Mopar’s 15th anniversary HEMI® Challenge at Indy was it’s most international version yet…..
The 15th anniversary edition of the Mopar HEMI® Challenge held during the 61st annual NHRA Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals saw a new winner crowned, American Lloyd Wofford, from within the 22 classic 1968 Plymouth Barracudas and Dodge Darts that were entered.
The final round featured both first-time finalists as well as a USA versus Canada confrontation when Wofford of Jonesboro, Arkansas, and Gus Mantas of Toronto, Ontario staged up their Mopar-powered Super Stock/Automatic-HEMI (SS/AH) class vehicles for the coveted annual trophey.
The two classic Mopar machines didn’t quite get the opportunity to battle it out as they had hoped however when a red-light start by Mantas gave Wofford’s 1968 Plymouth Barracuda an instant win and his first Mopar HEMI Challenge victory.
“It just goes beyond explanation because we’ve worked so hard – six years, and we finally made it,” said Wofford, who purchased and began to prepare his ‘Cuda for competition in 2009. “I’ve got one of the best crews in the world. I don’t think I would be any more elated and excited if I won the Super Stock eliminator. This to me is the pinnacle, to win the Mopar HEMI Challenge, and in its 15th year. I just love a HEMI car – best car ever.”
On his drive to the winner’s circle, Wofford and his ‘68 Barracuda defeated Fred Henson (Dart), Jim Pancake (Dart), pole sitter Gary Wolkwitz (Dart) and another Canadian Mark Howes (Dart) before staging next to Mantas for the final elimination showdown.
In the final elimination, Wofford posted winning elapsed time pass at 8.621-seconds and 152.62 miles per hour to make it official.
“We were prepared for the final last night, and then the rain came down. This morning I woke up at 5 a.m., wide awake. The anticipation – the clock was just crawling. I was probably as nervous as I’ve ever been in my life. I’m thinking, ‘Please don’t do anything stupid, drive the car and do what you know how to do.’ My wife (Linda) was a great help. She told me to take a deep breath and do your job. I got up, staged the car and did my job. And now we’re here.”
With the coveted victory, Wofford received a $15,000 winner’s prize, a unique HEMI Challenge trophy weighing 42.6 lbs., and a custom Mopar HEMI Challenge winner’s jacket.
“This is what started Pro Stock,” added Wofford in appreciation for the classic muscle cars that contributed to the Mopar brand’s legendary reputation and success at the drag strip. “When people in the crowd see these 1968 ‘Cudas and 1968 Dodge Darts, it takes them back to 1968 and to racers like Dick Landy, Ronnie Sox, Herb McCandless, you just name them on and on, the HEMI guys that started Pro Stock. And that’s what this is all about.
“I want to thank Mopar for putting on the HEMI Challenge, and thank Tom Hoover for building such a great engine, and God be with him,” said Wofford of Tom Hoover, father of the 426 HEMI engine that powers the HEMI Challenge cars, who passed away earlier this year. “It means so much to the racers. I think Mopar probably supports the Sportsman racers more than anybody, and that really helps.”
Mantas’ journey to his runner-up finish began by advancing past the first round to battle Ken Warburton (Barracuda) and Jim Daniels (Dart), then benefited from a bye in the semifinals before fouling-out in the final with a -0.216 second red light. He received a $1,500 check for his efforts.
“It’s been great and it’s been a rush,” said Mantas, who had qualified 5th with a 8.638 secs. “We thrashed hard. It’s not easy, I’ll tell you that. That track has been a variable continuously with the weather, and it’s been a tuning challenge. But it’s been great. This is our fourth Indy (Mopar HEMI Challenge) and we’re coming along, considering that we’re independents. We’re doing it on a budget, we work hard and our motor runs strong.
With two of the three remaining cars going in the semi final round being from Canada – that was a first for the progressive annual event and came one year after New Brunswick’s Wendall Howes placed runner-up to Charlie Wescott Jr. at the 2014 race.
Instead of Wendall, it was his son Mark, driving the Howes Racing Dart, who was a late round attendee at this event.
“We wanted to build on my Dad’s runner-up finish last year,” said Mark Howes. “We had the car stepped up and running well in the very poor air (4000 ft). We gave it our best go racing Lloyd in the semi-final round — but came up a bit short. But I think we represented ourselves very well again — we were only one win away from the money round.”
Mark Howes who had qualified #11, had beaten Willie Sheppard, Steve Kent and Stephan Hebert in earlier competition.
The inaugural Mopar HEMI Challenge was won by Bucky Hess (2001), followed by drivers Richard Beshore (2002), Jerry Jenkins (2003), and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (2004). The driver with the most HEMI Challenge trophies is Charlie Westcott Jr., of Parma, Michigan, who has earned six career wins, (2005, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2014) with his father, Charlie Westcott Sr. (2009), Jim Daniels (2010) and Rick Houser (2007 and 2013) interrupting those victories with their own trips to the winner’s circle.
Every Mopar-powered SS/AH class competitor participating in this year’s Mopar HEMI Challenge received a 15th anniversary event hat, commemorative poster and participant decals to display on their vehicle. Cash prizes were also awarded to the top-16 qualified cars that advance to the elimination rounds.
Posted with files by Pat Caporali and Bruce Biegler
Bruce Biegler Photos