Let’s say you show up to a track for some fun times in your hot hatchback. And then, just hypothetically, a friend randomly shows up there with his new toy: a 2017 Dodge Charger Hellcat. He tosses you the keys and says “have fun, buddy.” But there’s a catch—it’s pretty wet out there.
What do you do?
I found myself in this position recently, and what do you think I’d say to that? “Um, thanks, my kind sir, but sorry, no. I can’t accept this. It’s just too wet out here. I’d prefer waiting for some other time, if that’s ok? Maybe this summer, in July, when humidity levels are low, and the crosswinds are right. Is that good?”
Now, before you start hammering me in the comments for taking a total stranger’s Hellcat on a wet track, allow me to set the record straight by stating that this kind of opportunity doesn’t come often, and that the owner of the car was not a stranger, but a friend of mine. He knew what he was getting into.
For me, this was a one-shot deal. It’s a damn Hellcat. So I did what all red-blooded enthusiasts would do: I jumped right on the opportunity to drive this hell-raised contraption. And it scared the living shit out of me.
Until I figured it out.
Dear Lord, What Have I Done?
Ever since the 850 horsepower Dodge Challenger Demon shocked the entire automotive industry by beating every production car ever in the quarter mile, Dodge’s 707 HP Hellcat suddenly feels like old news. Now is the perfect time to remind everyone just how insane this thing truly is.
Before I strapped myself inside this satanic, Vadered-out American muscle car, I was both enthusiastic and terrified. This is an intimidating car, I had heard stories, and had never driven anything north of 450 HP before.
As I sit inside the thing, I spot a red key fob sitting in the cup holder. The car’s 8.4-inch infotainment screen reads Track. My friend peeks his head through the passenger-side window and informs me the car is now ready to pump out its advertised 707 HP, that the transmission was in its most aggressive setting, the dampers were stiffer, and the steering heavier.
This is a brand new car, and it reeks of new car smell. I spot a temporary registration paper taped on the rear window; there isn’t even a license plate on this thing yet.
The track is wet and cold; it’s been raining all week in Quebec. Holy Goddamn shit. I’m about to hoon someone’s brand new Hellcat on this slimy surface. I’ve never driven one before. He thinks I’m a pro because I write for Jalopnik. I don’t know where he gets the impression anyone at Jalopnik can drive well.
I pull up to my shooter, Myle, he’s grinning at me from outside the car.
Clavey: “Myle, jump in, I’ll drop you somewhere on the track so you can shoot me in this thing.”
Myle: “Be careful Will, you don’t want to smash this guy’s car in the wall. He’s bigger than both of us.”
Clavey: “Don’t worry buddy, I got this!”
I have no idea if I got this.
Pulling out of Sanair’s pit lane, and onto the NASCAR-style tri-oval section’s first bank, I feel confident, because this immediately feels like your average V6-powered Charger. “It’s alright!”, I say out loud.
Except it’s not. And I’m still feathering the throttle, getting familiar with the most powerful production sedan on Earth. The 6.2-liter supercharged V8 rumbles and whines ahead of me as if it spent the weekend bench-pressing in Lucifer’s personal gym, ready to beat the shit out of anybody who gives him a dead look. The gearbox is hanging onto revs before shoving violently into the next gear. I can almost hear it telling me “Dude, why the hell aren’t you flooring this thing yet?”
I Decide To Floor It
A violent, urgent wave of G-forces suddenly crushes my chest. I get tunnel vision. My ears are bleeding from the high-pitched wail of the supercharger as it blows more than 1000 cubic feet of air per minute through the Mopar V8's aluminum heads. That V8 now sounds like it’s shredding iron rods in real time. I feel the rear end wiggling, wanting to throw me off the track, even at plus 80 mph speeds. The rearview mirror is filled with a white cloud.
Gone is my badass, cool-guy veneer. I’m as aware as I can be, doing everything I possibly can to keep this thing in a straight line. On this surface, this car’s power is truly scary when you first feel it.
The gearbox quickly shoves into another gear as I’m pushed deep into the seat. My palms are sweaty. My heart is racing. I’m not sure I like this anymore. I quickly gaze at my shooter, he’s looking straight ahead, eyes wide open, and his right hand is clenched around the “holy-shit” bar, veins bulging out of his forearm.
