Susan Wade

SEATTLE — Steve Beahm had to set aside his 20-year bracket racing career about 15 years ago.

But the head of Parts & Service for Mopar and Passenger Car Brands (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles — North America) claims he’s “starting to get the bug again” for drag racing.

It’s no wonder with FCA introducing the high-performance Drag Pak for racing only, along with the Dodge Challenger 1320 (which he said “gives you a lot of elements of the Demon”) and the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye that are geared for grassroots racers. They’re a far cry from the ’69 Road Runner he started with at age 16, but they target the muscle-car audience like that popular Plymouth did.

“We felt like we need to give the everyday Joe or Jane an opportunity to drive a car to work and on Saturday night maybe take it to the track,” Beahm said.

With the post-Christmas arrival of a marketing initiative between the Auburn Hills, Mich.-based automaker and iconic building-block giant LEGO, Joe and Jane’s kids can build their own race cars and spin their own drag-strip dreams.
Baby Boomers got in on the ground floor of the Hot Wheels craze as Tom McEwen and Don Prudhomme drew toymaker Mattel into the starry-eyed swirl of drag racing with the “Mongoose” vs. “Snake” rivalry. Now, thanks to a shrewdly stimulating move by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, today’s generation will have the LEGO Speed Champions building set and pit their 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon against the 1970 Dodge Charger R/T.

The partnership between FCA’s Dodge brand and LEGO is a brilliant reprisal of the 1960’s phenomena. Moreover, its inclusion of Top Fuel ace and Factory Stock Showdown reigning champion Leah Pritchett in Dodge’s 30-second “Metamorphosis” TV commercial helps ensure customer loyalty for decades to come.

It’s a perfect fit for NHRA drag racing, a sport that appeals to instant-gratification seekers, a-winner-every-four-seconds kind of spectator, car enthusiasts and thrill-mongers.

But look closely at the ad. Immersed in fantasy of a personally designed LEGO car and a blast down the race track is a young girl. Her dad is working on his race car in the background. A one-second helmet-eyes shot of Pritchett behind the wheel cuts away to a close-up of a gritty-looking female LEGO figurine running down a competitor.

The proud father pauses to affirm his daughter’s love of racing. The tag line for the ad is “Domestic. Not Domesticated.” Clearly, the ad targets females. That’s perfect for NHRA fans, who unlike fans of most other forms of motorsports, are used to women winning races and championships.

The NHRA has crowned female national champions in each of the past five seasons: Erica Enders in Pro Stock in 2014-’15, Mia Tedesco in Super Gas in 2016, Brittany Force in Top Fuel in 2017 and Pritchett in last year’s Factory Stock Showdown.

Thus, when the ad breaks across Dodge’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube channels, it might appear revolutionary to some, but will seem completely normal to drag racing fans.

Although Dodge aims to attract more female customers than ever before, it isn’t neglecting men.

“We know that many of our Dodge SRT enthusiasts become fans of the brand at an early age, and like me, also grow up building LEGO vehicles that we dream of one day driving on the road,” Beahm said. “With the new Speed Champions set featuring the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon and the 1970 Dodge Charger R/T, our youngest fans can build and jump into the driver’s seat of two of their ultimate fantasy muscle cars.”

He’s hoping the adults will jump into the driver’s seat of the Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 1320, a lighter-weight, drag strip-designed model of the Challenger that’s a naturally aspirated, narrow-body version of the Challenger Demon.

Beahm calls the Demon “an awesome car,” but the company recognizes that “not everyone can drive a Demon or afford one.” So the automaker rolled out the street-legal 1320 with a more-affordable 392 cubic-inch engine that cranks out 485 horsepower, with 475 foot pounds of torque and runs in the 11-second quarter-mile elapsed-time range.

“It’s a car you drive every day,” Beahm said. “You can delete the passenger seat or take the back seat out to lighten the car a little bit. I think it’s going to be a good run for the car. I think the grassroots racer is going to flock toward it. We’ll see in the next few months or so.”

Dodge built between 60 and 100 of the race track-only Drag Pak, but Beahm says the manufacturer plans to build as many 1320s as dealers and customers demand. Beahm is also talking with the NHRA about possibly offering 1320 buyers an NHRA membership.

“That’s part of the tie-in we’re trying to do to say, ‘This is about racing, grassroots and put a trophy in the seat next to you and take it to work on Monday,’” Beahm explained.

Smitten with the Factory Stock Showdown class, Beahm says Dodge’s attraction is the fact “people can identify with the car and identify with our brands.”

Now youngsters can, too, through LEGOs.