that can run those speeds.”

Graham continues “All these drag strips are either an NHRA or an IHRA (International Hot Rod Association) track and they all follow the same safety rules even on a test and tune.  If one of these Demons did come there, they would be obligated to stop them from going out until they actually had the right safety equipment in it. It is not only for their safety but for the people they are racing also.  Because my car runs sub-ten seconds, I have to have the NHRA license, a competition license to go that fast.”

The Demon comes with a lot of technology and systems to aid the driver to be as fast as possible in a straight line.  Here are some features mentioned in the Demon press release:

  • Torque Reserve boosts engine air flow and supercharger rpm before launch, delivering wickedly fast acceleration.
  • Drag Mode suspension tuning maximizes weight transfer to the rear wheels for better traction.
  • Drag Mode Launch Assist uses wheel speed sensors to watch for driveline­damaging wheel hop at launch and in milliseconds modifies the engine torque to regain full grip and then continues accelerating the car down the track.

crashed hellcat“That launch control is the part of that car that bugs me” says Graham.  “Most drag cars have trans-brakes, but launch control you are not allowed to have.  I would hope that the NHRA, if they come to the track, would actually find it and be able to make sure it is turned off, but I am concerned about that….  If those Demons did make it into a stock NHRA class, they would obviously have to abide by the rules and they would be inspected first to make sure the launch control is disabled and different things like that.” 

One wonders why a street legal drag car like the Demon would have launch control if it cannot be legally used at a sanctioned drag strip.  Are customers expected to use the launch feature on the street?  Sitting in the cockpit of a car with such launch control capability would certainly tempt drivers to test it out on the streets, left with no other options.  Alongside street poles, uneven pavement and other cars. 

We asked Brown and Graham to weigh in on safety issues and the Demon.  Begins Brown, “For them to hype it like that.  I’ve seen cars hit the wall.  I’ve seen cars turn over.  I’ve seen people killed at the drag strip.  I’ve seen a whole lot more people killed on the road.  With that kind of horsepower, someone is going to get out there and try to use it.  They are just going to do it.  People in new Hellcats are getting into accidents right outside the dealership.  They are not used to that kind of horsepower and the worst case scenario, someone is going to get hurt or somebody is going to get killed.  I guarantee you.  They start selling these cars - it’s going to be less than 30 minutes before there will be major incidents and some fatalities.  An 840 horsepower street car - it just don’t make sense to me.”

“The problem I have is that the people who bought the Hellcats are literally turning in a Honda Civic and driving out and crashing within 15 miles of the dealership,” Says Graham.  “You’ve read all those stories, right?  They are not used to that kind of power.  I believe Dodge is offering a driving school.  I think it should be mandatory for the vehicle, not optional.  They should have to go to a driving school to learn how to drive it.  A lot of people don’t have the discipline to take their car to the track to exercise it.  A lot of people just don’t have that discipline.  They buy a new part on the aftermarket.  The aftermarket parts business is booming.  People want to put stuff on their car to make more power all the time.  A lot of people don’t want to drive a hundred miles to the local track to test it out.  They are going to go out on the street somewhere and they are endangering everybody.” 

“Every fatality I’ve ever worked has come back to haunt me in my dreams,” says Brown.  “If somebody is racing on the street, they can hit a pole or something.  You don’t control all the elements of a situation.  In real life you can get killed.  It effects a whole lot of people.  So take it to the track.”

Problem is, you cannot drive it on a sanctioned drag strip without extensive safety equipment and a competition license.  Even then, you cannot use the paddle shifter actuated launch control, which, according to Dodge “results in thirty percent faster reaction times.”  The up-shot is obvious.  800 plus horsepower cars are going to be launched in uncontrolled settings by people who are unprepared to handle the power.  Neither Dodge nor the NHRA have responded to requests for comments.  Perhaps they are both too busy enjoying the media attention.  Wrongful death claims down the road?  Probably not so much.  The IHRA did respond to a request for comment.  “We welcome all vehicles to IHRA facilities but, all vehicles must meet the minimum safety standards for the elapsed time they run as outlined in the IHRA rulebook.” 

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