For most of us, drag racing is a sport of unlimited excess. The stock engine displaces 426 inches? Make that 528 or 600 or 815 if you're racing IHRA Pro Stocks. It burns gasoline? How about nitrous or nitro or, if you really want to live on the edge, a cocktail using a little hydrazine? For Darrell Cox, a former Pro Stock motorcycle mechanic, the move up was just as great, though a little different from what the rest of us might do. Darrell decided what's often referred to as import racing was the wave of the future and began molding his efforts in that direction.
"American heritage versus Japanese competition" was how Darrell described what he wanted to do. The heritage was Chrysler and the vehicle chosen to push back the onslaught of infidels was the Neon. The front-wheel-drive aftermarket grew up with urban roots and the cars were castaway Hondas, Acuras, and their ilk. In the last decade, large strides had been made in getting these cars to really thunder, and although they may look silly with their fat front tires and funky sound systems, the right combination can clean your clock, even you Hemi guys' (at least the stock ones). After checking out what was needed to reclaim the title of king, a '98 Neon was selected to show that good ol' American ingenuity wasn't dead.
Starting with the chassis, the car still resembles what came off the Belvedere assembly line, but now sports a 12-point cage and long traction bars out back to keep the front wheels planted to the pavement. The slicks are up front, 24.5x9.5 M&H low-profile stickies on 13x8 Bogart wheels, while a set of incredibly narrow 15x3 Bogarts out back support 22x4x15 tires. Under acceleration, the traction outfit in the back functions opposite from those found in a rear-wheel-drive drag car; weight transfer is applied to the front of the car to plant those tires and prevent wheelhop.
PhatRidz, formerly known as Speed Needs, supplied much of the body and chassis equipment, including the interior, while Gary Howell's AFX Manufacturing supplied the hood. Afco coilover shocks are under the rear, while the front struts were custom-fabricated for this project. The Neon is built like a rail, with lightened brakes, aluminum suspension parts, a parachute, and more. Gearhart's Body Shop handled the current paint on the car, using DuPont Teal Green as the primary color, accented by lettering and graphics applied by Sign Shop Motorsports. With driver Mike Crawford in the hot seat, the car crosses the scales at only 2,000 pounds.
Under the bonnet, Darrell tried several combinations, but the most recent is the most radical. The factory mill has been replaced by a 16-valve 2.4L engine from a Caravan. This 148-inch beast is far from stock, however. Darrell decked it .030, O-ringed it, then used ARP studs to keep the head on straight. The crank was massaged and micropolished, tipping the scale at only 29 pounds. JE 10.5:1 pistons, Crower rods, and Hastings rings send this puppy up to a screaming 9,600 rpm. But wait, there's more!
Putting the fuel into the cylinders is a set of custom-ground Crane cams and a Dodge aluminum head that has been decked .040 and carefully ported and polished. Then it starts really getting trick. With help from PhatRidz, Darrell's car hosts a high-rpm Turbonetics T3/T4 turbo, custom-routed through special ducting, and a sheetmetal intake. An 80mm Holley throttle body feeds fuel into this and a set of custom headers sends the exhaust through the turbo vanes and into the atmosphere. A Speed Pro (now known as F.A.S.T. for Fuel And Spark Technology, a division of Comp Cams) ECU ignition outfit is used to map fuel curves, boost engine speed, and perform other functions via computer, with the fire chores handled by Crane wires and ignition box coupled to NGK plugs. On the dyno, the little beast made 700 hp, which equates to more than 4 horses per cubic inch. At a mere 20 pounds of boost, the Neon kicked out 480 horses at the tires. The maximum boost is more than 30 pounds.