Legendary Dodge Hemi celebrates 50th anniversary, eyes 2014 championships in NHRA

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Like fine wine, some things just get better with age. And such is the case with Dodge’s legendary Hemi engine, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2014.

Who can forget the highly popular “Got a Hemi?” ad campaign from 2007? If you don’t remember it, or want to be entertained again, watch it below.

While Dodge pulled out of NASCAR after winning the 2012 Sprint Cup championship, the Hemi is still quite popular in street cars (including the Charger and Challenger) and pickup trucks.

The iconic 426 cubic inch Hemi will be a significant player in the National Hot Rod Association’s professional ranks as the drag racing season begins this weekend in Pomona, Calif.

Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Allen Johnson will be flying the Hemi colors after respectively earning back-to-back Pro Stock championships for the Mopar brand in 2012 and 2013.

“We are really jacked up,” said Coughlin, driver of the JEGS.com Mopar Dodge. “We’re ready to start the fight, and for sure it’s going to be a fight, just like every season. We’re looking at the Winternationals as Step 1 of the many steps it will take to win our sixth Pro Stock championship.”

Coughlin’s and Johnson’s cars will be the only Hemi-powered rides in the Pro Stock class, both tuned by master tuner Roy Johnson.

“We’re down to two cars now, so the focus will be even more intense, which should be good all the way around,” Coughlin said. “It’s our job now to go out there and win them a third straight (Hemi-powered Pro Stock) title.”

Added Allen Johnson, who finished second to Coughlin last season, “Mopar is celebrating 50 years of the Hemi and we aim to add some more Wallys (race win trophies) and battle hard for another Championship as our contribution to the festivities. We’re focused and excited and ready to go. Ideally we’ll be shooting to finish 1-2 again but it would be nice to do it in reverse order this time.”

In Funny Car, the Hemi will be looking to pick up where it left off last season, with Matt Hagan and Jack Beckman both back in pursuit of their second career FC championships after finishing second and third, respectively, in 2013.

There will be four Hemi-powered cars in the Funny Car ranks, all owned by the largest and most successful team in drag racing today, Don Schumacher Racing.

“2013 was a great year of us and we finished really strong with a win at Pomona in the end,” said Hagan, who although winning the most races last season (five), fell short of beating John Force, who won his 16th championship. “We won more than anyone in the class, but it’s just the way the cards fell in the Countdown (to the Championship).”

Other Funny Car pilots that will have Hemi power under the hood include Ron Capps, who will be celebrating his 20th season in NHRA’s pro ranks and hopes to finally win his first national championship after finishing runner-up in four prior seasons.

The season will also mark the return to fulltime racing and also driving a Hemi by nine-time national event winner Tommy Johnson Jr., who will replace Johnny Gray, who won four races last season.

Fans will play a big part of the year-long Hemi anniversary, as Dodge will display a historical heritage wall at all national events, telling the five-decade story of the Hemi. There will also be Hemi-branded merchandise to purchase for fans, and gifts to win, as well.

For those who may think the Hemi isn’t as relevant in racing as it was when it first made its celebrated debut in 1964, think again. Four world championship titles in various forms of motorsports have been earned with a Hemi under the hood in the last three years.

For those of you who may be a bit young to remember the earth-shattering noise the Hemi made when it burst upon the racing scene in 1964, it was built to do one thing and one thing only: win races. It didn’t make a difference if it was in stock car racing ranks (using the so-called “Circuit” or “Track” versions) or in drag racing (using the “Acceleration” or “Drag” versions), the Hemi was designed to go faster than its counterparts from General Motors and Ford.

It was fast – and successful – literally right out of the box, winning the 1964 Daytona 500 with Richard Petty behind the wheel, just weeks before legendary “Big Daddy” Don Garlits became the first racer to break the 200-mph drag racing quarter-mile barrier with a Hemi in his Top Fuel dragster (201.34 mph at 7.78 seconds). Garlits would also kick off a run of eight career victories at the Super Bowl of drag racing, the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis that same season.

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Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.