Speed Society Goes Behind The Scenes With Dodge to Test Drive The 2018 Demon!
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When the men and women behind the Demon project decided to build the 2018 SRT Challenger Demon, it wasn’t a decision made with the goal of producing a big seller that would provide a financial boost for the automaker.
Instead, the team of engineers and executives that quietly worked off radar of the public – and occasionally that of the bean counters within Fiat Chrysler of America – to bring the Demon to life did so as a labor of love. Don’t get us wrong, we aren’t implying they worked for free, but the project itself was in no way designed to boost the bottom line. Instead, they bestowed upon us, the gearhead nation of performance enthusiasts who can truly appreciate the Demon for what it is. A gift of true and unbridled passion for proving what can be done when the profit margin is overlooked in search of record-shattering performance. That is why the SRT Challenger Demon only costs $86,000 when Dodge could easily sell all 3,300 for double that price. That is why every available accessory and option for the car adds a single dollar to the price. Most notably, that is why Dodge was able to build a car that yanks the front tires and knocks down single-digit quarter mile ET’s.
We were invited to Dodge’s press event in Indianapolis, one of America’s true horsepower havens. We were there to test drive the Demon on one of the most historic quarter miles in the nation. The Lucas Oil Raceway. We rolled through the gates in a production Hellcat that Dodge had graciously provided for the day. A move that immediately had us questioning whether or not they’d actually looked into Speed Society at all before extending this invitation. We were greeted by a multi-colored lineup of Demons patiently waiting in the same staging lanes that have greeted the kings of the sport of drag racing for the past six decades.
After serving lunch to the diverse crowd of journalists on hand to take turns wheeling the Demon down the storied Indy quarter mile. We were given an in-depth presentation about the star attraction and what it took to bring the car to market. Including some entertaining anecdotes about dyno-test-sandbagging and obscure cartoon-inspired code names. Code names used to keep the project from drawing the attention of those who would see fit to squash it before it ever got off the ground. Once the project gained traction and earned the green light for production, the team kicked things into high gear. They set out to develop a true, max-effort drag car thinly veiled as a production car. Make no mistake, this car carries the same warranty as any other Challenger because it underwent the same rigorous durability testing as the Dodge cars currently sitting on your local showroom. To build a car that meets those government crash testing and emissions standards, and still take you 0-60 in an insane 2.3 seconds is a monumental task. The people that came together to make it happen speak as if they’re bragging about their own child when discussing the Demon. A side of effect of when a team truly puts their heart and soul into a project from the beginning.
From there, it was time to hit the track. Before any of us could take the car down the track ourselves, we had to make a lap with one of the several instructors on hand. Each of whom has taken the Demon down the track many times as the car has gone through various changes and phases. The first thing you notice when you slide into the bolstered seat is that it is both sturdy and comfortable. Providing excellent lateral support as well a support for your lower back. While the car certainly wasn’t built as a corner carver. It does come from the factory with the flared fenders that push the wheels and tires out nice and wide. With drag radials on all corners, one has to assume the car can hold it’s own. Should any of the lucky 3,300 owners decide to have a little fun in the twisties. The second thing you’ll notice is the sound. We’ll not mince words here: the car is loud. However, it’s hardly unbearable and the factory exhaust does offer a nice throaty rumble as the car sits idling. The lack of sound deadening material is pretty obvious. Some might say, glorious. The next thing that draws your attention will likely be the center console. Bright and vibrant, it’s packed full of information and settings. It’s a bit overwhelming at first to be honest. However I would imagine by the end of the first 25 miles in the car owners will be intimately familiar with the settings. Especially the ones that pertain to the car’s performance.
To build a car that meets those government crash testing and emissions standards, and still take you 0-60 in an insane 2.3 seconds is a monumental task.
With our helmets strapped on tightly my instructor walked through the options on the dash display. Showing me how to switch between each driving mode. I was instructed on how to set the Launch Control parameters, activate the built-in line lock and a quick demonstration of how to use the transbrake. A very cool feature that we’ll discuss more in-depth as we dive into our time behind the wheel. With the cursory lesson out of the way, we rolled toward the waterbox and awaited our turn. Per the rules of the day agreed upon by the NHRA and FCA, we were only allowed to make passes one at a time. If there was a passenger in the car, we could only run through the eighth mile. However, once we had taken a ride with an instructor, we were free to jump into the driver’s seat and let the torquey Hemi eat through the full 1320. I personally elected to have my instructor ride shotgun with me for my first attempt at launching the Demon using the transbrake. Before we get to that point though, we have to do a burnout. This is where my previous experience driving drag cars began to come in handy. With a tap of the screen, the Line Lock was armed. When the Line Lock is active, the central readout on the dash between the tachometer and speedometer shows a digital brake pressure readout. Press the brakes hard enough to move the readout into the acceptable range. Press the “OK” button on the steering wheel, then release the brake pedal. The line lock holds the front brakes while the rear brakes are released. This allows you to complete a legitimate badass burnout. Furthermore, without wasting precious brake pad material and heating up the rear brakes right before launching into a quarter mile jaunt. Trust me when I tell you, the brakes are a definite must if you run this thing out the back door. But I’m ahead of myself, so back to the starting line we go.
