Sunday, July 18, 2004
Chargers to star in NASCAR
Revamped Dodge recalls its storied past; racing debut could create
buzz for sedan
By Brett Clanton / The Detroit News
A reborn version of Chrysler's legendary Dodge Charger muscle car
could be screaming around the high-walled turns of the Daytona 500 in
February - at least one month before a street-ready Charger sedan
lands in dealer showrooms.
DaimlerChrysler AG's Dodge division has submitted a new car design to
NASCAR for the 2005 Nextel Cup racing season, and is expected to name
Doing so would recall a storied past in motor sports for the Charger,
which was banned from NASCAR racing in 1965 for using an unorthodox
V-8 engine design known as the "Hemi" only later to became a NASCAR
The racing debut could also create buzz for the mass-market Charger
sedan that will be launched in the spring of 2005 and is another key
vehicle for the Chrysler Group, which is struggling to return to
NASCAR racing is the nation's second-biggest TV spectator sport,
trailing only the National Football League, and has become an
advertising gold mine for Detroit automakers, who rule the sport.
"Research shows that 52 percent of Ford customers call themselves race
fans," said Kevin Kennedy, a Ford racing spokesman. "We'd be crazy not
to market to these people."
That's part of the reason why Dodge has taken its time in developing a
new race car for NASCAR.
Mike Zizzo, a NASCAR spokesman, said the racing association and Dodge
have been in talks about a new design since the spring of 2003. He
said NASCAR will give Dodge final approval on the design by Sept. 1,
assuming it passes a variety of safety and performance tests. That
would make it ready to race in February's Daytona 500, the official
kickoff of NASCAR's racing season.
"The (review) process is in the final stages, and it's moving along
quite well," Zizzo said.
Dodge has raced the Intrepid sedan in NASCAR's flagship circuit since
2001, but according to NASCAR rules, could not run the car in 2005
because the car is no longer in production. The Intrepid was replaced
in May by the new Dodge Magnum station wagon.
The full-size Charger, which will be sold as a four-door sedan, is a
closer match to the Ford Taurus and Chevrolet Monte Carlo - the only
three other vehicles competing in NASCAR's top-tier Nextel Cup next
Though the Ford Taurus is expected to be phased out in the next four
years, Kennedy said "as long as Taurus is around, it will be our car."
Pat Suhy, GM's engineering group manager, said the Monte Carlo would
not change for the 2005 racing season.
Dodge's new design comes as NASCAR is pushing DaimlerChrysler, GM and
Ford to build race cars that look more like the production cars they
sell to the public. The move represents a return to a founding tenant
of the 50-year-old sport.
But with NASCAR imposing more safety requirements - such as roll bars
and bulky steel-caged cockpits - "they've really taken away the
manufacturer's ability to build race cars that look like street cars,"
Manufacturers are left to distinguish their cars mainly with front and
back end panels, he said.
Dodge returned to NASCAR racing in 2001 after a 20-year hiatus. Since
then, the brand has won 22 races and has recruited high-profile
drivers such as Rusty Wallace, Casey Kahne, Kyle Petty and Bill
The 2005 Dodge Charger will be built at Chrysler's Brampton, Ontario,
assembly plant. The rear-wheel-drive sedan will share the same
underpinnings as the new Chrysler 300 sedan and Dodge Magnum wagon.