Dodge Shootout at Hershey Center

Speed Demon USA Nov 2004
By: Patrick Smith

Genuine Automotive Wisdom through the Ages
“In 1964 we got our turn. The hemi came along and lifted us right up with the rest of the pack-and maybe just slightly ahead.”
Richard Petty discussing the release of the 426 Hemi V8 in Chrysler products. A massive understatement if there ever was one.
During the summer, Daimler Chrysler promoted their new Hemi 300 C, Hemi Magnums and SRT 10 Ram trucks with a nationwide track tour. I attended the Hershey Centre venue for the test sessions along with other selected individuals. For the Hemi C, Magnum, SRT 10 Vipers, SRT 10 Ram pickups, there was a combination traction control test pad and short slalom course. The SRT 10 Ram pick ups, SRT 4, and SRT 10 Vipers were given a longer “twist and shout” course piloted by expert drivers for insurance reasons. There was also an off road section designed to show off the Jeep Rubicon and assorted Jeep products.
For many people, this was their first exposure to a real Hemi Chrysler since 1971. I’ve been fortunate enough to have piloted and help track prep both 50’s and 60’s hemis. The Hemi C 300 is a boulevard brawler dressed in natty threads. I’d call it a banker’s hot rod if the interior were a bit fancier. I walked into the test briefing lounge, an auditorium set up with powerpoint visuals and a pr crew that informed us what we were about to experience. After the usual formalities and precautions, (don’t drive away from the prescribed route when driving the Crossfires because the Mississauga City police will perform a high risk take down on the assumption the car is being stolen, wait for your turn at the wheel, stay behind the pylons when waiting at the Viper SRT 10 track, etc,) we departed for the great outdoors for the road tests. I went to the Viper SRT 10 and SRT 10 Ram test area.
This was an outdoor closed loop on asphalt marked off with pylons to form a twisted U circuit. Vipers, SRT 10 Rams and SRT 4 Dodges shared this circuit. My first ride was in the Viper SRT 10. An attractive female was my driver in a nice red Viper ragtop. The blonde asked me if I’d ever been in a Viper before. I told her about the GTS coupe I’d been in while I was at Legendary Motor Car’s grand opening. “It was nice,” I said.

 “The GTS is OK,” she said. “I like this one a lot better.” She proceeded to mash the throttle and head for the pylons it seemed. Oh great, I said to myself, another one hell bent to prove how cool she is. I thought she’d blow the first set of pylons, but she did a hard right and executed a smooth 2-1 downshift and juiced the pedal again to shoot us past the second turn. Very smooth, predictable and loud as this exhaust is right next to our ears. This left us in perfect position to floor it down the back straight before downshifting for a hard left turn and then back up to the starting grid. She launched the Viper hard, just catching a bit of rubber and did a quick snap through first and second before backing off. That V10 was itching for third gear as we went into the turn. She really pushed it hard. The Viper behind us stayed in second. I was on the tarmac waiting for a SRT 10 Ram before I knew what had happened. I never even got her name.
The SRT 10 Ram was a red truck and a young kid was driving it. He was stoked to the gills on this trip. “How are ya, ready to rock and roll?” he says. “Sure, let her rip.” I said. He blasted off line, clearly obvious the traction control was armed. The Ram lurched through turn one fine, then he overcooked it and sent her sideways through turns 2 and 3. The guy did an ace job bringing her under control but he was nervous, I saw it in his eyes. He sent the Ram home with a half throttle buzz and got it in reverse for his next victim.
The SRT 4 was small, red and the most fun of the bunch. The big bruisers can’t get anywhere near their full potential on this Mickey Mouse course. The SRT 4 ( Neon in case you’re wondering,) is a hopped up four banger and can really wail on a course like this. The driver actually used most of the gears going through it. For this ride, I teamed up with another dude for a 3 person terror ride. I was impressed with this car. It reminded me of the 340 Dusters of yore. Again a short minute long ride and we were done.

  My next stop was the Hemi C 300 and Hemi Magnum area. I did my own driving for these puppies. The first part was a traction control test where a guy soaks a metal grid with soap and water and you get to stomp the loud pedal in order to see how the traction control works. Surely everyone by now knows how traction control cuts power to the wheels? I humored the guy by dumping the throttle all the way and was rewarded with the rich sound of a Hemi running while standing still. I waited until the revs were at idle, rolled off the metal grid, and got it rolling.
The first turn was a few feet away, a real tight one. I couldn’t use oversteer to correct the problem because traction control was on. Instead traction control kicked in, the power was cut and I sluggishly went through the turn. I moderated it the rest of the way home which included a run over shaved tires carcasses to demonstrate the suspension capability. I got out and waited for a Hemi Magnum.
This station wagon looked good in black, but I had problems right away. The speedometer and tach were inoperative. I had to drive this one by ear. I went easier on the throttle and was rewarded with a decent ride. Again, the course was too short to get any real idea of the engine’s ability. While talking to others, I saw one Hemi C 300 being pulled out of action after a run. A techie slid in the seat and got it out of sight ASAP. I asked the driver what the problem was. The young turk said, “she was clunking pretty loud. Maybe a pylon got stuck underneath.”
The Crossfire test was a sedate affair with instruction by wireless telling you exactly where to turn, brake, the whole nine yards. My only thrill was driving a yellow convertible version with beige interior. After the rides were over, I bought myself a red Viper keychain in the sales area. After the affair, you get a card that entitles you to a test drive of these cars at your participating dealership. As usual, a salesman was breathing on your neck in the back seat, telling you where to turn, etc. It sure made me think about the old days when you could actually test drive a hemicuda on your own. Times have changed! Overall, the Hershey Centre challenge was a great public relations exercise creating valuable exposure for their cars and trucks. I doubt it would sway a potential buyer because there was no way these cars could demonstrate their capability on that course.