Admit it: Dodge's Hellcat twins absolutely terrify you. Not the kind of seeping dread that makes you cross yourself when one rumbles past you on the street, its hyper-decibel exhaust note chipping the asphalt with every 707 horsepower throttle application.
No, I'm talking about the kind of brain-tingling sensation that accompanied each peek at every late-night horror movie you ever snuck between childhood fingers splayed out over your eyes, that same intoxicating urge still that pushes us to watch a Great White launch itself up over the waves to hit a bait hook again, and again during Shark Week.
It's a deep ancestral respect for the power of the apex predator encoded in all of our DNA, and Dodge's SRT engineering and design team have somehow found a way to Watson and Crick that into the makeup of both the Charger and Challenger Hellcats.
Fear can either render you helpless or it can empower you to push past your limits and achieve what had previously seemed impossible. Thanks to the miracle of modern electronic traction and stability control systems, Hellcats are more like pussycats in daily driving, but in a track environment you need to seriously adjust your approach to the go-pedal or you'll end up in a world of consequences amplified by the overwhelming firepower at your disposal.
No one hands the president the briefcase containing America's nuclear launch codes without first having a deep heart-to-heart about the responsibilities that go with them, and the same is now true of the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat and the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat thanks to a new partnership with the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving.
If that name sounds familiar to you, it should. Bondurant is a legend who stands with his feet planted in two distinct worlds: racing, where he became the first American to win the FIA World Championship while behind the wheel of an American-built car, and advanced driver training, where his school has welcomed students ranging from amateur race car drivers to FBI agents to professional open wheel jockeys for decades.
Located just outside of Phoenix, Arizona, Bob Bondurant's SRT program has been designed from the ground up to teach both Viper and Hellcat owners how to wrangle the outrageous horsepower lurking under their collective right feet.
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The chance that you were born with the instinctive ability to handle the most powerful production V8 on the planet when faced with either a road course or a drag strip is roughly the same as your odds of winning the lottery. Unlike picking the right Powerball numbers however, these are skills you can actually acquire – and ones that can mean the difference between an accident and merely a hair-raising story in an emergency situation out on public roads.
Despite being an experienced driver, I'm not ashamed to say I've never really been comfortable behind the wheel of the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat – at least, not with a helmet on and sitting on pit lane, about to start a session on the track.
With a shorter wheelbase than the Charger SRT Hellcat sedan and an aerodynamic package that's not quite as well-rounded, the coupe has always struck me as the twitchier of the two, without the reassuring high speed stability of its larger sibling. That made me an ideal candidate for Bondurant's team of seasoned driving pros to try to instill greater confidence in my own abilities by way of showing me exactly how to harness and control the Hellcat's outrageous potential.
SRT's Bondurant training program lasts for a single day, and is divided fairly evenly between on-track driving and honing your skills in more focused, lower-speed environments. Students can begin with the skid pad, in which they pilot a Charger SRT 392 that has been outfitted with an outrigger system that allows the instructor to reduce the amount of traction at either the front or the rear of the vehicle. The goal is to learn how to respond to an oversteer situation, where the back end of the car rotates around quickly as a prelude to a spin. Given that this is a scenario facing any driver who gets a little over-enthusiastic about throttle application at almost any speed, it feels like exactly the proper launch pad for the Bondurant experience.
Next up is a short autocross course, with Challenger SRT 392's standing in as our test mules. The dense, pylon-delineated course further sensitizes Bondurant participants to the hazards of engaging even the more muted near-500 horsepower afterburner of the 6.4-litre car without a careful consideration of traction, corner speed, and braking zones. This is followed by an accident-avoidance workshop, one that requires rapid lane changes at ever-increasing speeds in response to a string of overhead red and green lights.
Thus prepared, it's time for an afternoon of lead-follow sessions on Bob Bondurant's extremely technical yet surprisingly engaging road course. Instructors lead small packs of Vipers and Hellcats on lap after lap around the circuit, coming in for breathers and tips on how to best follow the line being used the professional driver.
You can snag an instructor of your own and have them sit in the passenger seat to provide a more direct critique of your driving (something I highly recommend taking advantage of), or even swap positions and ride along on what will certainly be an eye-opening demonstration of what Dodge's meanest motorized behemoth is capable of.
When you purchase a Hellcat, there's a red key, and a black key, but there's another choice to make as well: deciding just how capable you really are of getting the most out of its 707 snarling horsepower. Open to Canadian buyers (although not included with purchase like it is in the US), SRT's Bondurant program isn't just a way to enhance your driving skills in almost any on-road situation, but it puts you on a path to truly unlocking the potential that rests under the twin hoods of the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat and Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat.
In those scare-a-minute flicks that alternately paralyzed and hypnotized us as children, it was usually by slaying the monsters that haunted our dreams that allowed us to end up harnessing their power. Think of Bondurant as the best way to sharpen your sword.