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The 2016 rendition of the highly anticipated Mopar HEMI® Challenge, contested during the 62nd annual U.S. Nationals, was a thrilling competition marked by extreme highs and lows for the head-to-head battle of Mopar-powered Super Stock/A HEMI (SS/AH) Sportsman racers. When all was said and done, Jimmy Daniels and his 1968 Dodge Dart nabbed his first Mopar HEMI Challenge trophy in a fight for glory with second-time finalist Stephen Hebert.
After a full day of exciting HEMI competition, Mopar fans packed the stands at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis on Friday to watch the showdown just past sundown. The two classic HEMI-powered race cars came to the starting line with equal opportunity to nab the title, but when Hebert fouled out by leaving the starting line .038-second too soon, the victory was handed to Daniels, who raced to a very quick 8.443-second pass at 154.90 mph in his Ray Barton-built Dart. Hebert's final time was a slowing 9.352 at 110.51 as he lifted from the throttle after noting his too-quick reaction time.
No. 2 qualifier Daniels, whose father, Jim Daniels, won the Mopar HEMI Challenge in 2010 driving the same car with the very same Ray and David Barton engine under the hood, was racing for the very special trophy for the first time in his career. On the way to the final round and with a very consistent race car that simply could not be beat, Daniels drove his sharply tuned Dart to round wins over 1968 Dodge Dart driver Doug Fazzolare, Matt Welker in his 1968 Plymouth Barracuda, and fellow Dodge Dart campaigner Jim Pancake. Every round, Daniels clocked an 8.4-second pass.
"This is just unbelievable," said 20-year-old Daniels, a biology student aiming to follow his father's footsteps into the world of dentistry. "I've only had about three passes in the car before this. We struggled at the beginning of the year, going back to an automatic, and it just turned around this weekend. We did some work on it before the race, and everything just came together. It's an unbelievable experience. If it wasn't for my dad, and Ray and David for the awesome horsepower, and just the whole team effort, I couldn't imagine leaving our home in Bristol, Pennsylvania, and saying, 'I'm going to be in the winner's circle Friday night.' It's unreal.
"Other than the two full passes I made at the Maple Grove points race [earlier this year], these were my only full passes in this car. This feels great. It's such an accomplishment. I just could have never imagined this happening."