Home » How A Dodge Neon Fulfilled A Racing Dream And Also Helped Raise A Family: COTD

How A Dodge Neon Fulfilled A Racing Dream And Also Helped Raise A Family: COTD

Cotd

Every once in a while a car manufacturer releases something that, at least visually, looks too cute to take seriously on a track. Then that car proceeds to lay waste to an entire field over and over. That’s the story of the Dodge and Plymouth Neon ACR. And it’s a story that a lot of our readers fondly remember.

Welcome to Comment Of The Day! If you’ve been a long time reader of our work, you know the name of the game. If not, I’ll explain. Every day, we’ll read every single comment posted to our site and pick the best one. Now, “best” here is subjective, and the comment chosen could be one that was informative, witty, or just left us on the floor laughing. Comment Of The Day (COTD) celebrates our awesome readers. You don’t have to go into our comments sections and write thousand-word stories about why you love a car so much, but a lot of you do, and that means a lot to us. So we’re going to highlight some of the most excellent bits of thought that you’ve formed into words and digitized onto our website.

Yesterday we published a story on how the Dodge Neon ACR came out of the factory just a cage away from competing on the racetrack. This was no mistake; the ACR was intentionally built as a turn-key racer. And despite its disarming looks, the car had the guts to slay its competition as well as larger, more powerful machines. In this piece, SRT’s head of vehicle dynamics Erich Heuschele detailed his own story about the Neon. Heuschele isn’t just an expert in these cars, but races them so much that, in his own words, he went “from nobody to a hero at work!” Thus, I think he can wear the Neon King crown with pride.

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A lot of you offered up similar stories of Neon shenanigans, and it’s hard to choose just one. However, I love how cars and people intertwine, and reader Autojunkie‘s comment pulled on my heart strings:

Hi!

I purchased a new 98 R/T sedan, which was the ACR without the Koni adjustable shocks. I knew that since 1995, the Neon was a ball buster on road courses across the country. The SCCA even had to fight off internal debate over putting the car into its own class because it was dominating nearly every other showroom car back then.

I was finally able to buy one not long after I met my wife. Knowing I would marry her some day, and knowing that I tend to keep new cars for a while, I purchased the sedan with the idea that it would probably become my family hauler one day.

I purchased the car in late 98 and signed up for the local Solo II driving class in the spring of 99. I raced the car for the whole season while keeping everything stock. I didn’t want to be bumped from the stock class and immediately have to spend thousands in mods just to keep up with others. So, other than wider tires, I kept the car exactly as it was.

I used the car for everything. It was my daily commuter and my race car every other Sunday for that 1999 season. I never missed a race and my wife was right there by my side (we got married that March). By the end of the season, I received the great news that I had come in second place for the season. Oh! I also found out that my wife and I were having a baby (already).

I was ready to do this again 2000, but was completely oblivious about how much it would cost me to raise a child. I never raced the car again. It became the family car. It was our only car for five years. Things would be tight and our family would be in a constant financial struggle for the next 15 years.

The Neon, as expected, was eventually gone and replaced with various beaters over the years. I would be in my 40s until I could afford a new car again for the first time in 2015 and it would not be a race car. I’m back to buying fun new cars again, my daughter herself now married and talking about starting a family, and I still have not been back to racing in any Solo II events.

I do miss the Neon. It was one of the funnest cars I’ve ever owned and I’ve owned quite a few cars over the years already. I would actually consider the Neon second to my Scat Pack on my list of top late model cars I’ve owned. My wife has a 5-speed 500 Sport right now that I am eyeing to replace for her one day so I can make her car into a race car, but she pretty attached to it still. I can bet that it won’t be anywhere near as fun as that Neon was though. I could confidently throw that car around any corner without worry.

How many race cars can say that they also got a family around? I’m happy that your family was able to pull through and that you’re able to enjoy some fun cars again. I hope that you’re one day able to pick up that Neon, Autojunkie.

