We saw the 18-wheeler sweep into the fast lane, but didn't expect its right-rear tire to explode as the trucker passed us going 90 mph. The tread carcass flew over us, then pieces of debris were flying everywhere, bouncing off the roof and the windshield. That semi never slowed down, and traffic in front of us was swerving around the rubber "tumbleweeds." Our truck worked the swerve groove with no problem. In fact, during the entire trip, the only place it seemed to feel a little loose was when those wide tires were on uneven surfaces. Crossing road transitions and banked areas at speed on the highway sometimes felt like the truck wasn't firmly planted to the pavement.

We also made one brief, off-road jaunt to try to find a caravaner who had fallen behind; the antilock brakes brought the truck down to a halt quickly and in a straight fashion; while it might not be a mud-runner, this truck had no problem in light, loose gravel (another mountain road). Still, as delivered, the Motorsports Dakota is a pavement machine.

For those of us of a more performance orientation, of course, there are really only two questions: how fast will it go and how does it stack up against the competition? After we gave up on our search for the lost sheep (we met up with him again in Columbus), we tried to make up for lost time. The speedometer goes to 125 mph, but that number was unachievable; when the needle was at an even 100, the fuel shut off and/or the ignition retarded. Now 99 mph was plenty fast, and we thought those special tires may have contributed to the early shutoff. From a standing start, the tires stayed planted and the engine pulled hard through the gears; seat-of-the-pants estimates would be somewhere in the high-15/low-16-second quarter-mile range.

As for comparison testing, we didn't get in any laps at Columbus due to the workload, but had a chance to go head-to-head with a slightly warmed-up 5.9 (360) Dakota R/T in northern Ohio. Starting from a 30-mph roll on a three-count with the transmission in Drive and the pedal buried to the floorboard, the Motorsports version got a slight lead that it never gave up until the fuel shutoff occurred again. The other machine is the personal vehicle of someone who has several years of racing experience, so we were understandably impressed with the 4.7 Magnum's performance. The CAFE mileage rating averages are 14 mpg city/19 mpg highway; due to our, er, unique driving styles, keeping track of the mileage wasn't a priority.

Finally, in terms of general street savvy, we had a chance to take it up on Woodward Avenue near Detroit the week of the Dream Cruise and it drew a modest amount of attention. The blood-red paint (Ram Red Clear Coat) was very visible and well accented by the yellow-lettered Goodyears. We could be proud of this one.

In today's world, trucks are as much a statement as cars are. The Dodge Motorsports edition Dakota offers Dodge buyers a chance to own a machine that's fun to drive, comfortable, and peppy (which is possible with any 4.7 to 5.9 V8 Dakota), with the visible outward signs of Dodge's reborn racing heritage. While a V8, rear-wheel-drive platform passenger car would be the first choice for many of us, the Dodge Motorsports Dakota gets our "Thumbs-up Seal of Approval." Thanks for the lift, guys.