AJ Berge of HEMI Tuner Performance drove his Whipple Superchargers, Revolution Paradox, Security Dodge Power Brokers sponsored RAMCHARGERS Challenger Drag Pak to victory in the Holley EFI Factory Super Cars (FSC) class during the season opening NMCA Muscle Car Mayhem race at Orlando Speed World. Racing from the number 13 spot, it would end up being a lucky number for the Dodge driver as he notched his first win of the 2023 race season, but it was not without drama, sweat, and long hours in the pits figuring out what the car wanted to get down the track.
“Despite running the Drag Illustrated World Series of Pro Mod event and the NHRA Gatornationals earlier this month, the NMCA Orlando race didn’t really start off any better than how the Gators had ended,” said Berge. “We were not fast in testing and the car was still a tenth off. We decided to use Friday to go over every inch of the car in attempt to get it right. After missing a time trial and qualifying session on Friday, we tried that evening to get my Drag Pak in the show but ended up spinning the tires which put us last on the qualifying sheet. On Saturday, we were informed that qualifying would be cut short due to the threat of weather leaving us one opportunity to move up in the field and out of number 16 qualifying spot. We tried many different combinations, but we only managed to move up to the number 13 spot with a 7.90-second run.”
During the opening round of eliminations, Berge squared off with Mustang Cobra Jet racer James Betz, and the Drag Pak unleased a 7.67 @ 180 mph. Now with a strong race day pass, Berge looked at the weather and track conditions and found a balance on how far he could push his supercharged HEMI at the hit of throttle. “Still on the hunt for what is ailing us we decided to try a combo that we had success with last year and that did the trick at Orlando. We really made a statement winning round one with a 7.67-pass at over 180 MPH,” exclaimed Berge. In the second round, Berge lined up with Tony Scott’s COPO Camaro and quicky put the Chevy on the trailer with a strong 7.74-second run to the Scott’s tire spinning 13.63–second pass.
Now heading into the semifinals, Berge remained focused on the ever-changing track surface but knew his opponent would be tough. It was Chuck Watson II who was the number one qualifier and current NMCA FSC World Champion. Berge knew he could not leave anything on the table as Watson’s Cobra Jet Mustang is one of the fastest in the country. At the hint of green, Berge’s Drag Pak was off the line first with a great reaction time while Watson’s Cobra Jet suffered some mechanical issue. Knowing he had to push it hard, Berge’s ‘Candymatic’ Dodge scorched the strip with a time of 7.62 @ 180.91 mph.
This set the stage for a classic Mopar verse Chevy final round. Knowing how aggressive he could be on the tune-up and launch, Berge upped his game and faced another COPO Camaro, this time driven by Ricky Hord. It was all or nothing as Berge threw everything at his Drag Pak. As the two drivers bumped into Pre-Stage and Stage Beams, you could feel the tension as no car had an advantage over the other. When the Christmas Tree flickered green, both machines hooked hard and leapt off the starting line with Berge getting a holeshot on Hord. Both the Challenger and the Camaro were side-by-side all the way down the track. When the top end scoreboards lit up, Berge’s win light came on with a 7.63-second ET to Hord’s quicker but losing 7.62-second ET. For putting a Challenger Drag Pak in the winner’s circle at Orlando Speed World, Berge will also collect $10,000 in contingency from Direct Connection.
“We had a tremendous amount of help this weekend. Kyle and Mark Pawuk, David Barton, Scott Libershire, and his crew helped us get on the track. These guys provided much needed help for some major repairs. Tim Holmberg from Holmberg Motorsports surprised us by flying in from Minnesota to lend a much-needed assist in a bumper-to-bumper teardown to figure things out. Even my office manager and her fiancé came down to Florida and helped out tremendously in getting us to the winner’s circle. To say this one was won for my team is an understatement. I really feel we have a handle on it now and we look forward to going testing so we are ready for the next round of NMCA and NHRA races in North Carolina in April,” exclaimed a jubilant Berge.
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