6 Aug
The Challenger Challenge: 1,000 miles, 10 states, 5 Days, 4 Challenges, 2 hardened journalists and one supreme American Muscle Car.

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This is Day THREE of the Challenger Challenge — Nicolas Stecher’s 5-day drive through the heart of the south in a Dodge Challenger SRT8. From New York City to Alabama in 5 days, hitting 10 states and traversing 1,000 miles…and using no technology that existed before 1974. It will be madness. To start at the beginning, click Day ONE.

DAY THREE
12:24 am, Knoxville Tennessee

Ok, things are getting pretty sad. It’s Day 3 and we have not notched a single Challenge yet, so we spend the morning online trying to find a shop that will Dyno the Challenger for free. After 2 hours, we find Jeff Nance’s Speed Engineering in nearby Decatur.

CONTINUE READING DAY THREE of Nicolas Stecher’s 5-Day Challenger Challenge (including a mega-gallery of pics) after the Jump!

[All images by Robert Kerian]

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3:20 pm Speed Engineering Shop, Decatur, Tennessee
The standalone Dyno shop doubles as a used car lot, with knee-high grass all around it. Inside, Jeff Nance — a Mechanical Engineer from the University of Tennessee — explains how he used to work in DuPont’s Chattanooga textile plant, until he finally got bored and decided to open up his own shop. “Everyone that worked there was like 30 years older than me, and I just wasn’t having any fun.”

“He had the Need for Speed,” smirks his friend Tim, who runs the connected shop next door.

“I was working on my own car, and all my friends brought theirs and wanted me to work on them. So I ended up having enough of that to keep me busy. And I was a lot happier doing this.” Across the street from his steel-framed shop, a wide expanse of Tennessee grasslands holds two golden brown mares—the color of rich leather polished to a sheen. They snap their necks chomping up grass, whipping their tails at invisible irritant flies. A light grey farmhouse rises behind them from the tall grass in the sun.

Jeff pauses for a moment. “You know, DuPont had a dress code: how long your hair should be, and when you should or shouldn’t shave,” he continues, his long, Metallica Ride the Lightning-era hair pulled back in a loose ponytail. “Plus they had these really long hallways, like really long, and they were dark grey with no lights. And I had to walk down there every day,” he says forlornly, his voice trailing off. “It felt like I was in jail. But they paid really well, better than anywhere else around here. But money isn’t everything; I’d rather be happy doing what I love.” And are you?, I ask.

“Absolutely.”

It’s quite a scene watching a car get Dynoed. The orange bull tied down, thick nylon straps constraining its front and rear ends like a vehicular straightjacket. Then it’s turned on, the gas pedal is dropped, and the heavy beast lurches forward in barely-controlled lunges. Gears shift, tires spin violently. Robert and I both back up a bit, sharing an eyebrow-lifted look of amusement…and of fear, a bit terrified by the display of brute force before us. If the Challenger slipped off the Dyno, well…best not think about it. The tachometer rotates steadily with the thrust of the engine and the mad spin of the tires. The RPMs rise, the sound of the Challenger’s throaty V8 fills the garage and bounces off its four walls. The car is lunging forward, as if trying to rip from the straps and jump the Dyno. There’s a distinct feeling that things are hitting a climax of sound, combustion and fury.

Then it is done, the smoke lifts. The Dynojet reads 330.7 hps and 328.3 torque at the tire. On the second run it performs even better, testing 354.5 hps and 348.6 torque, which translates into slightly better than the 420 hps at the crank Dodge boasts, assuming 17% power loss due to the automatic transmission.
Challenge #1, check.

“This may come as a bit of a shock, but the Challenger is, for some reason, incredibly popular with the stripper population.”

4:42 pm AutoZone parking lot, Decatur, Tennesse
“How fast this thing go?” asks a short guy walking into the AutoZone.
“Well, yesterday we got it to 160,” I tell him.
“Hell, I got 2 trucks that can pretty much hit that. But I had to put them away and start driving that piece o’ shit,” he tells me, pointing over to a small dark blue Toyota pickup. “I can’t afford to fill ‘em up anymore.”
“Yeah, I’m hearing that a lot, all over the place.”
“I bet. That’s why I’m in here—getting some new wiper blades for this junk. That’s how long it’s been since I’ve had to drive it!”
Robert comes out, hands filled with washing products. “The girl in there said ‘That’s the ugliest car I’ve ever seen!’ You know what, I think this car’s like the Subaru STI—dudes love it, but it’s got zero chick appeal.”
“I dunno man, that bartender last night said she had to change her panties when she saw the photo you showed her.”
“That’s true. Of course, maybe she just said that to get a bigger tip.”
“Impossible. No self-respecting bartender would ever lie for a bigger tip.”

7:52 pm Shell Gas Station, Birmingham, Alabama
My god, we have become the Birmingham Bon Jovi. We pulled into this gas station to fill up, and before we knew it we were surrounded by fans. And I’m not kidding—we’re talking fans. There are about 10 cars that have pulled in and surrounded us, several doing 180s on the highway across the street to see our car. Parents are putting their kids in the driver’s seat and taking photos. “How do I get your job?” one guy asks. “Can I give you my application?” Soon,
A kid named Jason screeches up next to us in a brand new Confederate bike, tells us its David Beckham’s custom ride. Even with a $100,000 handmade one-of-a-kind bike next to us, nobody gives a shit. The Challenger is still King of Kings.
“What is there to do in Birmingham on a Wednesday night?” Robert asks.
“Well, there’s always The Furnace” suggests Jason.
“Is that the best bar?”
“That’s only like the best strip club in the South.”

10:07 pm The Furnace, Birmingham, Alabama
This may come as a bit of a shock, but the Challenger is, for some reason, incredibly popular with the stripper population. When we pulled it up front to park, the manager came out and called the owner. Soon, we were getting ushered up into the VIP and offered drinks. Two of the girls volunteered to take photos on the car, which is usually a big No No in strip clubs. But Alabama is a different breed of place, unlike any I’ve ever been—the owner was encouraging it. Soon Rob’s outside shooting 2, then 3, then 4 girls splayed out on the vast orange hood. It’s gonna be a loooong night.

1:47 am The Furnace, Birmingham, Alabama
The club’s dying out, slow night in Birmingham, but a bunch of the locals have taken to us like a visiting NBA team, and offered to take us out. The only suggestion is the Blue Monkey, the local afterhours. Before we know it, 4 girls have piled into the car and one is driving it. Good lord, who let a stripper behind the wheel??!!

3:02 am Blue Monkey, Birmingham, Alabama
I’ve had too many shots of chilled Patrón bought for me tonight and my sight has grown blurry. I was supposed to try and write some tonight, but I can barely remember what state I’m in. I know it’s the South, right? Oh Lord, when will this trip end…?

Continue to Day FOUR of the Great Challenger Challenge tomorrow, or go back to Day TWO.

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