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.

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

Follow@KyleMLavigne