Can you handle 1,150 horses in a Dodge Durango SUV? We tried it at the Indianapolis Dragstrip

When NHRA drag racing legend Don Schumacher asked Allison McCormick, his longtime PR rep, which journalists would be brave enough to test drive his company’s new DSR 1150, a 1,150 horsepower monster engine, in a Dodge Durango, her response was, well, only one – yours truly. But even with all the crazy things I’ve done in my career as an adventure journalist (driving a Bugatti at 250 mph, climbing the Matterhorn, pulling 9 Gs in an F-16, and flying Mach 2.6 to 24,000 feet in a MiG, bullfighting, blah, blah, blah), I hesitated for a moment. Did she say 1,150 horsepower, in a… Dodge Durango?

Yes she did. Furthermore, I was told the goal would be to break 11 seconds in the quarter mile, a pretty tall order for an SUV. A few years ago I’d run 8.6 seconds for that distance at Frank Hawley’s famous school, but in a supercomp, rail-type dragster built specifically for such rapid acceleration.

McCormick sensed my initial trepidation and sweetened the pot. The Durango was actually Dodge’s top-of-the-line Hellcat model, she said. We would run the test at the historic Indianapolis Raceway Park, built in 1960, complete with stage lights and time slips – and, get this, the great eight-time NHRA Top Fuel champion, Tony Schumacher, would be my driver coach. Tony regularly blows his dragster to over 325 mph in less than four seconds.

I was sold. So, just as Hurricane Ina was hitting Florida earlier this week, I boarded a flight west to Indy, where the weather was significantly better. Before visiting the circuit it was a trip to the DSR Performance machine shop where the powerful engines are built. I drove the 1,150 horsepower Durango to the facility on normal Indiana roads. Surprisingly, the vehicle drove just like any other large SUV, except it was gravelly loud and you had to hit the throttle very easily. Just below the surface, a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality, and you felt the beast could get away from you at any moment if you weren’t careful.

Chad Osier, 32, president of DSR Performance, explained that the bike was his brainchild during the COVID-19 pandemic. He wanted to make an engine versatile enough to install easily in a hodgepodge of commercial vehicles, but it was simple too. “There are a lot of car enthusiasts who want something exotic but reliable to boost their performance,” he told me over a steak dinner the night before our test.

Once on the track and after signing a standard liability waiver, Tony Schumacher, 52, and I, both clad in helmets, climbed into the Durango, him as driver and me as passenger. He wanted to test the crazy horsepower himself before I had a chance, to give me some pointers. And boy, was it crazy. Within just a few strides, Tony had reduced his elapsed time to 10.5 seconds, meeting our set goal, and that included a lot of scrubbed speed due to excessive tire spin on launch. There was just too much torque to leave the staging area cleanly, even with a pro like Tony behind the wheel.

In fact, our acceleration was so violent that the rear of the Durango was thrown out before I even had a chance to make a pass. So to continue the test, a 2018 Dodge Demon equipped with the same 1,150 horsepower crate engine was released to replace the Durango.

For the Demon test, I was in the driver’s seat, Tony in the passenger seat. I had driven a similar Dodge, a Challenger, in 2019 at Zmax Dragway in Charlotte, NC, in a test race with another NHRA Top Fuel star, Leah Pruett (now Leah Stewart, recently married to racer Tony Stewart), so I felt feel comfortable in it. But the older model with Pruett only had a standard 500 horsepower engine. We raised the bar here with 650 horsepower!

As soon as I staged the bigger engine, I felt the pent-up power of 1,150 horses. It was frightening. Unlike the standard Demon, I couldn’t press the throttle. When I tried it, as Tony did before in the Durango, the wheels spun wildly and we skidded back and forth. The trick with this kind of torque, Tony stressed, is to roll on the gas, not stick it in. I tried that a few times, still getting wheelspin, albeit less with each pass.

Gradually, with Tony’s patient coaching, I was able to better gauge the timing tree, and to roll on the throttle more carefully, sacrificing some early acceleration to get the thing stuck half way down the tarmac and then full throttle down to shoot. My runs improved. At 10, I made a pass of 12.032 seconds, with a top speed of 139.06 mph. Not bad for a passenger car. I would have wanted to break 12 seconds and hit 140 mph, but we were close enough. If we’d had more time, Tony would have said I could have done it.

Later, after we wrapped up for the day, I was told that the Demon I had just tested was Don Schumacher’s own personal car. The crew had nicked it off the showroom floor at the engine shop. I joked that it was better to let me know after my runs, as they had, than before, because I might have been too shy to push Don’s Demon to its limits. Don, of course, relaxed as he is, said nothing about it on the track, just happily chewed on his cigar.

On the plane back, I checked my time slips for the 1,150 horsepower Demon runs and compared them to time slips from the 500 horsepower Challenger I tested with Pruett in 2019. Surprisingly, the elapsed times were about the same: 12.032 seconds for the former, 12.139 seconds for the latter. More interestingly, however, the top speed with the larger engine was 220.06 km/h and the smaller only 183.35 km/h, which numerically shows how much wheelspin at the start with the large engine affected the timing result. It also shows how fast the big motor is once hooked up to the track.

As the first writer to test this engine, and I am by no means an automotive journalist, I would like to offer a few thoughts. Firstly, this motor is not for the timid, and probably not one to let loose completely, unless on a tacky dragstrip, a long airport runway, or a well-maintained road with few speed limits, perhaps the German Autobahn. Two, the speedometer in the Durango reads up to 200 mph, and I suspect it will hit that mark soon, so be careful. Three, make sure the car you’re installing the engine in is solid, well-built and adapted for the track, if you plan to use it there. The stock Durango we used was a 2021 model, in mint condition, but we threw the rear out pretty quickly anyway.

In short, if you’re a true car enthusiast, crazy about speed, acceleration and gravity, $40,000 for this engine isn’t bad for regular access to 1,150 horsepower. Versatile enough to fit a variety of passenger cars, the DSR 1150 package runs on regular 93-octane fuel. That said, as they warn in liquor ads, drive responsibly. Reckless use of this kind of insanity can quickly land someone in trouble, and I don’t just mean a costly ticket.

[Editor’s Note: In future installments of this series on Don Schumacher and the new DSR 1150 crate motor, we interview both Tony and Don Schumacher, as well as Chad Osier, president of DSR Performance. Stay tuned to the Forbes Lifestyle Channel.]

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