If you’re a doorslammer guy, what could be better than driving one of the new Big Three factory-built stocker/super stocker racers? How about driving not one, but two, and at the same races? Well, Les Norton is the lucky dude who gets to do just that.
Les is the proprietor of Bonneville Street Rods in Salt Lake City, and the original owner and driver of a sweet ‘09 Hemi Drag Pak Challenger, #38 of 50. It’s one of the first factory-built Challengers to hit the strip, competing in both Stock and SS. Powered by a small 6.4 Hemi, it regularly reels off E.T.s in the low 9.50s at 142 mph.
Local hot rodder/car collector/drag racer Jack Hazelgren, impressed with the fit and finish Les had applied to the Challenger, approached him about involvement in a project: a Drag Pak Challenger, V-10 and Viper-powered. The best part? Jack not only wanted Len to build it, but also drive it! How long do you think it took him to say yes?
The new car is a 2011 Challenger Drag Pak, #11 in the run. The construction time was six months with a tab running north of $125,000. Considered a turnkey factory racer, it was far from race ready until Mike Roth of MR2 Performance in Indianapolis worked his magic. Roth modified the chassis, front and rear suspension, mounted the rearend and installed the chrom-moly roll cage. Since taking delivery and gathering invaluable run data, Les and Jack have massaged Roth’s original front end efforts. Suspension tuning is always a work in progress, and Les is very proficient at it.
As great as the finished product turned out, its drag strip debut was less than auspicious. Last year’s U.S. Nationals was to be the Challenger’s first combat experience, so a stop at the Topeka track on the way was planned for some shakedown passes. On its very first lap, mid-track, it fell on its nose, dead in the water. It fired up again on the return road, and again went dead, this time for good. After hours of thrashing and head scratching, no solution was found. A emergency call to Dodge resulted in an engineer being dispatched to meet them at Indy.
Once there, the engineer diagnosed the problem as a broken camshaft. Dodge was still hot to have them compete, so Les, Jack and the engineer stuffed everything in the trailer and made a mad dash to Aero Race Engines in Detroit. Qualifying for this car started the following day, so things looked bleak. But once they were in Detroit, the Aero crew, with Len and Jack’s assistance, yanked and rebuilt the engine, slammed it on the dyno and had it back in the car by midnight. The boys blasted back to Indy, making it just in time for the last qualifying session—and made it into the show. The exhaustion from the 60-plus-hour hour thrash just faded away!
Mopar fans, keep an eye out for the Salt City Shaker duo at a national event near you. The COPO Camaros and Cobra Jet Mustangs certainly will be!
(Left to Right) Jack Hazelgren and Les Norton next to their respective Drag Pak Challengers.
Thanks to Mike Roth of MR2 Performance, the Dodge launches hard and runs as if on rails. Roth massaged the factory A-arms, steering and rear suspension, featuring Santhuff struts and springs. Strange supplied the 9-inch-style rearend, axles and front and rear brakes.
The V-10’s paint design mirrors Les’ Hemi. His goal was to capture the ’70s Pro Stock look for his Challenger. To that end, he used the famous Rod Shop racers as a jumping off point. Also in tune with the early days is the Salt City Shaker moniker, most racers from that era christened their rides (Motown Missile, etc.). Freelance Imaging applied the color.
The V-10 can compete in both Super Stock/DA and Stock as a CC/SA . The two cars switch back and forth between Stock and SS, in part to confuse the competition.
The engine is a factory stock fuel-injected 512-ci Viper V-10 rated at 467 hp. Aeromotive supplied the fuel pump and ATI the harmonic balancer.
This race car interior is far from Spartan, and gauges are Autometer. The two-speed TCI trans (and shifter) features a 1.82 first-gear ratio and Dedenbear 6,000 stall speed converter.
Aeromotive provided the fuel cell, and the battery is a 12-volt competition style system.
Text and Photos by Richard Brady