On the weekend of March 18-20, the 20th annual Muscle Cars at the Strip was held at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and we were on hand for the weekend of Mopar-heavy action. For those who are unsure, this event was originally called Mopars at the Strip, but to expand the field, they opened it up to other American vehicles and transitioned to the name Muscle Cars at the Strip – but the vast majority of the vehicles on hand are Mopars.
While the name suggests that this is a drag racing event, it is more like an automotive festival that is built around a massive drag racing program. In addition to the quarter mile monsters, there is also a huge autocross course with an interesting spread of vehicles, a sprawling car show area, a selection of featured vehicles under tents and a manufacturer’s midway offering everything from clothing and apparel to high performance parts.
The Autocross Area
The autocross area is the most unique aspect of Muscle Cars at the Strip (MATS), as events focused on American muscle cars go. A key advantage of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway drag strip area is that the grounds are absolutely gigantic. The drag strip is a part of the even larger LVMS complex, which also has the NASCAR oval and many road course areas. The pit area of the drag strip is so large that at the far end of the track, there is room for the MATS to set up a big autocross course, traced on the outside by protective concrete barriers.
The autocross competitors are parked along those concrete barriers and in the pit rows nearest the entry point, with distinct number signs on each vehicle. There are some vehicles that were competing in both the drag race and autocross programs, but it looked like most of the autocross cars were sticking to the curvy cone track. Not surprisingly, the autocross area had the biggest mix of non-Mopar vehicles, with quite a few Camaros, Mustangs and Corvettes, but there will still plenty of new and classic Mopars flexing their cornering capabilities.
The majority of the Mopars in action on the autocross course were late model Challengers and Chargers, but there were some classic models that you generally wouldn’t expect to see scooting skillfully through a series of cones. While the location at the far end of the pits may have kept some people from checking it out, the autocross program is a cool aspect of the event – showing that American cars aren’t just straight-line performers.
The Show Area
Nestled right in the middle of the pit area of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway drag strip area is the car show area. There are some non-Mopars in the show area, but this is the most Mopar-heavy aspect of Muscle Cars at the Strip. In terms of Mopars on display, there are more modern models, specifically Challengers and Chargers with a few Rams and Durangos mixed in.
However, while there are a great many Challengers and Chargers, there is a surprising spread of styles among them. From clean, relatively stock-looking muscle cars with beefy rear tires and a drag-strip-ready stance to slammed cars with incredible custom paint, vertical doors and massive wheels with hardly any sidewall, the modern Mopar show vehicles cover every bit of the customization spectrum.
As for the classic Mopars on hand, there are fewer, but there are far more models represented. There are all of the usual Mopar muscle cars from the A, B and E-body families, but MATS drew some interesting classics that you don’t see any many shows. Models like a 70’s Magnum, a Hurst Chrysler 300 convertible and even a Dodge Rampage with a modern Hellcat Hemi helped make the classic crowd far more diverse than the modern muscle.
The Drag Racing Program
Finally, the drag racing program is the star of Muscle Cars at the Strip for good reason. Again, it is Mopar-heavy, but there were quite a few Ford and GM race cars, along with a Tesla Model S that was running pretty consistent low-9s in the quarter mile. That being said, pretty much every class is comprised of mostly Mopars and dominated by Mopars.
There are tons of Hellcat, Scat Pack and other modern Dodge Challengers and Chargers in every class in which they are allowed, but there are also loads of wicked classic Mopars in every class. In fact, even in the Gen III Hemi class, which you would expect to be all modern models, there are some impressive classics packing modern power.
Of course, the Nostalgia Super Stock class was only old school cars and that group showed that the cars from the 1960s can still flex their American muscles as well as the high tech modern cars.
The event did a great job of rolling the drag race cars through the lanes and down the track all weekend, but the conditions were far from ideal. The winds were so strong on Saturday that gusts of wind were ripping the roofs off of golf carts, lifting tents with sandbags into the air and flipping over metal security gates. I don’t know that I have experienced wind like that at the track and at times, that wind was blowing across the track.
Unfortunately, that wind had a key impact on a portion of the drag racing program. The first ever Muscle Cars at the Strip World’s Fastest Hellcat Challenge was intended to feature the two quickest and fastest Hellcat cars in the world – the Grmpycat Challenger of Kevin Helmick and the 007 Challenger of the Epling Family race team. On Friday during testing, Grmpycat blew an engine and the 007 car chewed up the transmission. Both teams wrenched for hours, well into Saturday morning, to get both cars up and running. They each hit the track for their first test hit of the day, both running “low power” after the technical issues.
Both cars made decent runs with no displayed time, at which point Team Grmpycat decided that they didn’t need more test hits. Team Epling did want another test hit, so they did so a few hours later. With the power turned up a bit, the car blew the tires off at which point they made the call to not go on with the planned match races. Due to the questionable traction and the crazy winds, Team Epling opted that it was not safe to race and according to the event organizers, that counts as a forfeit and Grmpycat took home the trophy.
We later learned that on his one clean test hit, Kevin Helmick ran a 7.314 at 181.74 miles per hour while the Jason Epling ran a 7.34 at 195.82 miles per hour. Both of these cars have run in the 6s in the past and both drivers hoped to run in the 6s at MATS, but the conditions weren’t favorable to run times like that. It was, however, impressive that both teams were able to overcome serious technical issues on Friday to each make a low-7-second pass on Saturday.