Performance Cars

Why Dodge will never offer a factory roll cage in the SRT Demon

And here's why the Demon's so-called 'NHRA ban' is completely overblown.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Much is being made of Dodge's insane new Challenger SRT Demon being banned at National Hot Rod Association-sanctioned drag racing events. That's understandable, because it seems odd given that's exactly the sort of competition this car was built for. But there's a big, red asterisk that goes with that concept: The ban isn't absolute. To be more specific, one's ability to be compliant with NHRA rules is dependent both on safety equipment and driver ability.

Right off the showroom floor, when equipped with the special powertrain control module from the optional Demon Crate, this car is capable of running the quarter-mile in 9.65 seconds at 140 miles an hour -- the NHRA itself has certified as such. And with any vehicle that can run down the quarter-mile that rapidly, the NHRA requires more safety equipment -- namely, a roll cage. A sub-10-second car that tops 135 mph through the traps mandates a cage that's been certified by the sanctioning body itself.

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Demon is NHRA certified to run the quarter mile in 9.65 seconds at 140 mph.

Sarah Tew/Roadshow


The Demon is capable of that performance right out of the box, and that's before drag racers inevitably start tinkering with the car's drivetrain, or even just fit a set of full-on drag slicks. So why isn't Dodge itself offering a roll cage straight from the factory? There are a number of reasons, including development time, crash-testing costs and potentially greater legal liability as an OEM. I interviewed Tim Kuniskis, head of Fiat Chrysler's Passenger Car Brands today, and he told me: "As a manufacturer, we will never offer a roll cage. And any roll cage that goes into a car has to be inspected and certified by the NHRA. That is really the sticking point on the quote 'ban.'"

In fact, the crash-testing complication alone is enough to kill the idea of a factory-supplied cage. As Kuniskis notes, "...you're going to be crash-testing multiple cars, because now you're going to change all the impact [performance], all the crumple zones in the car. So you're going to have to reconfigure the way the airbags work, the way the supplemental airbags work, the way the seatbelt tensioners work."

All of that time, effort and money, for a 3,300-unit, one-year model could never make financial sense. "You're talking about a humongous undertaking for a very, very, very small population of the people who know that going in, and can do that on their own," he says.

I mentioned "driver ability" earlier, because even with the Demon's standard line-lock (to enable proper burnouts to heat up the tires) and a transbrake to lock the gearbox and enable finger-pull takeoffs at the starting line, there's a real art to launching a drag car. In other words, while the Demon itself may be capable of a 9-second pass that requires a cage, the driver might not be.

As Kuniskis notes, "Those times were set by our development engineer who has probably 500 passes in the car. So the average consumer out there, if they're a weekend racer, they're going to get in a couple of runs a weekend, a couple of weekends a year. It's going to take them awhile to get comfortable enough with driving this car well enough to get into those timeframes."

Said another way, if you want to take your new Demon to the test-and-tune night at your local drag strip and are happy to run 10-second, sub-135-mph passes all session, the NHRA says you don't need a cage.

The takeaway from all this? Don't let the idea of an NHRA ban or the lack of a factory roll cage stop you from contemplating buying one of these cars -- or taking it racing. Just be prepared to shell out a bit more money for the common-sense safety equipment you'll want when your driving skills actually catch up with this car's abilities.