The new Neons debuted at Denver...
The new Neons debuted at Denver (above), and Darrell Alderman reset the speed record to 202.64 one week later (below).
The NHRA Prolong Super Lubricants Nationals in Seattle may be remembered for any number of reasons, but for those of us of the Mopar persuasion, a plan came together beautifully with the 2001 edition. In the final round of Pro Stock action, Dodge teammates Darrell Alderman and Mark Osborne raced for the title, with Osborne earning his first win since becoming one of the Dodge Boys. But there was more. By the end of the day, Alderman reset the speed record (normally the domain of Warren Johnson) to a blistering 202.64 (with a 202.42 backup), while Osborne won the event with a 6.819, the third-quickest time in NHRA Pro Stock history.
So here is today's quiz: What's the slickest car in the history of drag racing? If your answer was anything but "the brand-new, '98 Dodge Neon R/T Pro Stockers," just put your copy of Mopar Muscle back on the shelf and slowly back away; you're obviously not a Mopar fanatic, and if you leave quietly, no one will get hurt.
David Nickens (center) with...
David Nickens (center) with Darrell Alderman and Mark Osborne.
Seriously, although Mopar's "new" '98 two-door Neons had debuted only at the NHRA Mopar Mile-High Nationals in Denver in July, the David Nickens-owned factory team arrived in Seattle the following weekend and in one race went from showing promise to dominating the class. To use another tired but appropriate metaphor, they went through the event reminiscent of how Sherman went through Georgia during the American Civil War. They left nothing but broken dreams and records in their wake at Seattle.
By all counts, the one item that propelled the Dodge factory hot rods from contenders to winners was the long-awaited introduction of the team's new RJ Race Cars' Neons. Indeed, even at this early stage, it's undisputable the aerodynamic, factory-developed Neon body style has finally freed up the Nickens Racing-built Pro Stock "Hemi" engines to perform to their potential. Essentially, it takes less horsepower to push the Neon bodies through the air than it does the wider Avenger bodies; as a result, the engines are able to turn more rpm during a pass, equating to better speeds and elapsed times.
The Seattle race marked the first time since the '95 NHRA Winternationals at Pomona that a pair of Mopars met in the final round of Pro Stock, the first time the brand has held the speed record since 1994, when Alderman ran a then fastest-ever 197.80, and the first victory for the new Pro Stock Hemi mill that debuted at the start of last season (see Mopar Muscle, June 2000).
The long road back to dominance for Mopar Pro Stocks began with the development of that engine combination. When Nickens began the dyno development work on the new powerplant, he realized it didn't make maximum horsepower until the engine was turning beyond 9,500 rpm. Unfortunately, the boxy Avenger (compared to the new Neon) body required so much horsepower to push it down the track and through the air that the new Hemi couldn't spin above 9,500 rpm during a quarter-mile lap. Obviously, the solution was to develop a more aerodynamic body than the Avenger, one that would put less rpm-hurting load on the engine.
After looking at what was available, the engineers at Mopar eventually settled on the Neon. Unfortunately, by the time that was decided, the Neon was available only in a four-door model; the last two-door Neon had rolled off a DaimlerChrysler assembly line in 1998. However, NHRA has a rule that allows bodies up to five model-years old to compete in the Pro Stock class. So in the end, Mopar went with the '98 two-door Neon, which would be legal for NHRA competition until at least 2003.
Once that decision was made, the factory engineers met with Rick Jones of RJ Race Cars in Galesburg, Illinois. Jones' shop has been building Nickens' Pro Stock cars for several years. However, building the new cars was not simply a "let's do this" type of decision. In fact, the project to replace the Avengers started in 1999; to make sure the project was properly conducted, it took Jones and Mopar nearly two years of serious research, development, and manufacturing to get the first Neons to the track.
The new Neon is significantly...
The new Neon is significantly smaller and more aerodynamic than the Avenger. All of the current Dodge Pro Stock racers are planning to make the change to Neon bodies as soon as possible. Larry Morgan's new car came from Don Ness.
The team Nickens assembled...
The team Nickens assembled proved the new Hemi has winning potential.