Burnout completed, I pull up on the switches that raise the power windows and roll on up to the starting line. Idling carefully into the stage beams. I have to fight with all my being the urge to try to cut a good reaction time. Partly because I know the transbrake system is going to take a few seconds at best to activate. Especially on my first try. I know the clocks are off and even if I nail the tree, I’ll have no way to quantify it. So I focus on my instructors instructing: pull back on both paddles, hold the brake and bring the RPM’s up, then ease into the stage beam. Once fully staged you release either of the shifter paddles, then let your foot off the brake. Once you’re ready to launch the car, you let go of the second paddle and you roll into the throttle. As complicated as that sounds, it’s actually fairly intuitive once you’ve done it a few times and understand what is taking place. When you pull both paddles and bring up the RPM, you’re taking the lash, or slack, out of the driveline to keep the Demon’s insane low-end torque from jarring everything between the torque converter and the rear axles. You bump into the stage beams and release one paddle. That signals the transmissions to lock first and second gears together. This turns the transmission into a brake. Hence the name. (ASIDE – For those reading this right now who are familiar with more traditional transbrakes, yes I do know that most transbrakes lock low gear and reverse together instead of two forward gears, but Dodge elected to use first and second for reasons only they can explain, and in my excitement to get my hands on the car, I didn’t stop and think to ask.) When you let off the brake, the car is set to roll freely as soon as second gear is disengaged from first gear and the transmission returns to its normal function as a gearbox.
The first sixty feet are in a word, brutal. The meaty Demon-specific drag radial tires bite into the track’s surface. The rear end squats and the nose pitches skyward as the engine literally roars to life. The supercharged Hemi unleashes a howl that suddenly makes it clear where the Demon moniker came from. Bellowing a surprisingly loud exhaust note as all 840 of its horsepower are released. If the track conditions are good enough – more on that later – the car will lift the front tire and carry it a couple of feet. The first production car to ever accomplish such a feat. In ideal conditions, the car clicks off the first 60 feet in less than 1.4 seconds. Rivaling some legitimately badass quarter mile cars through the first set of incrementals. From there, the car settles down a tad. Though the nose remains pitched upward through the first two gear changes. Through third and fourth gears, the car really begins to build steam. The drag-tuned transmission keeping the screaming engine in the heart of it’s beautifully linear power curve. You have the option to shift using the paddles. We were assured multiple times that if you try to rev any higher than the transmission does on its own, the only thing you’ll find more of is rev limiter. Which kills the cars momentum and slows the elapsed time. Having a passenger in the car, I let off at the eighth mile. Now thoroughly excited to kick my instructor to the curb and take this beast through the quarter on my own. I return to drop him off, and return to staging. We were allowed to make three passes per turn behind the wheel. I couldn’t wait. Line lock engaged, nice burnout and creep into the pre-stage beams. Once again I shut out any notion of trying to cut a light and focus on the transbrake process: pull both paddles, bring up the RPM, ease into the staging beam, release one paddle, release the brake, release the second paddle and roll into the gas.
The first sixty feet are in a word, brutal. The meaty Demon-specific drag radial tires bite into the track’s surface.
I miffed it. The car has a sort of built in kill switch. I you give it too much throttle before you release the transbrake, it pulls the engine to idle and rolls slowly off the line. As you can imagine, this makes you feel completely and totally stupid. I was warned not to try to give the car gas at the same time I was letting off the paddle. It’s an instinct that’s incredibly hard to fight. I stop, back the car up and ease into the staging beams again. Paddles, stage, release one paddle. Remind myself “Two. Deliberate. Actions. Paddle, then gas.”
The tree has long since fallen as I’ve been talking myself through the process. This time I get it right and the car throws me back into the seat. Sixty foot is insane. Then the car settles in and marches toward the finish line. Through the back half of the track, the car just feels like it’s on a rapid version of “ACCEL” cruise control. Building speed at a surprising rate while feeling totally stable and planted. It’s clear as you go through the finish line that the car is really moving. Even if you don’t look down and watch the speedometer sweep toward 140 MPH. Remember the brakes we mentioned earlier? When you blast through the finish line somewhere between 135 and 140 MPH in a fairly heavy car, you’re going to want to get on the binders quickly and with a heavy foot. While most stock cars can scrub off speed and coast to the turn off,. The Demon actually requires fairly heavy braking to make the turn. At least at Lucas Oil Raceway, which isn’t exactly short on shutdown area.
