Driving in the Spotlight
If it looks like I was trying to hide the 2009 Dodge Challenger R/T in the shadows of the night, it’s because I was.; After a day full of people expressing their admiration for the nouveau-muscle machine, I longed to escape from the public’s eye.
Following a series of road tests, I was assigned to pilot the Challenger back to the office.; Not a bad task, I thought – the car looks great, sounds better, and – as I found – is quite comfortable over most freeway surfaces.; Coupling that 5.7-liter Hemi with a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission made the job even easier.
But then the visual impact of such a car sank in.; Though the Challenger attracted plenty of interest when we had it in our office, and when an associate editor ran it through the heart of NASCAR country, I figured its celebrity had cooled over the past six months or so.
Boy, was I wrong.; I was merely cruising in the left lane, minding my own business, when I happened to glance up at the vehicle in the next lane.
It was your standard 35-foot-long Blue Bird school bus, but the grade-school kids occupying the last five rows of seating were pressed to the windows, ogling the Challenger from every angle they could.; I gave blipped of the throttle and sped off – ensuring their afternoon would be spent not working on algebra problems, but doodling Dodges in their notebooks instead.
The interest continued throughout the day.; Hordes of people stared as I (regularly) re-fueled the beast; truckers gave thumbs-ups while moving out of my way.; Four fellows in a tricked-out Impala gave chase for about 150 miles, regularly passing me and dropping back in order to snap photos on their Razr phones.
Attention waned somewhat once I returned to Michigan – after all, since we’re home to both Chrysler’s headquarters and proving grounds, a Challenger is a semi-regular appearance in southeastern Michigan.;
My relief proved to be short-lived: though the chases ended, the persistent questions began.; After a multitude of identical questions, I began pointing to the two chrome “HEMI” badges on the hood.; That seemed to answer a good 95 percent of most inquiries…
The “Tor-Red” paint and hood stripes also seemed to land the Challenger the wrong type of attention.; A good number of smokies paid close attention to the muscle car – even when close to home.;
Around midnight, I rolled through Chelsea, Michigan, with the R/T’s booming exhaust echoing off buildings in the deserted downtown.; The noise seemed to catch the attention of an on-duty cop, who swung his Crown Vic around to follow me.
He rolled up to me at a stop light, gave the car a quick once-over, and stared right at me.; As the light turned green, he (thankfully) gave me not a ticket, but yet another thumbs-up.