Being handed the keys to and laying into the throttle in any one of Dodge’s Street & Racing Technology (SRT) vehicles is an exhilarating experience in and of itself — its special-edition Challenger, Charger, Durango, and Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles pack a punch unlike any other, whether you’re going in a straight line or barreling through a chicane. But did you know that your purchase of a Dodge SRT vehicle also affords you the opportunity to take the exhilaration to a whole new level at the famed Bondurant High Performance Driving School?
Dodge has been the exclusive partner of the Bondurant school in Arizona since 2015, providing it with a host of powerful Dodge SRT vehicles for its performance driving courses. In recent years, Bondurant added a course specifically for drag racing, utilizing the incredible new production machines designed for the drag strip — such as the Challenger R/T Scat Pack 1320 and the Challenger SRT Demon — at nearby Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. In 2018, Dodge and Bondurant teamed up to offer new owners of SRT vehicles with the unique opportunity to take a complimentary one-day course at the Bondurant school (buyers can upgrade to a full two-day course at additional cost). This includes its new drag racing program, which affords owners of these mighty muscle cars the opportunity to learn the in’s and out’s of a vehicle just like their own, on a closed course and with expert instruction.
The Dragzine and Street Muscle Magazine team was recently given the opportunity to drive a Challenger SRT Hellcat for a few days in and around Southern California, but with our appetite wet for more, we jumped at the chance to pound on the even more powerful Challenger SRT Demon on the 1/4-mile.
“For over 45 years, Bondurant was a high-performance driving and road course school, but the inception of the Dodge partnership and the launch of the SRT Demon provided this avenue to start the drag racing school portion of our program” explains Mike Kessler, Director of Sales & Business Development at Bondurant. “Dodge was building this 840 horsepower car, and they wanted to train people in this car, to teach them safe driving principles and how to drive the car and utilize its features and power. And because we have the Demon and the Challenger 1320, it led to a drag racing course that anyone can come here and drive these cars. It’s the only school in the country where you can drive a Demon — there are only 3,000 of them in the world and we have five of them, so even though you may never get to own one, you can come here and learn to drag race behind the wheel of one.”
The sport of drag racing features a handful of dedicated drag racing schools, each with similar curriculum to educate drivers on the fundamentals and the more nitty-gritty details of hardcore drag racing. Bondurant’s school is a blend of a drag racing school and an “experience” — it’s an opportunity to push one of Dodge’s world-beating Challenger SRT Demon vehicles to its limits, with expert driving instruction, but also to learn the in’s and out’s of hardcore drag racing. Its instructors guide you through the operation of the Demon, how to do a burnout, how to launch the car using the built-in transbrake, staging, reaction times, and the Christmas tree. So all of the basics are there, just like any number of focused drag racing schools, and if you’re a gearhead that wants to learn the basics of drag racing and get comfortable driving a very powerful street car, this is a great course.
“We’re a school, but this is still an experience. We do all of the preparation before you even get on the track, and we have the tools that other schools don’t have to do driver training before you get on the dragstrip,” Kessler explains. “We have designed skid cars that are on hydraulics, and an instructor rides with you and adjusts the hydraulics to teach oversteer and understeer, and also provide an opportunity teach skid-control management before you get on the track and have the tires break loose. We teach the line-lock and burnout procedure, and then the transbrake. We teach ease of these drills, and then we have the students translate that to the track, learning how to drive the vehicle.”
“These 840 horsepower cars are allowing people to really learn to drive and control a car; we don’t pitch ourselves as a racing school, but as a car control school,” Kessler adds.
Chuck Sundstrom, a 37-year veteran of the sport and of drag racing instruction, is the head of the Bondurant drag racing school, and he brings plenty to the table, whether you just want to the experience or you desire national event-winning skills.
The one-day Bondurant course begins with the school’s chief instructor, Mike McGovern, providing a verbal syllabus of the day’s curriculum in a classroom setting, along with general instruction to get everyone up and rolling. The hands-on portion then begins on Bondurant’s high-performance driving road course, as instructors guide students through how to use the SRT Demon’s line lock and transbrake to properly perform a burnout and then stage the car. This begins with a walk-through of the Challenger Demon’s SRT Performance Pages on the Uconnect Infotainment screen.
The line-lock, for example, involves selecting the line lock, pressing the brake pedal to bring the pressure up to a specific value, and then holding the center ‘ok’ button on the steering wheel to lock the pressure. You can then release the brake pedal and ease into the throttle to perform a burnout. Once the ‘ok’ button is released, the car will power forward from the burnout box.