However, the stellar brakes and sticky tires easily slow the car to a manageable speed. Even with the special skinny front runners. Yet another on the list of firsts for a factory-built vehicle. My first full quarter mile pass left me quite literally with my heart pounding. I was utterly impressed by the fact that I was driving a factory production car that had taken me for such an intense ride down the 1320. As I returned to staging, I lamented to one of the Dodge personnel how badly I wished the clocks were on. He responded with a quick tap or three on the console display, pulling up the Demon’s on-board performance meter. While likely not as accurate as the NHRA-approved timing system on the track. This would certainly appease my desire to track my times throughout the day. The first hit showed a 10.7 through the quarter with a trap speed of 135 MPH. Just stop and think about that for a second when you put this car into the context not just of production cars, but even modified cars that hit the track and struggle to run mid-10’s. My next pass would click off a 10.5, followed by another 10.5 ET, both at 135 MPH. My three passes made, I stepped out of the car and I hadn’t been this excited about a car in years!
Throughout the course of the day, I would make six more passes behind the wheel. Going as quick as 10.4 twice and both of those in a different cars. There were a couple of passes where I got a little throttle happy early and caused the car to chatter the tires. Dropping the ET to the 10.7 and 10.9 range. When all went well with the traction tango the car was good for 10.5 or 10.4 consistently. This brings up an interesting point. We have noticed that other publications who were on hand have published that the Demon simply doesn’t live up to the hype. I’m going to go on record now and state that the Demon itself certainly does live up to the hype when in capable hands. It took me two tries to nail down the transbrake procedure. While we watched (and have on video) the other drivers struggling with the transbrake all day. Even some of the last passes of the day, when everybody should have had a firm grasp on how to launch the car, resulted in the tell-tale slow roll off the starting line. By what I can tell, based on what I watched and what we caught on video, these guys cost themselves a considerable amount of elapsed time.
Just follow my logic here: the other drivers didn’t back up to the starting line when they miffed the transbrake launch, opting instead to simply stop a few feet out and try again. I remember noting one driver was far closer to the 60 foot cone than the starting line when he finally got the car to launch correctly. The car’s on-board timers didn’t know he was on a drag strip. They just knew to start counting when the car launched and record what happened for the next quarter mile. When the driver finally got the launch right he only has 1260 feet or so of track ahead of him. Meaning he’s on the brakes before the on-board telemetry shows he’s reached the quarter mile. If you shorten the track using the on-track timers, you’ll get a quicker ET. However, if you just get on the brakes while the timer is still counting, then your ET will be slower.
The weather also needs to be noted when discussing whether or not the car is truly capable of the numbers Dodge has so proudly claimed. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to make 2 separate lists. One with the conditions from our session and one with the conditions from the Gainesville, Florida test session. That is where the much-heralded 9.65 pass took place:
Lucas Oil Raceway
- Altitude: 850 feet
- Temp: 88 degrees
- Humidity: 65%
- Density Altitude: 3785 feet
- Altitude: 147 feet
- Temp: 40 degrees
- Humidity: 77%
- Density Altitude: -1361 feet
Pay close attention to the last number on each list and you’ll see the whopping difference in the conditions between the two sessions. Thirty-seven hundred feet is like racing on top of a small mountain. While negative thirteen hundred feet is like running in a mineshaft. Warmer, less dense air doesn’t lend itself to making power like cool, dense oxygen. On top of that, we have to assume that despite the power chiller and the AC being used to cool the intake charge, the cars we were driving were at least hot, if not heat soaked. It wouldn’t make sense for Dodge to attempt a record run with a car that’s been either idling or screaming down the quarter mile for hours on end like ours had. We have to assume that car was at least cooled down before making that hit. Also let’s not forget the driver. The one and only Leah Pritchett, who might weigh 120 pounds, was behind the wheel in Florida for on the pass that snatched the record. While the lightest of the journalists I saw on hand would have easily outweighed her by fifty pounds. I myself am closer to double her weight and one of the heftier journalists on hand. Yet I turned in two of three 10.4 second passes on the day.
All of those factors easily worked against us going much quicker than mid 10’s. There’s absolutely no doubt the car is easily a 9-second ride in better conditions and shouldn’t require the near-perfect weather found during the Gainesville test session to get there.