Mopar racers: Are they just built different?

By J.A. Ackley
Dec 1, 2023 | Dodge, SCCA, SCCA Time Trials Nationals, NCM Motorsports Park, Dodge Challenger, mopar, Hellcat, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Dodge Durango | Posted in Features | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Tradd Slayton/Racing for ALS

Those who proudly drive vehicles with the Mopar M seem to march to the beat of their own drummer. Want an example? How about three race cars from the SCCA Time Trials Nationals at NCM Motorsports Park?

[Track records fall at the SCCA Time Trials Nationals]

A virtually bone-stock, non-turbo Chrysler PT Cruiser.

A Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat.

A 1970 Dodge Challenger body on a Viper chassis with a Hellcat engine.

Okay, what’s the deal here with these Mopar guys?

We’re just better driving, better looking, overall cooler people,” says Robert Ellsworth, owner of the Challenger. “When we roll into the paddock, everyone’s just wishing they brought a Dodge. We just ooze cool.”

Mopar owners may not possess much humility, but a Mopar fan doesn’t just love their own car–they love other Mopars, too.

That’s sweet,” Robert says of the PT Cruiser. “That’s an excellent piece of engineering right there. I don’t think anyone can hate on the PT Cruiser for what it is–it’s a good little car.”

Flower Power: Chrysler PT Cruiser

Photo by Tradd Slayton/Racing for ALS

Alan Lani wanted to go racing at the SCCA Time Trials Nats, so he borrowed his girlfriend Layla’s PT Cruiser. If you’re thinking he had a more typical time trials car in the works, think again: It was another PT Cruiser.

“If you remember when these came out, they were the hottest thing going,” Alan says. “Then, kind of like Nickelback, they got overplayed and overexposed. Then it became something that was very easy to hate on.”

The hate for PT Cruisers didn’t deter Alan, obviously. He installed a few go-fast parts on the car Layla uses for her gardening business. That included urethane bushings, KYB struts, Hawk brakes and Kumho tires. Other than that, and a few stickers, the car’s just like what Layla uses, including remnants of potting soil in the trunk.

Alan Lani. Photo by J.A. Ackley.

“Layla’s totally down with it,” says Alan. “That comes with a little disclaimer. I asked her, ‘Aren’t you afraid if something happens to it?’ Her response was, ‘Well, you’re leaving your F-150 with me while you’re gone. You get your truck back when I get my car back.’”

Hey, it’s just a Ford, Alan. However, did Layla’s PT Cruiser survive the Time Trials Nationals? Yes. Was it fast? No. Far from it. It timed last, with a 2:58.492 lap.

“The automatic transmission is a problem, so it doesn’t have detents, so you can even manually shift,” Alan says. “This particular car has drum brakes in the back, but it’s Hawk blues up front on SRT4 calipers. I’ve got like 90% of the brake bias in the front. The problem with that is that as you push the car harder and brake harder and later, it upsets the rear end more–it starts to unload that rear axle.”

Alan hasn’t raced Mopars exclusively, but he encourages people to drive slow, unconventional race cars such as the PT Cruiser.

“It really pushes you as a driver to figure things out,” says Alan. “I can’t lean on power. I can’t lean on performance. Any gains have to come from me.”

One Lap and One Fast Lap: Dodge Durango

Photo by Tradd Slayton/Racing for ALS

What drives one to track a Dodge Durango? Today’s BMW M3.

“We’ve been running BMWs for a long time and when the new M3 came out, the design was just horrible,” says Alex Shchipkov, who co-drives the car with Eric Campbell.

“Dodge announced the SRT Hellcat in 2021, and said it was only going to be one year, so I figured I’d get one. I was at a wedding with a guy who does One Lap, and started talking about One Lap, so I got one with no options. Pretty much rode back from the dealer and started taking it apart.”

Alex Shchipkov. Photo by J.A. Ackley.

Alex threw out all the unnecessary stuff from the interior. He then upgraded the suspension, brakes and tires. Other than that, the Durango remains stock.

“We weighed it at the beginning of One Lap in 2022,” Alex says. “It was about 600 to 800 pounds lighter than when we started.”

The Durango SRT Hellcat came from the showroom at 5710 pounds. Alex says the Durango weighs about 4600 pounds now. Alex did not touch the V8 engine–it’s factory rated at 710 horsepower. He did remove a muffler for the Time Trials Nats.

