We’d like to welcome TTAC contributor, point-of-view video auteur, and fan favorite Bigtruckseries to the site for his first contribution. Bigtruck, as many of our readers know, is the owner of a Chrysler 300C. After adding a Jeep Cherokee SRT-8 to his fleet, he decided to attend the SRT Experience and chronicle the event for us. Bigtruck’s not the only reader we’d like to see contributing feature articles, so if you’re interested, please contact us. In the meantime, enjoy a one-hand-on-the-B-pillar romp through Chrysler’s enthusiast event. Naturally, there’s plenty of video! — JB
“SRT” stands for “Street & Racing Technology”. I always assumed it stood for “Street Racing Technology”, but for litigious reasons, “street racing” is something that I’d doubt Chrysler LLC would want to promote.
SRT EXPERIENCE is a driving course designed to acclimate SRT drivers with the extreme handling abilities of their vehicles using tight race courses and slaloms under instructor supervision. My nearest SRT Experience track was in Englishtown NJ, a 56 mile drive from my house in Queens. Fortunately, it was a beautiful day yesterday with calm 80 degree temperatures.
Each course lasts from 8AM – 4:30 PM. Upon arrival, we were given a name badge and an “SRT” branded flash drive. Each car has a Race Keeper digital media recorder which created video on our drives to keep for Facebook or Youtube. We were provided with a full breakfast and lunch with a very NASCARish – country western feel: Hot Dogs, burgers, bacon, eggs and pulled pork among them. Each course segment had their own coolers and snack racks where we could eat chips, cookies, Gatorade or soda on a whim.
There were approximately 40 SRT owners at the event. We marveled at each other’s cars and mods as we arrived in the parking lot. No Vipers… plenty of Chargers, Jeeps and Challengers and 2 other 300SRT just like mine. I’ve never seen that many SRT vehicles in the same place before and the immediate thoughts about “global warming” and “fuel costs” were inevitable.
The cost of the event was $699 for people who just want to try out the cars While this would be good for car reviewing outfits that want to sample all the vehicles at once, it’s quite expensive if you were “considering” buying an SRT instead of a 5.7-L and wanted to test drive the vehicles first. The cost for non-drivers is $150 which is really steep considering they aren’t driving, but I’m sure the cost of feeding them is factored in.
I’d like to see Chrysler offer a discount of the track experience to people who purchased the cars used – perhaps a 50% discount – and perhaps a shorter course (i.e. 10 – 12am).
Included vehicles were:
3 x 2013 Chrysler 300SRT
3 x Dodge Charger SRT/ Super Bee SRT
3 x 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT
3 x Dodge Challenger 392 SRT
The Dodge Viper was NOT included in the experience. A real let down – but understandable considering the price of the car ranges well beyond $100,000. It was available on the road course in the first year, 2005, and I think the first half of the second year, but they lost two or three in that time. One was literally ripped in half when a lady spun it sideways into a barrier. After $200,000 in losses, they restricted them to the autocross portion for a few years. They took them out completely during the production hiatus. Might not bring them back, given the new hard edge they have now – even the autocross course might not be safe.
The first course was two Slalom laps using the Challenger. The objective was to complete it fastest without knocking over cones (2 second penalty per) and coming to a final dead stop in a stop zone. I ran 34 seconds in the first run with 1 cone penalty and 34 seconds in the second run with no penalties. I easy acclimated to the Chargers and the 300 (since I own one), but the Challenger took more getting used to because It felt lighter and abnormally long through the Slalom – probably my least favorite to drive.
The second course was a Drag strip where we had to face off against another driver in the Charger. We were to not only start properly as soon as the tree’s green light hit, but come to a full stop at the end of the drag and then make a turn through into another slalom with a full stop in the pit. I won 3 out of the 4 races.
It was quite funny that the instructors instructed us to drive with hands in the 10-2 position, but I naturally used my right hand on the wheel with left hand holding the window frame to drive – and still did it perfectly. I was so used to driving that way, I even used my turn signal!
After lunch, we went to the main roadway for alternating drives in the 300, Charger, Challenger and Jeeps. We were first instructed how to keep a position behind the instructor – basically following his tracks. We were not allowed to turn off ESC or pass and needed to keep a 3 car length behind the next car.
We recently leased a 2014 JEEP SRT to accompany my 300SRT so we have a second track experience which I’ll have my girlfriend attend. I’d still have to pay $150 to sit with her through the course if I wanted to accompany her. The 2014 JGCSRT SRT was the one product I went to the SRT Experience simultaneously determined to beat on, but absolutely terrified to do so.
I’ve gotten so used to speeding in my sedans that I’m absolutely terrified of speeding in an SUV due to the ride height. There was a lingering fear in my mind that my Jeep SRT joyriding would end in a rollover. It didn’t. The Jeep SRT handles like magic and the suspension does everything it has to in order to stay planted. It’s fast, but the 2010 model seemed faster – partly because it weighed around 500 pounds less. I also preferred the look of the original. In white paint, the 2014 looks more like a Porsche Cayenne than a Chrysler product – wherein the 1st generation model was unmistakable for a “Jeep” at any distance.
The 8 Speed transmission adds just 1 MPG (during Highway-speed heavy driving rather than city) and the electronic shifter STILL SUCKS. I haven’t been happy with the 8-speed since I test drove the Audi A8 – long before the Chryslers got it.
The Jeep offers Launch control with the ability to personally set the RPM meter at which to launch, but just like the Charger, Challenger and 300, the Jeep feels too heavy.
On the street – these cars are monsters… especially when facing down 4-cylinders, and v6 powered econoboxes dominating the roadways, but on a track, these cars are overwhelmed by mass and immense dimensions. The highest speeds we saw (even the pros) were well below 101 mph and pushing them into the 80’s on straights caused us to panic break constantly due to the foresight that stopping these beasts or forcing them to turn once we past 75mph was tremendously hard. Driving behind instructors was a harrowing experience. We were supposed to maintain 3-car length distances, but it was too difficult to accelerate to high speed when the instructor did, stay on his tracks, and then decelerate around turns. I found myself staying 1 car length behind, constantly worried that my pursuer would rear-end me.
At one point, the instructor of a Challenger took a hard skid right off the track, through the grass and into the oncoming lane. He had a young non-driver in the car with him. Had there been an oncoming vehicle, they could have been hit.
I learned plenty about the limitations of the SRT vehicles as I abused them. All of these cars are straight line cruisers only. Even from what I’ve seen of the more attractive Viper SRT, it appears that the new Corvette is more ready for the party.
Overall, my experience at SRT’s track meet was fantastic. Lincoln doesn’t offer a product like this and Cadillac doesn’t offer a program like this for their V-series. Neither Mercedes nor BMW offer these programs either. I’m proud to be a 3-time SRT owner and hopefully the products will continue to improve with aluminum blocks and better fuel economy.