Draggin' in the Dodge Demon - One Hell of a Good Time
There’s only one reason for the Dodge Demon to exist, and that’s to go fast in a straight line, preferably at a dragstrip.
Which is why I haven’t fully understood the point of the car, at least up until now. And maybe I still don’t. I mean, how many dedicated drag racers are out there that want to spend a pretty penny ($85K, give or take) on something that’s factory-ready for the strip and easily streetable? Back in the muscle car days, sure, that was a thing, but today’s drag racers are probably either finding a cheap Fox-body Mustang and decking it out, or, if they have the means, going whole hog and buying something from an OEM that isn’t street legal.
That’s just a guess on my part – I’m not as in tune with those who drag race on weekends as I’d like to be. Maybe there’s been a clamor for a car just like the Demon for a long time. Either way, Dodge isn’t going to build many – just 3,000 for the U.S. and 300 for Canada.
I can understand why the Challenger, including the Hellcat version, exists – it looks cool on Woodward, the V8 models sound badass, and it’s the closest thing FCA has to a “pony car” (in my ideal world, Dodge would sell a true pony car alongside the Challenger, but I’m no Sergio). But unlike most sports cars, which can give you at least a taste of their track prowess on the right public road, the Demon’s skillset can’t be safely applied to the street.
That doesn’t mean I think the car should be banned – Automotive News got that wrong – just that, on paper, I didn’t quite get the hype.
Then someone tossed me the red key.
Full disclosure: Fiat Chrysler put us up in a lovely hotel in southwest Michigan that had a stunning lake view, fed us three nice meals, and offered a Demon-logo baseball hat that I might’ve brought home had I not forgotten. They did not fly us to the event, as it was a relatively easy drive, so sorry boss, I have a fuel receipt to expense.
I don’t have much drag strip experience, so being sat in an 840-horsepower, 770 lb-ft of torque vehicle and told to drive it as fast as I can, without wrecking it, was a bit unnerving. Dodge did provide professional instructors who taught us how to work the line-lock system in order to do burnouts, how to work the transmission brake system for better launches, and just to give general tips regarding both the car and drag racing.
If you haven’t already figured it out, this won’t be a typical review. I’d intended to do it as a first drive, but Dodge had to set two cars off to the side for mechanical/technical issues of a mysterious nature (unclear if the wounds were journalist-inflicted or not), meaning the car tagged for street duty had to be shifted to the track. Meaning I didn’t get to drive a Demon on public roads.
By now, I assume most TTAC readers are familiar with the Demon’s specs — the passenger seat and rear seat can be removed, the car has a “drag mode” that sets it up properly for racing (including killing the a/c while the mode is active), there are drag tires, the engine is beefed up with parts such as a forged steel crankshaft, an a/c chiller helps the engine cool down between runs, the twin-screw supercharger runs 14.5 psi of boost, the final drive ratio is 3.09, et cetera. The list goes on. One note – the engine specs above are with 100-octane gas. The Demon makes 808 horsepower and 717 lb-ft on premium fuel.
Even though I wasn’t able to take it off property, I suspect that the Demon drives much like other Challengers – just with more power. It might have been informative to see how the mods (beefier trans, drag tires, et cetera) affect the car on regular roads, but I think I learned more by sticking to the track.
I certainly had a hell of a lot more fun. Acceleration is addictive. Not to mention that avoiding even the slightest risk of an encounter with the local law was a nice bonus.
While I’ve dragged a production car a time or two before, I’ve never had the chance to do a proper burnout before launch. On this day, though, I was shown how to use line-lock to give the Demon’s rear tires a nice smoking before staging. It’s trickier than it looks, and I screwed it up at least once (two left feet and all that), but damn if it isn’t satisfying to fry some rubber when you get it just right.
The other trick track feature the Demon possesses (heh) is a transmission-brake feature. It involves a complicated dance involving both shift paddles and both pedals, but get it right, which I did on my second try, and you will launch more smoothly and save time as opposed to simply using a traditional brake-torque launch.
Oh, that launch. Get it right and the car sort of lurches ahead, slowly at first as you feed in gas, but then the hood pitches up, the rear tires catch and “holy shit it’s a cannon it’s a missile keep it straight keep your right foot floored oh damn the run is over I better lift.” My first two or three runs passed in a blur, but oddly, as I became more comfortable with the car, the launch process, and the effects of Newton’s Second Law, my brain eventually caught up and each trip down the strip felt less overwhelming and more manageable, even as my times shortened.
Dodge didn’t give out timeslips, probably to keep journalists from doing something stupid in the name of pride, but the car lets you know your time if you remember to set up the Performance Pages app correctly. I didn’t in the first few runs – although I caught sight of 135 mph on the dash as I hit the quarter-mile mark – but I did later. My best time that I know of was 11 seconds flat, which was on par for our group – I heard chatter of a few folks running a tenth or two quicker.
Yeah, the world doesn’t need a car that has a “drag mode.” Yeah, the Demon probably won’t be much more fun than a Hellcat on a public road unless you live near Death Valley. Yeah, it’s expensive. Yeah, FCA builds good performance vehicles but needs to do better with the more mainstream parts of its portfolio (except for Jeep) and needs to finally catch up when it comes to green cars. And yeah, FCA still has reliability issues to worry about.
That all may be true, but eh, f*ck it, Dude. Let’s go drag racing.
[Images © Tim Healey/The Truth About Cars]
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