“Eric came back in from his session and the [bumper] was melting off,” says Alex of the experiment.

Hey, that’s less weight right there. The Durango does offer a bonus when traveling from track to track on One Lap of America.

“It was surprisingly comfortable,” Alex says. “The a/c kind of works. On a hot day, especially in the passenger seat, you can feel the heat coming in.”

As a track car, looks can be deceiving. It finished the 2022 One Lap of America 20th of 84 cars, topping the truck/SUV class. Eric Campbell ran a 2:20 lap at the Time Trials Nats, placing 52nd of 171 entrants.

“It’s surprisingly well behaved,” says Alex. “It doesn’t do anything silly. When it overheats, it starts doing weird things, like it goes back to street mode from track or race mode.”

Other than that, Alex says the Dodge Durango could be really a force to be reckoned with, if for only one thing.

“If there was a way to reduce weight by 1000 pounds, it would be golden,” Alex says.

This Car has Fangs: Dodge Challenger

Photo by Tradd Slayton/Racing for ALS

As Robert’s Challenger thunders onto the track, onlookers describe it with words like “menacing,” “sinister,” and “evil.”

It’s as fast as it’s intimidating, too. In the Tire Rack Ultimate Track Car Challenge, it placed 13th, running a time rivaling a Toyota Supra and beating several Corvettes. If others only knew the true bite this car has underneath its skin.

Yes, it’s a classic Challenger, but that’s only skin-deep. Beneath it is a modified second-gen Viper chassis. Under the hood, a supercharged 6.2-liter Hellcat V8.

All three are established platforms. However, mixing the three can be a challenge for even experienced car builders. This was the first major car build for Robert and his twin brother Ray and older brother Josh.

They had some help from his in-laws, Heather and Mitch Janusch of Hemi AutoWorks (Hemi being a portmanteau of their first names) and assistance from “their brother from another mother” Bodey Melendrez of Hilltop Speed Shop. Nevertheless, this is new territory for these experts, too.

The team extended the Viper frame so the wheels would line up with the Challenger’s body. They widened the body so it would fit the Viper chassis.

As far as the power plant, most Hellcat tuners work in the drag racing world. Robert estimates the Challenger is capable of 1000 horsepower at the wheels thanks to its SDG Motorsports supercharger and ethanol fuel.

“Making that [engine] work on a road course is pretty freakin’ tough,” says Robert. “We get a lot of heat issues. We’re thinking of dialing it down … to 700 to 800 horsepower at the wheel, and it’s way more than enough for what we do.”

Robert Ellsworth. Photo by J.A. Ackley.

Weight-wise, it’s surprisingly just 3200 pounds. However, it came with quite the effort to shed those pounds. The team never before made carbon fiber, but they did so with this car. That included crafting a carbon-fiber hood and trunk, handmaking fiberglass doors, and installing polycarbonate windows.

“It gives me a lot of pride in the car,” says Robert of what his team did to create the car. “We were able to put this together and it runs pretty dang good. Once we get it tuned in, it’s going to be a contender.”

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akylekoz UltraDork
11/30/23 9:27 a.m.


Ranger50 MegaDork
11/30/23 9:50 a.m.

Mopar people are weird people to begin with, so are their cars.

Appleseed MegaDork
11/30/23 9:51 a.m.

Regular MoPar guys make hardcore Pontiac guys look sane.

paddygarcia GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
11/30/23 9:56 a.m.

We need an article about that Challenger.

DjGreggieP Dork
11/30/23 10:06 a.m.

Are Mopar racers just different? Yes.




Noddaz GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
11/30/23 10:11 a.m.
paddygarcia said:

We need an article about that Challenger.

Yes indeed!  This makes two votes.

914Driver MegaDork
11/30/23 10:12 a.m.

Who else would hide a gas tank up under the dash?

DirtyBird222 PowerDork
11/30/23 11:03 a.m.
DjGreggieP said:

Are Mopar racers just different? Yes.




Sorry that's a DSM not a Mopar. 

DaleCarter GRM+ Memberand New Reader
11/30/23 3:42 p.m.

My friend dailies a Pacifica and shows taillights to quite a few "fast" cars on tracks.

12/1/23 1:07 p.m.

Some of us just ooze.

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