The Crazy Fun of Drag Racing a Dodge Charger and Challenger Hellcat

Image: FCA
Image: FCA

Every year at the end of June, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) hosts an incredible event in Detroit that gives journalists a chance to drive all of the company’s vehicles. The brand includes Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler, Ram, and Fiat so it’s a pretty big list. It’s a rare chance to experience every car in the lineup during the course of one day.

It all goes down at Chelsea Proving Grounds in Michigan and this year, they had something special planned for their show-stopping Hellcats.

If you aren’t familiar with these cars, then here’s the lowdown. They are the muscle cars of the Dodge lineup and they bring a ridiculous, insane, stupid, completely unnecessary amount of power to the road. Each has 707 horsepower which is mind-blowing. The first time I had the chance to drive the Charger Hellcat I was admonished to pretend there was an egg under the gas pedal and to try not to break that egg. Why? Because smashing that egg will result in the car turning into a rocket ship on wheels. Not that this is a bad thing.

This time, things were a little different. They did not want us to drive slowly. They did not want us to take it easy. They wanted us to let loose with all 707 horsepower on a section of track reserved just for the Hellcats. It was separate from the rest of the event and required a short bus ride. Once you stepped off the bus, there they were—two Hellcats patiently waiting to blow your mind.

It was all staged like a real drag race complete with that red, yellow, and green light post to let you know when to hit the gas. There are very few times in your life that you can let loose with a car this powerful and this was my big chance. I did not waste the moment.

Now, not being a professional drag racer or professional driver, I have no experience with how one is supposed to drag race. I thought it was just about hitting the pedal hard and steering in a straight line. There were a few people in front of me awaiting their turns and we got to talking about the best way to start.

You’re supposed to left foot brake which is incredibly difficult if you haven’t developed the muscle memory in that foot. It’s sort of like that first time you got behind the wheel of the car with your Dad to learn how to drive and hit the brake so hard at a stop sign the seat belts locked. Come on, I’m not the only one that managed to hard brake and test their Dad’s patience.

It’s like that when you try to left foot brake. You’re also supposed to rev the engine a bit before the light turns green and then snap your foot off the brake and give it gas when the light changes. The guys told me that if I didn’t do it this way, then I’d post a horribly slow and embarrassing time.

Anxiety, much?

I watched a couple of guys give it a go and then it was my turn. There was an experienced driver in the passenger seat on every run so there was someone to guide you at least a little, but the fancy footwork was all up to the driver. I told him about all the advice and he asked me what I wanted to do. “Mash the gas pedal,” I said. “Then you do that,” he said.

Image: Nicole Wakelin
Image: Nicole Wakelin

The light turned green and I mashed that pedal for all it was worth. The engine roared, the tires squealed, and the car took off down the track like that rocket ship I mentioned early. It was glorious. I didn’t even care if I managed a decent time because getting to let loose with all that power was so exhilarating.

Nevertheless, when I got out of the car after the first of what would be many runs, they all asked about my time. Turns out I was right in line with the rest of the group and even better than a few. Score one for letting loose and having fun, technique be damned!

Yesterday I had the chance to drive a Challenger Hellcat up the coast from Massachusetts to Maine. It was a bright green Sublime that you could see a mile away. It was all I could do not to mash that pedal once again when I got to an open stretch of highway. There aren’t a lot of times when you can take advantage of all the car’s power, but oh is a Hellcat worth it for those few moments when you can let it go.

FCA covered my expenses to attend this event.

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