With this in mind, do you readers like COTD? And we were able to get some ideas from our Friday chat, but in case we missed any: what kinds of series would you like to see us do? We love engaging with you, Autopians!

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(Top photo credit: Grassroots Motorsports Seller)

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39 Responses

  1. I bought my first neon 3/29/05, and my wife and I have owned a type of neon since then. I evolved a bunch of my neons into street/strip cars. I still have my 95 NYG ACR I bought at the end of 09, a full year before my son was born. That car I evolved into having coilovers, a 12.5:1 engine with a big lumpy cam, coilovers, and I raised a lot of hell with it. Eventually, times got a little tough, and I sold my “reliable” cars, took the coilovers off the neon, put a stock engine and regular struts and springs on it and made it more comfy for daily use and used it to tote around my toddler son, and then my daughter when she came along in 2013.

    I broke the car in 2013 and let it sit for years, considered getting rid of it, bought other project cars thinking I would restore it some day. Finally this year I got sober, I got focused, and I decided to get it on the road. My daughter who only remembers the car being the thing we drug around for years finally got to ride in it. My son had a big ear to ear smile riding in it again, enjoying doing pulls with dad. Sure, I broke the engine again but now it’s more road ready than it’s ever been, and I’ll have it ready to tear up the road when the weather gets nice again.

    There’s something special about these cars.

    1. My son is 14 and is more into driving than my daughter was/is. I’m already getting used to being behind the wheel, but my goal is to sign up for the driving class again, with him, after he turns 16. I’m just not sure what car we’ll be using.

  2. Thank you for bringing back COTD! And the first awardee was a great choice. What a heartwarming story (in a good way, not in a saccharine Hallmark Channel way).

    1. Wait – does this mean you could cram the ms3 turbo engine into the 5’s engine bay? And is the manual tranny the same?

      My mind is going places… have to check the viability of this “small” project. I’m a big believer in minivan practicality but they tend to be boring and this could a solution of sorts!

  3. What? It’s back? Like, I am happier than a fat kid with their Bday cake all to themselves.
    That was a nice lil surprise, can’t wait for more!

  4. Great idea to introduce COTD.

    Better yet, maybe occasionally solicit stories directly from your readers.

    You’ve probably got several hundred fans here with great car stores, can put together a coherent sentence, and are freely willing to contribute something compelling on virtually any automotive subject you can think of.

    There’s undoubtedly a whole bunch of us who fancy themselves as closet automotive writers. Myself included. You might even find a couple new staff members with a little effort.

    1. There really are some excellent commenters here and I’m champing at the bit to read some of their long-form stories.

      Toecutter with their wonderful mad-science streamlined e-trike is among my top hopes.

  5. Very much on board with COTD! I do my best to at least skim all the comments on the articles I read, but I’m sure there will always be some gems that I’ve missed. Besides, I’m a huge sappy sucker for stories about the impact cars have had on people’s lives (looking at you, Mercedes!), so the more comments like this, the more my cold Slavic heart will thaw 🙂 I do hope Autojunkie will be reunited with their Neon one day.

    Re: other series – another vote for Readers’ Rides here. Come on, where else am I going to find someone whose ear I can talk off about how Sparky survived a flood and was rewarded with her one and only mod so far – new neo-chrome valve stem caps? Or what it’s like to drive 1,000 miles in a Chevy Spark while stopping only for gas and with only an angry cat for company. Or… you get the point.

    1. Jeeze there’s more than one of you out there?! My boss is also a Spark fanatic and likewise, has a ton of stories of improbable adventures and hooliganism. No floods though, as far as I know, but it was shipped to another country at one point…

  6. Love that this is back and the first winner was very well-chosen.

    Do March Muscle Car Madness next year maybe?

    Played only once at the old place and then jettisoned like removing the A/C on a drag car, it was a great couple weeks of debate, even if the champion was in fact NOT a muscle car.

  7. “Is it going to include notifications when we get replies to our comments? I would love to get them so I can tell when there’s a conversation going.”
    I second this!