Suddenly, the large SANAIR font, plastered on the track’s walls, has teleported in front of the car. It’s already time to slow this monster down. I stand on the brakes; the massive Brembos grab the 4,592-pound family sedan by the scruff of the neck. She calms back down to being a big purring kitten.
I have just been baptized by the almighty Hellcat.
Taming the Cat
As Myle gets out on the side of the track to find the perfect shooting spot, I take a bit of time to get back to my senses as the Hellcat rumbles away on idle, as if it’s giggling at me. The adrenaline is still rushing through my veins, but I quickly feel at ease, realizing after this quick stunt that the Hellcat may be a frightening beast, but that it’s also very controllable at the limit.
I remember the owner, Seb, telling me before driving off, that it’s like petting a tiger—it’s big, soft, cuddly. But he won’t hesitate one minute to rip your face off it you don’t respect it. Great. That’s good to know, thanks Seb.
Now with a tad more confidence, I go about trying to do a proper lap. I’m not here to set a time, but more to have some fun with the thing. Besides, I don’t want to wreck this guy’s new ride. Now that I know what kind of power this car makes, I figure I’ll use it to my advantage.
The Charger Hellcat is a big brute of a car, with tires way too narrow for the weight and power it’s carrying around. It comes stock with 275/40ZR-20 Pirelli P-Zeros. To put things into perceptive, a Viper ACR has 62 fewer horsepower, weighs 1,192 pounds less (!!!), and sits on 355 wide in the rear. This basically means you’re always hunting for grip in the Charger, even on a warm, dry summer day.
And here I was on a wet track during a cool Canadian spring.
Sanair’s tri-oval isn’t a complete oval track. It has a set of esses at the bottom of its banks, just after the straight.
Basically, what you do is go all out high and wide in the banked oval section, reaching speeds of over 120 mph, and enter the 656 foot-long straight through the final, four degree bank before jumping hard on the brakes to attack the first set of esses.
It’s quite frightening when you get there, because you’re coming in fast, and the entrance to those twisties is essentially a large hole that was cut through one of the track’s walls, so if you miss your shot, you clip the corner of the wall. I’m guessing that’s why they park an ambulance there.
Luckily, one thing the Charger Hellcat does very well is brake hard. So you can always rely on that in case you panic. Which happened often in my case. And that heavy steering does help at giving this brute some quick reflexes, which you’ll need.
But man, the Hellcat is a handful in those esses. Feeling like an elephant standing on a pair of roller skates, the skimpy tires do their best to claw onto whatever is left of dry pavement. Give it a slight touch of the throttle, and you’re gone. It’s always trying to murder you. The car’s excessive weight is also immediately felt through intense weight transfer as you’re furiously shoved from one side of the car to the next. It’s not exactly efficient, but it is a lot of fun. You just need to chill in the bends with this thing and let the big beast do its thing.
But when you’re back in a straight line, all hell breaks loose once more, and the music of the supercharger, accompanied by the low-strung bellowing of the performance exhaust, echoes through the walls of this old weathered speedway, just like in its glory days when stock cars would trade their paint jobs on its tarmac.
What a fitting car for a track that saw so much action during its youth, but is now sadly dissolving away in the middle of a corn field from a lack of racing events.
At this point, I’m no longer afraid of the Hellcat—I’m addicted to its fury. I just can’t get enough of this overwhelming surge of power. After a few laps around the track, I’m totally in control of the car, dancing with the rear, lighting up the rear tires as I exit corners, even in the wet.
Once I got the hang of what it could do, it proved to be a lot tamer than I expected. I contemplate one last lap. Alas, this big guy needs a drink. I’ve just burned 15 gallons of premium fuel in ten minutes. What a machine.
That’s really the phrase to remember when getting behind the wheel of a Hellcat—you must respect the power. My experience with the car was a large party mix of fun, fear, euphoria, and revelation.
I knew the Hellcat wasn’t a track-built machine before I drove it, but I was impressed at how capable it remains, even in the wet. As long as you know what you’re getting into. Even if it appears totally immature at first glance, this car isn’t for amateurs. You’d better be awake, because it won’t give you a break.
That being said, before I handed the keys back to Seb, I figured that since the Hellcat had baptized me, poor old Sanair also needed to get baptized, so I pulled big fat burnout right on its straightaway.
William Clavey is an automotive journalist from Montréal, Québec, Canada. He runs claveyscorner.com.