Home » Let’s All Remember The Weird ’90s Racing Series That Had A Dodge Stratus Beating BMWs

Let’s All Remember The Weird ’90s Racing Series That Had A Dodge Stratus Beating BMWs

Dodge Stratus Race Car
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The 1990s were a trip. We had not one, but two North American open wheel racing series (CART and the Indy Racing League). While we had an early version of the internet, it wasn’t fast enough to support streaming video, ergo there was an explosion of cable channels so large it supported the racing-only Speedvision network. All of this combined to create the mostly forgotten but totally weird North American Touring Car Championship, which saw Honda Accord, Toyota Carinas, Ford Mondeos, and even a Mazda Xedos 6 competing on some of North America’s best tracks and often losing to a Dodge Stratus.

Here’s a video from the inaugural race at Lime Rock in 1996:

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

The racing series was created as a support event for CART races, which meant it mostly raced on the same weekends that the series happened to be in Toronto or Long Beach or Laguna Seca.

Obviously, saloon racing was popular in Europe and Japan, but NASCAR-style racing dominated the mainstream in America, especially in the 1990s. Whipping up a series from scratch was a crazy idea, but the formula for a series was created when the FIA unveiled the Super Touring class of cars. The Demon Tweaks blog has a good explanation of how we went from the Group A cars of the classic DTM era of the late ’80s and early ’90s to Super Touring:

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Following the rebrand from the ‘British Saloon Car Championship’ in 1987 to ‘The British Touring Car Championship’ the series was enjoying huge success and saw large audiences and TV coverage at each round up and down the UK. However, despite this success, a problem was taking shape, mainly in the form of championship cost, which was an increasing issue for teams wanting to enter.

In 1990 these issues came to a head and 2 of the sport’s biggest names at the time: driver Andy Rouse and team owner David Richards from Prodrive, hatched the idea of the now infamous 2-litre formula class. Which, as the name suggests, each competition car was only allowed up to a 2-litre engine. These engines would have no more than 6 cylinders and 2 wheel drive (until Audi rocked up with their 4 wheel drive Quattro – but we will get to this later…). Turbocharging was suggested as a way to increase power but this was squashed by BMW in favour of natural aspiration only with a 8500rpm rev limit. The choice of engine remained free – meaning a manufacturer could use any motor from anywhere within the same manufacturer’s range of engines as long as the 2-litre rule was adhered to.

So, if you think about it, the North American Touring Car Championship was really just an extension of this same Super Touring formula and, in fact, many of the cars that competed were basically Japanese or European Super Touring cars, with the big exception of the Dodge Stratus:

Dodge Stratus Natcc
They wind-tunneled this thing! Photo: Stellantis

Here’s the car list from the first season in 1996, which is both rad and extremely weird:

  • Toyota Carina
  • BMW 318i
  • Ford Mondeo/Mondeo Ghia/Ford Countour
  • Mercedes Benz 190E
  • Dodge Stratus
  • Honda Accord
  • Vauxhall Cavalier
  • Pontiac Sunfire

In 1997, the Toyota Carina became a Toyota Corolla and a Mazda Xedos 6 (basically a Millenia) showed up. I watched a lot of this when I was in my early teens and I’d completely forgotten about the Pontiac Sunfire that raced at Laguna Seca both years. Here’s proof that this isn’t just some Wikipedia joke:

The mix of drivers was pretty great, with hot shoes like Randy Pobst, Rod Millen, David Donohue and Peter Cunningham all mixing it up in fairly equally matched cars. Pobst won the debut season in a Honda Accord and David Donohue won fairly handily the next year in the Dodge Stratus.

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That’s right, this series is strange enough that arguably the most successful cars was a Dodge Stratus (Will Ferrel voice “I DRIVE A DODGE STRATUS!”). Here’s a video with some of the highlights:

The racing is pretty great as, frankly, the combination of relatively low horsepower and low weight makes for a lot of pushing and shoving. Unfortunately, CART itself was a doomed series and didn’t bring enough money in to support itself, left alone a support series.

If you like watching these cars race, the British Touring Car Championship in this period is absolutely stellar. It’s better, honestly. DTM is better as well. But you know what BTCC doesn’t have? A freakin’ Dodge Stratus (technically, the Swedish Touring Car Championship had a Chrysler Stratus).

The only thing that could have made it better was a Plymouth Breeze.

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Top photo: Stellantis

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Vee
Vee
11 months ago

Back around 2002 or so a neighbour of mine had a bunch of gas powered R/C cars he used to race in his shed and his yard. Me being me and me also being a child I often went over to watch them. One of the bodies that he had painted himself was a blue and white Dodge Stratus with a massive wing and almost as massive a front splitter. I chalked it up to being part of the ongoing The Fast And The Furious trend, but still liked it because I was a weird kid who had a bias towards the first generations of Stratus and Durango. Turns out this was a real car. And the R/C version emulated the real car in winning damn near every race.

Also said neighbour had bodies for a Ford Focus SVT and a Chevrolet SST. Traxxis were making some weird shit around the turn of the millennium.

Also also I’m still laughing at the Cavalier and Sunfire being legitimate racing cars in the JGTC and NATCC.

Jesus Helicoptering Christ
Jesus Helicoptering Christ
11 months ago

I’ve watched a couple of Supertouring events at Knockhill recently (as in the last couple of years).

