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John Brown's Slimmed-Down, Corner-Carving 2016 Dodge Challenger

Author: Bradley Iger | Photographer: Jesse Keiser | 01/13/2022 < Back to Motor Life Home
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Most enthusiasts tend to equate Mopar muscle cars with the drag strip performance, and considering the fact that models like the Challenger SRT Demon, SRT Super Stock and Scat Pack 1320 have been the ones making headlines over the past few years, it’s not hard to see why. Considerably larger and heavier than their Mustang and Camaro counterparts, late model Challengers are still a pretty rare sight at track days and autocross events. But if more folks like John Brown start turning their attention to the platform, that may soon start to change.


A service director for a Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram dealership in Knoxville, Tennessee, Brown spent his formative days racing motorcycles before moving over to four-wheeled motorsport in the early 90s. After campaigning several Ford Escort GTs in wheel-to-wheel ITA and ITB class racing, he eventually decided to make the switch to autocross, where he went on to win two SCCA championships in the Prepared category.


MoParty21 Brown Challenger Autox

Brown posted the fastest autocross time of the event with a 40.199, beating Andrew Chenoweth’s best lap of 40.233 by less than a tenth of a second.


After Brown came onboard with FCA back in 2014, he decided to try his hand at building a track-tuned hot rod from a platform that usually doesn’t get much attention in those circles. “The Shelby GT350 is basically the ‘easy button’ there,” he says. “But I wanted to head in a different direction.” And that led him to select a factory-stock, low mileage 2016 Challenger Scat Pack with a six-speed manual transmission for the job.


“I thought it might be cool to give these cars a bit more exposure in this kind of racing,” he tells us. “Since I started bringing this car out in 2017, I have noticed a whole lot more Challengers being prepped for this kind of competition, and they’re getting more and more competitive every day.” As with any factory-stock production car, Brown knew was going to take some tweaking to get the Challenger’s capability to a level where it would be a real contender in autocross classes where modifications are permitted.


“Before I even drove the car I got it up on the rack and started stripping stuff off of it to help get the weight down,” he says. The rear bench seat has been removed and the factory front seats have been swapped out for racing buckets, while the factory doors, front clip, and hood have been swapped out for fiberglass pieces from Glasstek. “When I got the car it weighed in at 4160 pounds. It’s down to 3450 now.”

Brown figured he might as well give the Challenger a bit more straight-line pull as well. To that end the 6.4-liter naturally aspirated Hemi V8 has been outfitted with a new set of ported cylinder heads with titanium valves and keepers, a beefier Crane camshaft, long-tube headers, Flowmaster mufflers, and other go-fast hardware. Managed with a custom Diablosport tune, Brown estimates that the combination is good for about 580 horsepower at the rear wheels. “But there’s only so much power you can put down while autocrossing,” he points out. “If I added any more, it would basically just go up in smoke.” Out back, a quick-change rear end allows Brown to swiftly swap out the gear set in order to get the car’s final drive ratio dialed in for a given race course.


As you’d expect, the chassis and suspension have seen their fair share of attention as well. “Nobody makes aftermarket lower control arms for these cars yet, but the upper control arms and front subframe are from AAD Performance,” he explains. “The car normally runs 11 or 12 degrees of caster, but the trick to autocrossing a Challenger is that you swap the driver and passenger side upper control arms – you run them on opposite sides of the car. That reduces the caster down to about 4.5 degrees, which makes it a really fast-steering car.”


MoParty21 Brown Challenger suspension

Upper control arms and chassis components from AAD Performance are teamed up with double adjustable coilovers from Wesley Performance to give the Challenger more aggressive suspension geometry and greater adjustability.


The front end is set up with about 3.5 degrees of negative camber thanks to those new upper control arms, while double-adjustable coilovers from Wesley Motorsports allow Brown to set the suspension’s ride height and compression characteristics to preference. The factory wheels and tires have also been tossed out in favor to two aftermarket sets that he switches between for different events. “I have a set of 18x12-inch Rotas and a set of 18x11-inch XXRs, and that allows me to run 335mm or 315mm-wide tires at all four corners – the choice mainly comes down to what type of course surface we’re running on.” The Yokohama Advan A052 is his competition tire of choice. “They don’t last very long, but it’s the right amount of grip of the car,” he adds.


After making a strong debut at MoParty 2020 by topping the Late Model autocross leaderboard, Brown returned to MoParty 2021 with the Challenger and the express intent of taking the Late Model overall victory (which is determined by points in autocross, drag racing, and speed-stop competitions) and setting the outright quickest autocross lap time, the latter of which was secured by Andrew Chenoweth and his giant-killing 1970 Challenger at the 2020 event. But even with his car running better than ever, Brown knew it wasn’t going to be easy.


“The competition was really close this time around – everybody has upped their game,” he says. “I had some problems getting the rear end to hook up at the drag strip, so that made it even tougher from a points perspective, and Chenoweth and I had a pretty hefty battle going on at the autocross. It came down to me and him.”


MoParty21 Brown Challenger interior

Racing buckets from NRG Innovations help the Challenger shed some additional weight and provide the bolstering needed to keep the driver and passenger firmly planted in their seats during high lateral G maneuvers.


Brown ended up posting the fastest autocross lap, but he says that as the day unfolded the win was far from guaranteed. “It was so close – I literally gave up at one point because I felt like I just couldn’t go any faster. But then Kevin from Wesley Motorsports came by. We talked for a bit and he gave me a couple of tips. I went back out and I set my fastest time – almost four-tenths faster than any other lap I’d done previously that day. I parked the car after that!”


With 292 points overall, Brown actually tied with Jerry Mathis and his 2019 Dodge Challenger for the Late Model category championship, but Brown’s faster autocross time was the deciding factor that ultimately gave him the victory.


Looking ahead to the upcoming racing season, Brown says he plans to compete in some regional and national SCCA autocross events with the big Dodge before heading out to MoParty 2022. “It’s always in the top five that those events. The car always gets a lot of attention there… and a lot of scrutiny from other racers. They’re just looking for to reason to protest about this thing – especially the GT350 guys. They don’t like it when they get beaten by a Challenger!”


MoParty21 Brown Challenger side profile


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