Friend and fellow bracket racer Dwayne Hagle had built my last bracket engine at his recently purchased business, Racing Products in Ocklawaha, Florida, and he was eager to see how his talents would stack up in the IHRA Stock Eliminator arena. The CM emphasis had been on the later-release Chrysler Magnum engines, so I had decided on the 360/300hp Commando version for the car since no one else had run that combo. Helping me was the fact that I am more familiar with the original LA small-block components; I already had many parts on hand; and this engine would put me in the less populated, slower classes of J, K, and L/CM. Moreover, this would also minimize the chance of having to go heads-up against racers with more resources/faster cars. Being the first one with this engine would give me a head start on sorting it out before someone else began working with this combo. Conversely, in the more popular combinations, the racers who super-develop their blueprinted crate engines can run way under the index. This, in turn, gets the attention of the sanctioning body that will adjust the horsepower factor for that package (increase or decrease horsepower for a given engine package based on its performance against other engines in the same class). I was hoping the 300hp Commando would let me temporarily fly under the radar, so to speak.
Now, what class would the Duster fit into once we were ready to go racing? Classes are determined by dividing the published shipping weight of the car by the assigned horsepower of the engine, then adding 170 pounds for the driver to get the "race weight." So the particular weight and horsepower for models and engines must be taken from IHRA published specs. The classification guide states the '74 Duster shipping weight is 3,242 pounds. That number divided by the Commando's 300hp rating equals 10.806 pounds per horsepower, which falls into the 10.50-10.99 weight break for crate motors, "J" class. To get the best number the car can weigh, the minimum weight for J is determined by 10.50 x 300 = 3,150 + 170 = 3,320 pounds race weight.
Next, given the option, I chose to move down one class to "K" (11.00 - 11.49 pounds per horsepower). A little more math: 11 x 300 = 3300 + 170 = 3,470 pounds, and I determined this was the minimum race weight in K. There are other options as well. My A-Body can be redone to reflect other years and models. These cars may be classified with lighter or heavier shipping weights, and make the car legal for additional CM classes. We ran the car in L/CM for a time as well.
The option of racing in different classes allows one to avoid potential heads-up runs with like-classed competitors, particularly if they are faster, and also to move down one class and add the extra weight where it will do the most good for traction. Before getting to the track, it is always best to confirm your class and options with a tech official to avoid confusion and problems.
With the help of friends and the right combination of parts, the Duster was soon running seven to eight tenths under the class index (this is the minimum e.t. for a particular class in order to be competitive; the best cars are often a full second or more quicker than the index) in early '99 testing. Times were 7.70s in the eighth-mile and 12.30s in the quarter-mile. My first national event at Darlington, South Carolina, was rained out and postponed. It wasn't until my third national event in Rockingham, North Carolina, that I won my first round in competition. I went on to be a semifinalist that weekend, then I became the first Mopar crate motor racer to win an IHRA divisional race in Mooresville, North Carolina, the following weekend. At the season-ending Mopar Parts World Finals in Shreveport, Louisiana, I became the first Mopar CM winner, and I finished my '99 "rookie season" Third in the nation while setting several quarter- and eighth-mile records. I again finished very well in 2000, crowded the HSC Division 2 Champ and Fifth in the overall Summit/Earl's Stock division points, and reset some additional records.