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The new Dart SRT replacement for the storied Dodge Avenger in NHRA Pro Stock showed up for the first time at the 45th Annual NHRA Amalie Oil Gatornationals and was still there in the winner’s circle Sunday afternoon. Allen Johnson and Jeg Coughlin Jr. both competed in the fresh Jerry Haas-built vehicles, running 6.48s right off the trailer to qualify third and fourth in the tightest, largest 2014 Pro Stock field to date. Johnson then beat the Chevy Camaros of Jonathan Gray, Shane Gray, Dave Connelly and Erica Enders-Stevens on race day to become the first person to ever put any Dodge Dart into NHRA’s victory circle in Pro Stock.
The cars were designed using state-of-the-art technology and a combined braintrust of race platform and production platform engineers at Chrysler. Coupled with the previous Haas-built advances in the Avengers and Johnson & Johnson’s big-numbers horsepower, the Darts flew under the tutelage of the able drivers, though Coughlin Jr lost a close second round. The company is celebrating 50 years of the 426 Hemi engine debut this year, so winning a title first time out was proverbial icing on the cake after a pre-race media event that featured a live elephant.
The Avenger was a tall act to follow; it is the winningest-ever Mopar body in the class with 27 event crowns, 28 pole qualfiers, and 2012-2013 back-to-back world championships. Indeed, on February 27, 2014, four days and 50 years after Richard Petty won the Daytona 500 with Hemi power, Johnson and fellow Avenger pilot V. Gaines raced in the finals of the NHRA event in Pheonix, the last event Johnson himself would run the Avenger. Gaines is slated to debut his own version of the new Dart later this spring.
The Dart SRT Pro Stock completes the Dodge brand marketing program, joining Challenger Drag Pak (in the Sportsman class) and Charger R/T (optimized renditions in nitro funny car capable of speeds over 320 mph) on the NHRA racing scene.