In 2012, Dodge enjoyed a strong final season as an official NASCAR manufacturer when Brad Keselowski piloted his #2 Dodge Charger to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (now Monster Energy Cup Series) championship. In the six years since, Dodge’s remaining cars have endured a rather unusual journey that ends on Saturday with the Xfinity Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The manufacturer, which entered NASCAR in 2001, pulled out after the 2012 season as Team Penske switched to Ford and no other competitive team was willing to field them. With the Cup Series switching to the Generation-6 car in 2013, any team wishing to use a Dodge could not do so; although a Gen-6 Charger was unveiled, it never saw action. Instead, NASCAR’s second-tier series became their new home as various smaller teams elected to put the series’ Dodge Challenger to use, buying equipment from Penske; while outdated, they came at a very affordable price. Nicknamed “Zombie Dodges”, the Challengers became a symbol of affection among fans of such organisations.
However, their run will come to a close after the 2018 Xfinity season. Starting in 2019, the series intends to use flange-fit bodies composed of a composite material, using parts that are easily attachable and detachable rather than the current welding process of steel bodies. As the Challenger is made of steel, it is not eligible to compete in 2019.
In six years of the “Zombie Era”, the Challenger was never a competitive car, always finishing last in the Manufacturer’s Championship for rather obvious reasons. However, there have been various eye-grabbing moments that saw them on a level playing field with the Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang, and Toyota Camry. In 2016, in rainy conditions at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Alon Day found himself fighting for a top-ten in the #40 Dodge for MBM Motorsports before finishing thirteenth.
During the 2018 season, MBM and Mike Harmon Racing were the lone users of the Challenger, though they mostly used other manufacturers like Toyota and Chevrolet, respectively. With the switch to composite bodies in 2019, MBM intends to permanently use Toyotas, while the team’s Dodge will be put on sale. For Homestead, MBM owner Carl Long is the lone Dodge entrant in his team’s #40. Long will drive a special blue paint scheme with a farewell message on the hood.
“She is ready for one last ride,” MBM posted on Twitter. “Thanks, @Dodge we will miss you!”
On social media, various former Dodge drivers voiced their sentiments.
“I’m proud to be one of the many drivers to have wheeled a Zombie Dodge(™),” Landon Cassill tweeted. He drove the #13 Dodge for MBM at Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval in October.
Tommy Joe Martins tweeted,“With @HomesteadMiami being the final weekend the @Dodge body will be allowed in @Dodge competition, I’ve seen several posts about former unsupported “Zombie” Dodge drivers & teams. [Martins Motorsports] & I are proud to be a part of that piece of racing history. Lot of memories”. Martins drove a limited schedule in 2014 in the #67 and #76 Dodges.
The Racing Underdogs, a Twitter account dedicated to following smaller teams, posted a graphic listing drivers of the Zombie Dodges. The list featured the likes of Pinty’s Series champions D.J. Kennington and Andrew Ranger, longtime veteran Morgan Shepherd, and current Cup competitor Matt DiBenedetto.
“Some names were made, other names not so much but the Zombie Dodge offered a chance for many hopefuls, new and old, chasing out their dream.”