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In the ‘70s I must have seen “Vanishing Point” as many times as I saw the grindhouse gem, “Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things,” both of which came to mind as I considered how long it’s been since Mopar presented race-ready cars like the legendary '68-'69 Hurst Hemi Darts and Barracudas.

By J. “Harmsworth” Nelson
Photos courtesy Chrysler LLC

And if you think the ‘09 Challenger itself is a successful reanimation of long buried big-block bones, get a load of Mopar’s real Frankenstein, the SRT-8 Challenger-based Drag Race Package Car. Strictly race-only, it’s a monster that won’t be heard snarling before traffic lights, coaxing suckers to engage in some Fast and Furious high jinks. Instead, having been proven and NHRA certified in June of this year, the car is qualified to run in Comp and Super Stock categories - and possibly many others as well. In fact, if all goes according to plan, this package car will evoke memories of a time just before the Challenger itself was introduced, a time when a modified Pro Stock Mopar engine was an actual factory option.

Now, Chrysler has had thousands of promotional campaigns and gimmicks throughout the decades, from the Roadrunner cartoon and the Rapid Transit System to Lee Iacocca’s asking American television audiences to have another look at the Dodge Omni (yeesh). Even today, it’s hard to figure out which attention-grabber is more brilliant, a fixed 3-year gasoline price or the meaningless luxury of “Corinthian leather.”

But far more credibly remembered are the Dick Landy/Sox & Martin race/performance clinics of the late ‘60’s, where Dodge and Plymouth dealerships became quarter-mile study halls. The drag strips themselves gained in prominence and the dealers loved ‘em, what with the crowds bringing in buyers for the cars and clinic attendees snapping up parts as they spread the word of Mopar Performance.

By 1968, Mopar drag competitors were taking a commanding lead at the track and were rapidly becoming the ones to watch. Sales promotions of parts and cars became so successful that Chrysler mini-clinics began touring high schools across America; “Trouble Shoot-outs” invited students to compete against one another to see who could most swiftly troubleshoot random Chrysler, Dodge and Plymouth models that had been “sabotaged” on purpose. Anthropologically speaking, “car culture” never meant more.