Some drag strips shut down at the very first hint of fluids being dropped on the track, sending out safety teams to throw down the kitty litter and soak up anything that might in any way impede traction down the 1320. Still others take things a step further by suggesting cars riding on street tires drive around the water box to keep even an ounce of liquid from being left on that crucial first 60 feet of tarmac.
Then there’s Club Motorsports in Tamworth, New Hampshire, where I found myself lined up in the 2017 Challenger GT AWD on a completely snow-covered straightaway, across from a Ski-Doo, waiting for Wyatt Knox from the Team O’Neil Rally School to flag us down the 1/8 mile stretched out in front of us. Max, the sled’s pilot, had graciously offered me lane choice, but the glare of the low-lying winter sun revealed a pretty even soup of ice and slush guaranteed to crush any chance I had of a hole-shot.
How did I get here? It seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, Dodge had been touting the Challenger GT as the only all-wheel drive-equipped muscle car on the market since we left Portland, Maine, earlier that morning for the drive to Tamworth, and what’s the one thing a muscle car does better than anything else but hook up and go like spit in a straight line?
Still, an important aspect of any drag racing career is learning how to strategically pick your battles. I’ve always had a few basic rules: never stage against any car with a wheelie bar, staggered chassis setup, or jet engine strapped to the back. Truth be told, these have typically been more “guidelines” than “rules,” but I’d soon learn that it was time to add another to the list – don’t go head-to-head with a snowmobile in the dead of winter.
Was I overconfident? Oh, goodness no. I had no doubt that physics was about to rear its ugly head and beat me down into the powder without a moment’s hesitation. Let’s do the math. Max had told me his Ski-Doo tipped the scales at 430 lbs, which is coincidentally almost 10 times LESS than what the all-wheel drive Challenger GT happens to weigh. Its two-stroke motor also happened to be good for about 120 horses, giving the sled a startling 3.5 lbs per pony ratio. Compare that to the 13.5 lbs per horsepower offered by the Dodge, and the picture starts to crystallize faster than your breath on a frozen window pane.
By now Mopar fans will have figured out that the Dodge Challenger GT I was driving was motivated by the brand’s Pentastar V6, a motor that squeezes 305 horsepower and 268 lb-ft of torque from its 3.6-liters of displacement. This is the only engine available with the coupe’s AWD package – and you have to go with the eight-speed autobox that’s also a requirement for any six-cylinder Challenger in the Dodge portfolio.
On the street, this might matter, but here in the snow, I wasn’t going to miss any Hemified torque, because the extreme snowy conditions made it unlikely I’d ever be able to put it down to the ground in a usable form. A big part of this had to do with the tires my Challenger GT was shorn with, all-season radials straight from the showroom floor rather than the grippier winter rubber I would have preferred for my dust-up with Max’s Ski-Doo.
It’s not that the tires were in any way dangerously incapable of maintaining their grip on the road, even in the low temperatures common to this part of the country during wintertime. After all, I’d spent the better part of the afternoon barreling down unplowed dirt roads and better-tended two-lanes before hitting up the snowed-over kart track at Club Motorsports. It was here that judicious application of the car’s Super Track Pack feature allowed for full-off traction control sideways fun. It’s just that I was cognizant of the fact that there wasn’t a tire yet designed that could keep up with the sure-grip track on the back of a snowmobile.
And yet, hope springs eternal. I gripped the steering wheel, visualizing the win, with my foot poised over the gas pedal and my eyes focused on Wyatt’s signal as he stood between the two lanes. His arms were raise and there was a look on his face that indicated he didn’t need a time machine to zip into the future and figure out how this was going to end. As soon as he dropped his hands, I eased into the throttle, carefully trying to ride the line between forward progress and intervention from the Challenger GT’s stability system (which I had sensibly left in Sport mode). Spin, spin, spin, and then I could feel the car’s AWD system shift torque from the rear axle to the front wheels in a desperate, and ultimately successful bid to leverage the weight of the V6 in its snout in the search for traction.
It was, of course, much too late. Max later told me that he thought I had him by mid-track, as the Ski-Doo tops out at 45-mph, but by the time the Challenger GT was feeling its oats I had already passed the safe braking point on the icy eighth-mile, mashing the woah pedal well before the finish to avoid becoming a permanent part of the Club Motorsports landscape. On our second run, where he decided to surprise me with a car length or two, I fared no better. It’s clear that in the world of snowmobile-vs-muscle-car racing, I was carrying far too big and heavy of a stick.
From any other perspective, however, the Dodge Challenger GT AWD is largely a success. For $34,490 (including destination), you get four-wheel grip along with a decent amount of gear over the base V6, including Nappa leather seats (that are both heated and cooled), the brand’s top-tier Uconnect 8.4 infotainment system, a rearview camera, a loud Alpine stereo, and even a heated steering wheel (in keeping with the cold weather theme). On the street, the Challenger GT felt bouncier than its rear-wheel drive V6 cousin, the result of a stiffer suspension tune (borrowed in part from its Charger police pack platform-mate) and the frozen P235/55/R19 Michelin Primacy all-season tires, and given its hefty proportions and generous curb weight, the six-cylinder engine keeps it firmly in as-badged grand touring rather than muscle territory. Think of it as a four-seasons commuter with serious retro style, and you’ve got the right idea about the Challenger GT.
Would I want 5.7-liters of eight-cylinder fury in place of the car’s current V6? Of course – but to in a world where Challenger shoppers have to balance burnouts with gas bills, the six-cylinder has long been a strong-selling option. Adding all-wheel drive to the mix just makes things that much sweeter to anyone living in a winter wonderland and hoping to catch a Mustang or Camaro sleeping at a red light before the plows are out. Just stay away from the Bombardier/Yamaha/Arctic Cat crowd.