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

When NHRA legend Don Schumacher asked Allison McCormick, his longtime PR rep, which journalists would be brave enough to test his company’s new DSR 1150, a monstrous 1,150-horsepower crate engine, in a Dodge Durango, her answer was , well, only one – yours truly. But even with all the crazy stuff I’ve done in my career as an adventure journalist (driving a Bugatti at 253 mph, summiting the Matterhorn, pulling 9 Gs in an F-16 and flying Mach 2.6 to 84,000 feet in a MiG , bullfighting, blah, blah, blah), I protested for a moment. Did she say 1,150 horsepower, in a… Dodge Durango?

Yes she did. Further, I was told the goal would be to break 11 seconds in the quarter mile, quite a tall order for an SUV. A few years ago, I would have walked that distance 8.6 seconds at Frank Hawley’s famed school, but in a super-compact, rail-type dragster, purpose-built for such rapid acceleration.

McCormick sensed my initial trepidation and sweetened the pot. The Durango was actually Dodge’s top-of-the-line Hellcat, she said. We would run the test at the historic Indianapolis Raceway Park, built in 1960, complete with stoplights and time trials—and, you see, the amazing eight-time NHRA Top Fuel Champion, Tony Schumacher, would be my driver coach. Tony regularly blasts his dragster over 325 mph in under four seconds.

I was sold. So, just as Hurricane Ina hit Florida earlier this week, I got on a flight west to Indy, where the weather was significantly better. Before visiting the track, 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 factory on regular roads in Indiana. Surprisingly, the vehicle handled just like any other large SUV, except it was gravelly loud and you had to accelerate very easily. Just below the surface lurked a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality, and you felt the beast could escape 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 create an engine that was versatile enough for easy installation in a mishmash of commercial vehicles, but it was simple too. “There are a lot of car enthusiasts who want something exotic but reliable to improve their performance,” he told me over a steak dinner the night before our test.

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

In fact, our acceleration was so fierce it knocked the rear of the Durango out before I even had a chance to make a pass. So, to continue the test, a 2018 Dodge Demon loaded 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 in 2019, a Challenger, at Zmax Dragway in Charlotte, NC, in a test race with another NHRA Top Fuel star, Leah Pruett (now Leah Stewart, who recently married racer Tony Stewart), so i felt comfortable in it. But the older model with Pruett only had a standard 500 horsepower engine. We were raising the bar here with 650 horsepower!

As soon as I cranked up the bigger engine, I could feel the pent-up power of 1,150 horses. It was scary. Unlike the stock Demon, I couldn’t step on the accelerator. When I tried, like Tony did before in the Durango, the wheels spun wildly and we skidded back and forth. The trick with this kind of couple, Tony emphasized, is to roll on the gas, not sting. Tried that a few times, but still got wheelspin, albeit less with each stride.

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

Later, after we packed up for the day, I was told that the demon I had just tested was Don Schumacher’s own car. The crew had chased it off the showroom floor at the motorcycle shop. I joked that it was better to let me know after my runs, as they had done, than before, because maybe I was too timid to push Don’s Demon to its limits. Don, of course, laid-back act that he is, didn’t say anything about it on the track, just happily chewed his cigar.

On the plane back, I checked my time trials for the 1150 hp Demon runs and compared them to time trials from the 500 hp 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, though, the top speed with the bigger engine was 139.06 mph, and the smaller just 113.35 mph, showing numerically how much wheelspin on the big engine start affected the timing result. It also shows how fast the big engine is once connected to the track.

As the first writer to test this engine, and I am by no means a motoring journalist, I would like to offer a few thoughts. First, this bike is not for the timid, and probably not fully unleashed unless on a tacky dragstrip, long runway, or 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 reach that target soon, so be careful. Third, if you want to use it there, make sure the car you install the engine in is solid, well built, and adapted for the track. 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 in a variety of passenger cars, the DSR 1150 pack runs on regular 93-octane fuel. That said, as they warn in drink ads, drive responsibly. Reckless use of this kind of insanity can quickly get someone into trouble, and I don’t just mean an expensive speeding 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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