The transbrake, likewise, is accessible in the SRT Performance Pages menu. To do this, you hold the brake with the left foot, bring the engine RPM up with the right foot to achieve the recommended 1800-2000 rpm, press and hold the paddles behind the steering wheel, release the foot brake, and then release the paddles when you’re ready to launch the car.
Once the fundamentals of the car were down-pat, Bondurant’s instructors took the attendees to a skidpad, in order to provide hands-on instruction in handling traction loss — after all, you can get just as out-of-shape on a drag strip as you can in a road racing environment, and this basic skill is a necessity to keep your car out of the wall.
With those key training exercises checked off, the course then transitioned across the street to Wild Horse Pass to get down to business.
We began by practicing performing burnouts. This is something that, admittedly, take some practice and coordination, particularly if you’ve never driven a modern muscle car with features like this. After a successful burnout, we’d roll to the line and McGovern and his team would walk us through how to stage, the basic operation of the Christmas tree, and how to launch the car. From there, it was game-on in making 660-foot, 1/8-mile passes.
Many chose to try launching with the footbrake initially to get a feel for the car; we tried both, but found the transbrake to be much more consistent as far and reaction time and 60-foot times.
Everyone made four runs back-to-back, and then would rotate the vehicles to the next group, before making another four runs. In between, of course, the cars were wiped down for sanitary purposes (thanks, Coronavirus). Instructors would then provide individual instruction to each driver, depending on where they were at in their adaptation to the training, prior to each run. Additional instruction could be provided via a two-way radio in each car.
For those taking the two-day course, Bondurant provides private instruction on the second day catered to the specific needs of the individual.
License To Drive
Like any other drag racing school, you can earn your NHRA competition license at the Bondurant school, through what it calls its “9-Second Club,” and since we already have some drag racing experience under our belts, this was a logical step for us.
Bondurant charges an additional $500 to earn your competition license, and ironically enough, our own Vinny Costa was the very first student too attempt receiving a license from Bondurant. Vinny set out to earn his license, beginning with 1/8-mile runs and transitioning to the 1/4-mile to achieve the required runs of either 9.99-seconds or quicker, or 135 mph trap speed, at the 1/4-mile.
“We’re the first driving school where students can earn their SCCA road racing license and a coveted NHRA 9- second drag racing license,” says McGovern. “We worked closely with Chuck Sundstrom, a respected NHRA driver, coach and track operator, to develop this exclusive curriculum. Not only will our students race away with their NHRA credentials but become part of the exclusive Bondurant 9 Second Club.”
“The chance to earn your 9-second NHRA license behind the wheel of a production Dodge vehicle, at a dedicated driver training facility, with private instruction, is unprecedented,” Sundstrom adds.
Vinny made two runs to the 1/8-mile, and then in a slight departure from the standard course structure, made six runs to the 1/4-mile. As you might expect, the 115-plus degree temperatures in Arizona in the middle of July hampered horsepower production and traction on the 9-second-capable Challenger SRT Demon, and so reaching the needed 135 mph to the stripe proved a bit challenging. For our 1/4-mile runs, Bondurant bolted on a set of skinny fronts to help us get the job done and the required speeds in the books to earn an NHRA license.
“I think this is a fantastic introduction to drag racing, especially if someone purchases an SRT product and they want to learn about drag racing specifically, this is a great start,” Costa says of the entire experience at Bondurant. “It’s really great for Dodge owners, because the car shares some technology across the SRT and the Challenger and Charger lines. If you’ve never drag raced before, and you want to do it with late-model cars, this course is a great start. The skid car, in particular, is something most people don’t have access to, so that’s a big deal. I think some people might be apprehensive to get into drag racing, because they might see a video of a car getting loose and going into the wall. So that part of the course provides some reassurance to them.”
Costa adds of the experience of driving the SRT Demon: “The car is incredible. I was doing 130 mph and, even on the skinnies, it was super stable. I’ve only drag raced in old cars, so that’s my basis for comparison, and that thing was planted and it was stable. The launch control, once you got the hang of it, it made it a lot easier and more consistent than trying to leave off your foot. The same thing with the line-lock — there’s a steep learning curve there, and it’s unforgiving, but once you learn how to do it, it’s easy. Anybody could do it and it gives you instant results.”