By this I mean that there are people who privately own old 1990s Supertouring cars and they race them. They aren’t parade laps, they run at full race speeds and even make contact quite frequently.

It’s a great field of Mondeos, Cavaliers, Accords, the classic Nescafe liveried dark green and gold Renault Laguna turns up too. Last time I watched, a purple and orange Mazda 323 was running. It had a tiny little 2.0 V6 screaming its head off. Glorious.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
11 months ago

I don’t find this all that surprising given that around the same time, the Neon, with that same 4 cyl engine, was kicking ass on many race tracks as well.

People like to shit on Chrysler, but they did make a lot of good stuff. Their 4 cyl engines were great when paired to manual transmissions and once they started installing MLS headgaskets in them.

Sidenote: Chrysler engineers wanted the 2L Neon engine to have MLS head gaskets from the start. But there was a guy named Bob Eaton (the same Bob Eaton that sold Chrysler out to Daimler-Benz) who decided to do some cost cutting. Aaand… he was the same Bob Eaton in charge of the disasterous FWD X-body cars when he was at GM. Man… why the hell did Iacocca pick this putz over Bob Lutz????

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
11 months ago

…in charge of the X-Body? Enough said. I never knew about this guy but he sounds like a dumbass corporate hatchet job.

Cost-cutting is important for any corporation, but there is a difference between saving money and improving margins vs. picking up pennies in front of a steamroller.

Kris Rayner
Kris Rayner
11 months ago

It makes me feel better to think of the Stratus as more Mitsubishi than Dodge. A Mitsu touring car just makes more sense in the universe than a Dodge.

STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
11 months ago
Reply to  Kris Rayner

The Mitsu Stratus was the coupe.
The car featured here is the sedan, which is 100% Dodge.

Dip, dive, duck and…

Maymar
Maymar
11 months ago
Reply to  Kris Rayner

This is around the same time the Neon was an SCCA darling and the Viper was about to go onto a bunch of LeMans class wins

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
11 months ago

I used to catch this on TV. I’ve always been more interesting in racing where the cars at least look somewhat related to the actual street car.

Sturzer
Sturzer
11 months ago

I have a super rad promotional poster of this racing series with the Stratus, BMW 318, and an Accord on it. I think we may have gotten it one year when we went to the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle.

Outofstep
Outofstep
11 months ago

I completely forgot about Speedvision! It was my favorite channel as a young teen. I remember the Stratus just being an absolute monster. My dad rented a Stratus one time when he got into an accident and I remember thinking wow this car sucks how is it such a good race car?

JKcycletramp
JKcycletramp
11 months ago
Reply to  Outofstep

I miss the WRC coverage on Speedvision. Each day of each round got a nicely edited hour of coverage within 24 hours. Then, there was a longer edit of the whole rally. Made me love rally racing.

The World of Vee
The World of Vee
11 months ago

I had a model of that Stratus! I can’t for the life of me remember how I managed upon it as a kid but it sat proudly in my bedroom next to my viper, 964 and f50 models. Which, as I now think about it, is a hilarious lineup of model cars.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
11 months ago

It’s a good looking design!

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
11 months ago

Too bad they never offered a Stratus ACR from the dealer 😛

Limerockian
Limerockian
11 months ago

I was there in 96. I didn’t remember it was the inaugural race for the series. The cars were screamers but there were never enough entrants to sustain it for the long term.

Cheats McCheats
Cheats McCheats
11 months ago
Reply to  Limerockian

I was there too. I didn’t realize or maybe I just don’t remember this being the inaugural race. All I remember was it was a hot weekend. Good race weekend.

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
11 months ago

RC touring car racing took off around the same time, and what was one of the most popular bodystyles? Yep, Dodge Stratus. Good slippery aero (yes, it matters at 1/10 scale) and a nice blunt nose to keep it from getting hung up if you bumped a barrier or another car. It worked so well I think you can still get a Stratus bodyshell for RC touring cars.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
11 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

I would kill to get a hold of one of those body shells for my TT02 race car. It started off as the Audi V8 touring car, is currently a DC2 Integra in JACCS livery and I have a Monte Carlo ready to be turned into a Jeff Gordon #24 NASCAR for it.
But I REALLY want to do a Super Touring Stratus

XXLTall
XXLTall
11 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

looks like HPI still makes a touring Stratus body https://www.ebay.com/itm/272971957798
or get an older Parma https://www.ebay.com/itm/192471630271

Last edited 11 months ago by XXLTall
The World of Vee
The World of Vee
11 months ago
Reply to  XXLTall

wow I never knew you had to cut RC bodies, and they were clear!? that’s wild.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
11 months ago

Yeah you paint them from the inside…. makes it more durable.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
11 months ago

If you get one from a decent manufacturer like Tamiya or HPI, they do a lot of the work for you by scoring them and pre-drilling the holes, which makes it a LOT easier.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
11 months ago
Reply to  XXLTall

HPI one is discontinued by the look of it.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
11 months ago
Reply to  XXLTall

Wait. Did I read that right? Allstate offers insurance for RC cars?!?

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
11 months ago

Double wishbone front suspensions on Stratusesesse (Stratii?) and on pre 2000 Hondas/Acuras certainly helped in touring car and SCCA vs struts.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
11 months ago

I was active in SCCA racing around that time, and that was a cool little surprise the Chryslers brought to the table.

The first gen Stratus was a pretty cool car for what it was – it could be had with a manual no less. It was the later versions that really doomed it to the joke it became.

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