Gallery: Wayne County & Mopar Performance put Alderman in the Winner’s Circle

In the late-1980s, Mopar returned to its winning ways in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Pro Stock eliminator. By 1990, the Wayne County Speed Shop Pro Stock Dodge driver Darrell Alderman won the first of two consecutive and three overall Pro Stock World Championships (’90, ’91, and ’94). So, before the conspiracy theories, controversies, and rumors developed, the early 1990s was an exciting time to be a Mopar fan.

Left: Chrysler introduced its first Mopar Performance magazine advertisement in 1989 and instructed Mopar enthusiasts on “How to run with a faster crowd.” Center: After finishing in the top five in 1989, a 1990 Mopar Performance magazine ad warned, “We’re the fast crowd your mother warned you about.” Right: By 1991, Mopar Performance saluted its newest Pro Stock Champion in another magazine advertisement, simultaneously providing a cooking lesson. 

Alderman earned his first win in a Dodge Daytona at the 1989 NHRA Gatornationals. So naturally, the Mopar Performance representatives at Chrysler were ecstatic about the win, and they developed a series of magazine advertisements that showed Dodge’s products in a great light.

The first hiccup in the road was Alderman’s personal demons leading to his suspension from the NHRA competition in ’92 and ’93. During Alderman’s hiatus, former test car driver Scott Geoffrion filled the Wayne County Pro Stock Dodge seat.

Above: Darrell Alderman sporting the #1 on the window showed he and the Wayne County Speed Shop race team earned the top spot in the Pro Stock eliminator. Before Alderman won the title, Dodge had not won an NHRA championship since 1971, when Mike Fons took the title. (Photographer unknown)

Alderman returned in 1994 as part of a two-car team, which included Geoffrion. The team was often affectionately called the “Dodge Boys,” but Warren Johnson referred to the Dodges as Jeeps on more than one occasion.

Riding high after a third Pro Stock championship, the 1995 season started great for Alderman with three wins, a runner-up in the first five races, and a single win for Geoffrion, but then it took a turn for the worse. After a wicked carburetor backfire at the 1994 U.S. Nationals in Alderman’s Dodge, rumors began swirling around the pits about the team’s use of nitrous oxide (NOS).

Above: Wayne County Speed Shop ran a Chevrolet with little success, but once the team switched to Dodge, the wins started adding up. Alderman earned his first win in a Dodge at the NHRA Gatornationals in 1989. (Photographer unknown)

Unfortunately, a second backfire with Alderman’s Dodge at the Fram Southern Nationals in 1995 did nothing to reduce the claims of impropriety of the Wayne County Speed Shop team.

And then it happened on May 17, 1995, just before the Mopar Parts Nationals and the Du Pont Pro Stock Challenge at Englishtown, New Jersey, Jim Musgrave, a Wayne County Speed Shop team member, discovered the break-in. Depending on the source referenced, six or seven engine blocks had been damaged by a sledgehammer. Nothing else in the shop was destroyed or stolen. Almost at once, the rumor mill went to full speed faster than a Pro Stocker.

Above: Alderman returned to the Wayne County Speed Shop team in 1994. The team included Scott Geoffrion in a 2nd car. This time, Alderman returned to his winning ways in a black and white Dodge Avenger. (Photographer unknown) 

Sadly, the team struggled to prepare new blocks and missed the rest of the 1995 season. Then because of problems with the new engine block casting, the team withdrew from the 1996 season. Eventually, the team regrouped, but the damage was done. The team never had the same success, and Alderman earned just a couple of wins over the next decade.

After several lackluster seasons, Geoffrion’s contract ended, and he was released in 2001, followed by Alderman in 2004. Many replacement drivers tried to rekindle the magic of the original “Dodge Boys,” but success eluded them. Even with changes in ownership and management of the team, the break-in ended the team’s success.

Above: Alderman poses with his 1995 Avenger. The team started strong, but a break-in at the Wayne County Speed Shop ended the season and the winning ways for the Dodge Pro Stock effort. (Photographer unknown)

So, did the Wayne County Speed Shop use nitrous? The team was never accused of any NHRA rules infractions. NHRA requires the winners, runners-up, and random teams at each event to be sequestered for inspections (teardowns), and with nothing found, nitrous may not have been used.

Of course, some nay-sayers claim the break-in was staged because the NHRA was going to suspend the team but did not want to embarrass Chrysler, which had the naming rights of multiple events and provided a large portion of the advertising dollars. Many also claim the year-plus time to get the engines “fixed” equates to a year-long suspension, but again all speculation.

Above: When you have a winner, you merchandise it to the maximum. Chrysler made all kinds of things that represented the Mopar Performance Pro Stocker. This sticker is 32 years old and still looks as good as the day a $1 bill was plunked down to purchase it. 

Regardless of all the claims and guesses, for several summers in the early 1990s, it was a great time to be a Pro Stock Mopar fan. Mopar enthusiasts had waited decades for a Chrysler product to reach the winner’s circle, and once it did, it felt great.

During the hay-day of the team, Mopar Performance banners were affixed to the various Mopars driven by Alderman and Geoffrion. What was Mopar Performance? In 1987, with a redirection on performance parts and a revised brand strategy, Direct Connection became Mopar Performance, ushering in a new era of modern performance parts and high-performance crate engines.

With very few exceptions, the early era of Mopar Performance was linked to lackluster vehicles. While Ford sold millions of Mustangs, Chevy tried to keep up with the Camaro, and even Buick was a player in the mix; Mopar had a bunch of front-wheel drive econoboxes for the public. Luckily, in the 2000s, the V8 Hemi era started, and that engine revived the performance sales of the Mopar brand.

Even better, the iconic Direct Connection name returned, and just like the ‘70s and ‘80s, Direct Connection is the go-to source for go-faster parts and advice right from the source – Chrysler. Of course, Direct Connection has components for the muscle car Mopars. Still, it has many Stellantis’ approved parts and kits to take the most potent Redeye or Hellcat well past the factory horsepower ratings.

Above: Direct Connection was the source for professional race team parts for the sportsman racer and the street enthusiast. After disappearing for several decades, Direct Connection is back. Not only does it support the muscle car era vehicles, but it also supports all the latest Hemi Charger and Challenger go-faster parts. (Photographers unknown)

One of the original and most popular Direct Connection companies that made it through the dark days of the automotive industry, the name changes to Mopar Performance, and now back to Direct Connection is Mancini Racing. After all these years, the company is still a Mopar enthusiast’s direct connection to the manufacturer. Check out Mancini for all your Mopar performance needs. Whether it is a muscle car-era ‘Cuda or a late-model Challenger, Mancini will have what you desire.

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Chris Holley

Technical Contributor Chris has been a college professor for 25 years; at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, PA. for the last 20 years. Chris instructs automotive classes in HVAC, electrical/electronics, and high-performance, including using a chassis dyno, flow benches, and various machining equipment. Recently, he added a vintage vehicle upholstery class to his teaching assignments. Chris owns a '67 Dart, a '75 Dart, a '06 Charger, and a '12 Cummins turbo diesel Ram, and he is a multi-time track champion (drag racing) with his '69 340 Dart, which he has owned for 34 years.

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