What does it take to win big at Roadkill Nights on Woodward Avenue? Sure, talking softly and carrying a twin-turbo, 566ci Hemi stick like the one Mike Moran used to bludgeon the competition on the 1/8 mile certainly helps–but it’s really only one part of the formula required to succeed where other hot rodders have failed. The Taylor, Michigan native let us in on his secret to success when it came to dominating August’s street drags in Pontiac.
“Really, that whole event was a tuner’s game–and a nightmare to everyone else,” Moran said when describing what it was like to take a big horsepower car onto Woodward’s slippery asphalt. “The poor surface worked to my advantage, because of how well I knew my own car. It was basically all about wheel speed, not putting too much down low but also knowing when could get on it.” Moran also added that he loved that the cars were kept running between each and every heat–making it a true street car challenge, and a chance for builders to show off their ironman capabilities.
Properly assessing and reassessing street conditions throughout the course of the entire event gave Moran a big advantage over drivers used to dealing with consistent, sticky drag strip conditions. Still, he was impressed by several of his competitors, including Greg Charney’s naturally-aspirated Dodge Dart that performed amazingly well on the street, as well as Tom Bailey’s Pro-Modish Camaro effort.
And then there’s Moran’s car.
“It’s a full steel body car, and it’s completely stock inside and out,” said Moran describing the 1969 Dodge Charger that took home the prize for being the fastest Dodge-powered Dodge at the event. “It’s running Garrett turbos through a BigStuff3 EFI system, and it’s shifted through a Turbo 400 automatic transmission. There’s a Dana 60 rear end out back with 3.54 gearing, and at the crank, you’re looking at 2,200 horsepower.”
That’s serious grunt for a street car, which is exactly what this ’69 Charger is–a muscle machine that’s driven every single summer day by its original owner, Don Vargo.
“Don and I have been close friends for many, many years, and he bought this car nearly three decades ago. I’ve got so much time and development into it that by now he considers me to be the co-owner alongside him, but really, it’s Don’s baby.” Moran added that Vargo regularly drives the turbocharged Hemi monster not just in town, but also on long-distance parts pickups.
Given that the Charger is, outside of the engine bay, running on a stock platform, Moran faced two major challenges in prepping it for Roadkill Nights. The first was making sure those 2,200 horses didn’t just roast rubber on every run.
“It’s really not a race car underneath, and we had to spend a serious amount of time experimenting with the suspension to get it to hook. That took a lot of cobblestone road testing, because we were sure that Woodward was going to be a disaster in terms of traction. Surprisingly, though, after we figured out how to get the Charger to go, it turned out to be next to impossible to stop the thing. I’m not kidding when I say that we had to replace the pads, rotors, and discs – pretty much the entire braking system – the day after the event.” Moran added that he was so nervous about bringing the 4,348 lbs hunk of Dodge metal to a halt in the half-mile of run-off allotted that he shut the car down 150 feet from the finish line each and every run.
As for the $10,000 in prize money he took home for his win, Moran is philosophical.
“Well, to tell you the truth, all that cash kind of already went into the car,” he said. “The development and testing work that we did prior to the event, all those parts and that time, I just gave the check to Don and told him to pay off what he needed to and just keep the rest. For me, the whole thing was a chance to prove what we could accomplish as a shop, in the real world, on the street.”