In this regard, the Neon R/T Pro Stock is one of the first real "factory hot rods" to come out of Detroit in 30 years or so; not since the specialized A-Bodies of the early '70s has a vehicle had this type of factory engineering behind it. Dodge now has a purpose-built engine developed by the factory just for Pro Stock use and a body specially modified for Pro Stock racing as well. DaimlerChrysler Aero-Thermal Development Engineer Terry DeKoninck talked about the unusual factory involvement in this project.

"Usually, the factory engineers get a hold of the car only after it's been completed and is pretty close to finished," said DeKoninck. "On this project, we were brought in very early in the process. We essentially took over and directed it. We made a lot of changes from the original mold and plug, and it came out pretty well."

The "we" in the equation includes Jones, who spearheaded the construction effort. The Neon body created for Pro Stock racing was carefully scrutinized, then constructed with the primary focus on the effect of air over the body.

"I've been to the Lockheed wind tunnel in Georgia many times working on the aerodynamics of this car," said Jones. "The fact is, the body was built first, then we built a chassis to fit underneath the body; it's a very slick piece."

As predicted, the Neon is more aerodynamic than the Avenger. The reduction of the frontal area, which is the width and height of the car, plays a role in the aerodynamics. This alone is very critical, but according to DeKoninck, the way the air flows over the body also allows it to develop more downforce, keeping it closer to the ground as it moves down track on a run. Finally, with the standardized rules that have taken place in Pro Stock, the cars have a slightly longer wheelbase and equalized nose lengths with the competing brands. Taken in whole, team owner David Nickens believes the body could be worth as much as 30-40 hp now that the engines can get up into the higher rpm ranges. Pro Stock is a class where 5 hp is a big deal; if Nickens can achieve the additional level of performance he's talking about, everyone from Warren Johnson on down will be playing second fiddle to Dodge from this point on; that was the idea in Brett Fischer's playbook.

"We're looking forward to having a body that's as good-if not a little bit better according to the data we have-as what GM has," said Fischer, Dodge Drag Racing's program manager, before the car's debut. "We're going to try to walk away from the GM guys. We were right with them in our old bodies and we'll obviously pick up with the new ones. We can beat those guys...."

Mark Osborne agrees. He has the benefit of having owned and driven Pro Stock cars using GM bodies, and the newest Dodge driver knew the Neon R/T would have star potential right off the bat.

"I was very impressed with all of the body lines," said Osborne. "The fenders, taillights, and windows are really tucked in tight. We should run some real good speeds and elapsed times with the new Neon."

Now, with only two races complete as of this writing, the happy days of Mopar racing in Pro Stock may indeed be here again. From Sox and Martin's earliest efforts to Bob Glidden's Arrow to Alderman's dominance of the early '90s, the heritage is there and these new cars have already begun to put the Dodge name in lights again-Neon lights.