    Russ

  8. Thank you for using my comment as the inaugural COTD, Mercedes! Imagine my surprise when I saw the story headline.

    Some of you might remember me from that other page, but I am a writer. I’m a technical writer by trade, but I’ve written automotive-based articles and stories for a handful of clients. I also write stories for myself that either I hope to share one somewhere one day either publicly or even with just friends and family. However, I like to write and I appreciate the wonderful comments here attributed to my story. I have many more like it that maybe I’ll find a way to share here one day.

    Cars are my life and it’s how I relate to others. I’ve always been that way.

    ~Autojunkie

  9. If you can’t find a clean neon an alternative is the first gen Ford Focus. It didn’t have the factory backing the neon did. But it’s every bit as (slow car fast) fun to drive.

  10. I’m loving COTD! It is giving me classic era Jalopnik vibes in the best possible ways. ( I hope that isn’t insulting in any way, because it certainly isn’t meant to be) Keep it up Autopian, you are all killing it!

  11. I’ve brought this up before, but I’ll toss it out again. A weekly “viewer” mail/advice column would be a cool way to encourage further reader interaction. Allow readers to ask any even vaguely car/boat/train/plane related questions, kind of Click and Clack style.

  12. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I strongly disliked COTD, and I don’t want it here. On that other website, COTD (and the comment system in general) rewarded formulaic, pandering missives from the initiated few, as opposed to comments from the community at large. The comment system made me feel like I didn’t belong on that site, and worse yet, that I don’t belong in the car enthusiast community. As a person who feels out of place in the car enthusiast community, I don’t need a daily reminder that I am an interloper.

    I know that others like COTD, but for people like me, it will make this website less welcoming. I doubt I am the only one. Please don’t ruin this site for people like me.

    1. Dude you’re here, and FWIW I read your comments and usually appreciate them, stick around for the laughs!
      Not sure how COTD will work here but it looks like it will be different from the other place, not shooting it down, yet, we’ll see.

    2. That was my biggest issue with thatother site. Even if you manage to discover the secret knock and have your comments be seen, ask one question a delicate writer doesn’t care for and you’re back in the permanent grays. This one seems a lot more inclusive. I don’t mind a comment of the day they’re fun. I just wish there was notifications so we could keep up with replies.

      1. Yep, I called out a blogger/writer over there for his shit posting and politics. I was sent to the grays for it. Hope that guy never starts work here

    3. I largely agree except that I don’t think a COTD needs to be inherently clique-forming and exclusionary. Of course, we’re talking about humans and most of the times I give them the benefit of the doubt, the inner misanthrope ends up earning another set of smug wings, so maybe don’t go by me!

    4. I’d disagree with at least one thing you said – the very fact that you took the time to join up here and comment pretty much demonstrates that you’re a real car enthusiast, certainly as much as anyone here. You’re no interloper, and if you are, most of us are too.

      1. What Jack & Justin said! Whether you drag race, mudbog, auto cross, build lawnmower racers out of sheet metal & old weed eaters, or just enjoy detailing your ride obsessively, if you have a passion for mechanical stuff, you’re an enthusiast and welcome here as best I can suss out. I remember your ‘nym from the old site-and have thumbed your comments here.

        We all have different stuff that speaks to us, but this feels like a pretty big tent—and no greys in sight

  13. Having followed the previous sit, until this arrived, I am fond of the COTD. I think any time readers can hear about the love of vehicles from other readers we all enjoy and win! Jason, David and Beau have put together a great site, despite its flaws (though very few) always makes me think, laugh and wonder about their sanity.

  14. I’m so excited to see the return of COTD! This will surely further raise the high water mark of the already-great comments here.

    Too bad we can’t embed images in our posts j/k

      1. Also! Would it be possible to get rid of the “older comments / newer comments” links and just have a “Show All Comments” function? Or make “Show All Comments” the default? The commenters are generally excellent here and I often feel like I’m missing something with the current system.

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