After struggling most the season with his Gas Monkey-sponsored NHRA Mello Yello Pro Stock Chevrolet Camaro, driver Alex Laughlin and his team decided to make some big changes for the final four races of the season.
“So, the deal in Pro Stock right now is that the fastest cars are all Jerry Haas [-built] cars,” said Lauglin. “The problem is that there is not a plethora of them laying around. We’ve been trying to come up with a different car for me for the last four races because I’ve been struggling with mine for most of the season. My Camaro is perfectly fine to half-track; it is usually at the top of the charts but from the eighth-mile on it’s about three-hundredths slow. I’m usually ahead at half-track and then get driven around. We’ve changed the brakes, transmission housing, the engine, and completely re-wired the car and we still can’t find what’s wrong.” Laughlin said in a recent article to NHRA.com.
Laughlin’s search for Jerry Haas built race car lead him to the door of Pro Stock driver Deric Kramer. In the off-season his team switched from Dodge Dart to the Chevrolet Camaro. While they had two Dodge Dart chassis from the previous season, one of them was built by Jerry Haas.
The car itself has seen action this year with rookie Will Hatcher behind the wheel, however the car is now in Laughlin’s hands for the rest of the 2018 season.
Laughlin’s team went hard to work to convert the Dart from Mopar power to GM power. It required new GM 500ci engine provided by Elite Motorsports (which ran Dodge Darts in the 2016 season), new headers, new mid-plates and some other changes to throttle linkage and air intake.
After arriving at Brainerd for the Lucas Oil Nationals, even Alex was surprised by the great pair of runs his Chevy-powered Dodge Dart made during Friday qualifying. The Elite Motorsports racer ran a 6.625 in Q1 and bettered that by making a 6.613 in Q2 to land in the No. 3 position, behind Chris McGaha only on speed. That’s the kind of performance the team was hoping for when they borrowed the Dart chassis from the Kramers.
“When I got to the end and I was told what my time was in Q1 it didn’t really mean anything to me because I’ve only raced here one time, so I didn’t know if that was going to be a good or bad time,” said Laughlin. “But when that held up for No. 3 in the session I knew we had a race car again.”
All of Laughlin’s experience in a Pro Stocker has come in a Camaro, so the biggest adjustment in those two runs came inside the seat.
“I felt comfortable going into it, I’ve driven a lot of different stuff so I’m kind of used to that uncomfortable feeling,” said Laughlin. “It was definitely weird after I got strapped in and everything and that’s when it hit. I’m pulling up to do my burnout and I stab the line lock and I’m thinking, ‘crap where’s the pressure gauge? Oh, there it is.’ Because it’s in a different spot. Then, I’m looking for the tach. The only thing is it’s tougher to see out of the Dart than the Camaro.”
“I know a bunch of fans will probably go nuts when I show(ed) up with this car but I hope they understand why we did what we’ve done,” Laughlin said. “Most Mopar fans are die-hard Mopar fans and most Chevy fans are die-hard Chevy fans. They are either one way or another. Not both. I understand that, but for me, the thing that matters most is that the car is fast.”
Since Mopar and Dodge announced they would not be supporting the Pro Stock category in 2016, a handful of teams still having been running the Dodge Dart chassis and Mopar-sourced HEMI motor design. However, most teams are now running Chevrolet Camaro chassis and GM-sourced engines. This will be the first time a hybrid switch has been done.
The review on the car overall is glowing, though. Laughlin says for the first time in a long time, he feels excited about the rest of the weekend. Crew chief Marc Ingwersen didn’t take much time to get acclimated with the combination machine, and while it might be a longshot for Laughlin to get into the Countdown to the Championship he can at least chase his first win of the season.
Mopar fans will be cheering on Alex for the rest of the season, in hopes that Mopar and Dodge take notice to bring sponsorship and development back for a new Pro Stock race car.