For many of us, the sound of a pair of mid-60’s Chrysler Hemi’s is music and these rare, high dollar racecars always put on a killer show with twenty-six of them towing into Indy for the 60th US Nationals Mopar HEMI Challenge.
After a one-year hiatus, Charlie Westcott Jr. returned to a place that has become his second home, the winner’s circle at the legendary NHRA U.S. Nationals. Westcott Jr. raced his camouflaged 1968 “War Fish” Plymouth Barracuda to the final-round win at the 14th Annual Mopar HEMI Challenge on Friday, defeating Wendell Howes to claim his third victory in four years and sixth win in the last ten years at Indy with a very close 8.55 to 8.66 margin. “I was in trouble early on, but I think I caught him in 4th gear,” said Westcott. “If my car is ahead when I hit 4th gear, they’re done. I actually thought I was driving pretty good today, but I missed it in the final. I use a blinder, and when it gets dark, it’s hard to see the Tree. I definitely got lucky.”
Normally, Wescott Jr’s Cuda is the quickest car in the Hemi Challenge events. This time, things were different as he qualified 6th in the field of 26 with a 8.562, which was well behind the pace of low qualifier Rick Houser (shown). Southern Californian Houser, the defending event winner, drove his Westott-powered Barracuda to a strong 8.501 elapsed time at 158.95 mph for #1.
Westcott Jr. took out Fred Henson (shown), Stephen Comella, Joe Teuton and Steve Kent before meeting Howes.
Howes trailered Russ Campbell, Larry Perkins, Bucky Hess (shown) and Charlie Westcott Sr. on his way to the final. Howes was lightning-quick off the starting tree with a .005 reaction time, but Westcott Jr. had enough power in his Mopar 426 HEMI to reel in his opponent. His 8.557-elapsed time at 157.28 mph edged out Howes’ 8.669/154.05 for a narrow triumph.
“This win in a way was bigger than the others because we didn’t come in with the performance advantage we typically have,” said Westcott Jr., whose father Charlie Westcott Sr.(shown) also won the Mopar HEMI Challenge event at Indy in 2009. “I had been fighting some kind of gremlin all weekend in my car. I never could get it right, but the final round was a little better. We got the job done, and that’s all that matters. We’ve won this thing six times, and seven if you count my dad. It’s always a good event for us.”
#12 Qualifier Larry Perkins 8.665/154.26
The Mopar HEMI Challenge debuted at the 2001 U.S. Nationals featuring the awesome 1968 HEMI Dodge Darts and Plymouth Barracudas, the classic muscle cars that contributed to the brand’s legendary reputation and success at the drag strip, engaged in a quarter-mile battle. This year competitors battled for a $15,000 first place award, the special 50th anniversary 426 HEMI Challenge trophy weighing in at 42.6 pounds, and newly added prize, a custom Mopar winner’s jacket.
“It’s great that Mopar supports this class,” said Westcott Jr. “People really appreciate Mopar putting up the money and also coming out here to support the event. This is one of the biggest fields (26 cars) we have had in years.”
The 42.6-pound Mopar HEMI Challenge trophy served as added incentive for the Parma, Michigan, native. “I like that trophy a lot,” said Westcott Jr. “I told my wife, ‘We need to get that.’ And we did.”
Quick 16 Qualifiers for the 14th Annual Mopar HEMI Challenge
#1 Rick Houser 8.501/158.95
#2 Joe Teuton 8.543/157.32
#3 Gary Wolkwitz 8.546/156.10
#4 Steven Kent 8.557/156.55
#5 Charlie Wescott Jr. 8.562/157.83
#6 Wendell Howes 8.582/155.58
#7 Jim Daniels 8.599/154.46
#8 Bucky Hess 8.610/154.94
#9 Charlie Wescott Sr. 8.614/158.90
#10 Jim Pancake 8.621/154.78
#11 Steve Comella 8.628/153.54
#12 Larry Perkins 8.665/154.26
#13 Gus Mantas 8.676/153.63 (shown)
#14 Mike Booker 8.678/154.76
#15 David Barton 8.730/155.40
#16 Russ Campbell 8.812/152.80