Mopar Racing–Wofford Captures Historic 15th Anniversary Mopar HEMI® Challenge Victory at NHRA U.S. Nationals

Wofford Captures Historic 15th Anniversary Mopar HEMI® Challenge Victory at NHRA U.S. Nationals

· Lloyd Wofford and his 1968 Plymouth Barracuda earn a first career Mopar HEMI® Challenge win in 15th anniversary edition held during the NHRA U.S. Nationals
· Wofford rewarded with $15,000 check, a unique Mopar HEMI Challenge trophy and a custom winner’s jacket
· Runner-up Gus Mantas drives his ’68 Barracuda to his first Mopar HEMI Challenge final-round appearance
· Mike Wagner earns Indy Mopar ‘Top Eliminator’ Award for his Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak Ramchargers tribute car

Brownsburg, Indiana (September 5, 2015) – The 15th anniversary edition of the Mopar HEMI® Challenge at the 61st annual National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) U.S. Nationals saw a new winner crowned from the 22 classic 1968 Plymouth Barracudas and Dodge Darts competing in the fan favorite vintage muscle car showcase on the quarter-mile Lucas Oil Raceway near Indianapolis.

Two first-time finalists, Lloyd Wofford of Jonesboro, Arkansas, and Gus Mantas of Toronto, Canada, staged their Mopar-powered Super Stock/Automatic-HEMI (SS/AH) class vehicles on the start-line Saturday afternoon in front of thousands of fervent drag racing fans after it was rescheduled from the previous evening due to rain and lightning.

The two classic Mopar machines didn’t quite get the opportunity to battle it out as they had hoped. A red-light start by his competitor gave Wofford’s 1968 Plymouth Barracuda an instant win and his first Mopar HEMI Challenge victory.

“It just goes beyond explanation because we’ve worked so hard – six years, and we finally made it,” said Wofford, who purchased and began to prepare his ‘Cuda for competition in 2009. “I’ve got one of the best crews in the world. I don’t think I would be any more elated and excited if I won the Super Stock eliminator. This to me is the pinnacle, to win the Mopar HEMI Challenge, and in its 15th year. I just love a HEMI car – best car ever.”

On his drive to the winner’s circle, Wofford and his ‘68 Barracuda defeated Fred Henson (Dart), Jim Pancake (Dart), pole sitter Gary Wolkwitz (Dart) and Mark Howes (Dart) before staging next to Mantas for the final elimination showdown.

“We had (Gary) Wolkwitz in the first round, and of course he was No. 1 qualifier and we were No. 4, so we tuned it up,” Wofford explained. “We knew we had to go hard, and we blew the tires off (smoked the tires), but he went red. That was our lucky round. We stuck with our program. The car was really running good, the guys were working hard and thankfully the driver did most of his job.”

In the final elimination, Wofford posted a .015-second reaction time and ran a full elapsed time pass at 8.621-seconds and 152.62 miles per hour to make it official.

“We were prepared for the final last night, and then the rain came down. This morning I woke up at 5 a.m., wide awake. The anticipation – the clock was just crawling. I was probably as nervous as I’ve ever been in my life. I’m thinking, ‘Please don’t do anything stupid, drive the car and do what you know how to do.’ My wife (Linda) was a great help. She told me to take a deep breath and do your job. I got up, staged the car and did my job. And now we’re here.”

With the coveted victory, Wofford received a $15,000 winner’s prize, a unique HEMI Challenge trophy weighing 42.6 lbs., and a custom Mopar HEMI Challenge winner’s jacket.

“This is what started Pro Stock,” added Wofford in appreciation for the classic muscle cars that contributed to the Mopar brand’s legendary reputation and success at the drag strip. “When people in the crowd see these 1968 ‘Cudas and 1968 Dodge Darts, it takes them back to 1968 and to racers like Dick Landy, Ronnie Sox, Herb McCandless, you just name them on and on, the HEMI guys that started Pro Stock. And that’s what this is all about.

“I want to thank Mopar for putting on the HEMI Challenge, and thank Tom Hoover for building such a great engine, and God be with him,” said Wofford of Tom Hoover, father of the 426 HEMI engine that powers the HEMI Challenge cars, who passed away earlier this year. “It means so much to the racers. I think Mopar probably supports the Sportsman racers more than anybody, and that really helps.”

“I don’t think Sportsman racers get the recognition they deserve,” Wofford added. “There are people out here who sacrifice and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, just so they can buy parts for their race cars.”

Mantas’ journey to his runner-up finish began by advancing past the first round to battle Ken Warburton (Barracuda) and Jim Daniels (Dart), then benefited from a bye in the semifinals before fouling-out in the final with a -0.216 second red light. He received a $1,500 check for his efforts.

“It’s been great and it’s been a rush,” Mantas said. “We thrashed hard. It’s not easy, I’ll tell you that. That track has been a variable continuously with the weather, and it’s been a tuning challenge. But it’s been great. This is our fourth Indy (Mopar HEMI Challenge) and we’re coming along, considering that we’re independents. We’re doing it on a budget, we work hard and our motor runs strong.”

The inaugural Mopar HEMI Challenge was won by Bucky Hess (2001), followed by drivers Richard Beshore (2002), Jerry Jenkins (2003), and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (2004). The driver with the most HEMI Challenge trophies is Charlie Westcott Jr., of Parma, Michigan, who has earned six career wins, (2005, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2014) with his father, Charlie Westcott Sr. (2009), Jim Daniels (2010) and Rick Houser (2007 and 2013) interrupting those victories with their own trips to the winner’s circle.

Every Mopar-powered SS/AH class competitor participating in this year’s Mopar HEMI Challenge received a 15th anniversary event hat, commemorative poster and participant decals to display on their vehicle. Cash prizes were also awarded to the top-16 qualified cars that advance to the elimination rounds.

Wagner named third and final 2015 Mopar “Top Eliminator” winner

Mike Wagner of Lapeer, Michigan, was awarded the third and final 2015 Mopar “Top Eliminator” trophy at the NHRA U.S. Nationals for his 2009 Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak Ramchargers tribute car.

The car, No. 39 of Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak race cars produced in 2009, honors the legendary Ramchargers drag race team. The Ramchargers passion for high-performance engine design and racing helped launch and build FCA’s motorsports program in the 1960s.

“It’s a big honor,” said Wagner of the award. “I’m a big Mopar collector and have many Mopar cars. I’ve been a Mopar guy since right out of high school in in 1981. It’s been Mopar ever since.”

Wagner’s Drag Pak features a Mopar 426 HEMI engine under the hood and competes in the NHRA Stock class. He purchased the Drag Pak in 2009 and spent the intervening years perfecting his Mopar, which appeared in just its second race, and first NHRA national event, this weekend.

“We want it to look good, we want it to run good and be representative of the way the cars were back in the day,” said Wagner.

The Mopar “Top Eliminator” program spotlights enthusiasts who display extreme passion and skill in restyling or customizing their Mopar rides. Wagner’s Drag Pak follows the first two 2015 Mopar “Top Eliminator” winning vehicles. Carlisle Chrysler Nationals Mopar “Top Eliminator” winners Kevin Kanak and Mark Novakovich were honored for the rare 1973 Dodge Charger SE four-speed sunroof car they co-own, while Terry Peterson was recognized for his 1969 Plymouth Barracuda, named Mopar “Top Eliminator” at the Midwest Mopars in the Park national car show.