The day began with another journalist putting an SRT Viper GT into a tire wall. I should have taken that as an omen.
It was a cold October day in 2015 and the ground hadn’t been dry in the past 48 hours. The rain was falling from the sky in a deluge, puddling on low spots all over the West Virginia roads just a few miles from Summit Point Motorsports Park. The SRT folks from Dodge said we’d have a driving event at the track and surrounding roads, rain or shine.
I was at the helm of a 707 horsepower 2016 Dodge SRT Challenger Hellcat—with summer tires. My good friend and taste-making lifestyle journalist, Ken Panton, sat shotgun, totally undeterred by the inclement weather since he had dressed Grammercy Park appropriately: azure patent leather Gucci loafers kept his toes dry, while a bunch of other luxury brands wrapped his silhouette in an in-the-know armor that impresses his clients—like American Express and Delta Airlines—but not the gods of West Virginian country weather.
What could possibly go wrong?
Earlier that morning, Ken and I had been taking turns scooting around the countryside in a pre-production Fiat 500X. We even found a place to snap photos of the Italian runabout with a Euro-looking stone shed in the background.
UnNamedProject’s Kenneth Panton doesn’t wear raincoats. (Watch by Breitling for Bentley; shoes by Gucci; shirt by Lacoste; cardigan by Thom Browne, jeans by Balmain; and hat by G-Star.)
The wet stuff fell harder as the day wore on. Eventually, the roads looked like a sheet of glass, akin to photos Dodge had shared with the pool of automotive journalists earlier that morning.
After eating lunch, we jumped in the two-door Hellcat. Ken was at the wheel, rowing through the gears as gingerly as possible on the drowned tarmac. He commented how he wasn’t enjoying the fragileness of the experience at all. He pulled over to the shoulder.
“I’m going to shoot some photos, then you take us back,” he said.
A few moments later I was at the wheel of the muscle car. We only had the red key fob on us.
Mr. New York said, “You know that red one means you get all 707 horsepower, right?”
“Yes, I know. I’ve been looking forward to this.”
We started down a hilly two-lane country road. I engaged the clutch to upshift into second gear. The powerful car shifted seamlessly on the wet roads. We were going 20 mph.
Feeling less anxious, I said to my co-pilot, “This thing is pretty easy to shift.”
The speedometer approached 30 mph.
I don’t know why, but for some reason, I engaged the clutch before we had really gained any more speed, and I began to slot the transmission into third gear.
That’s when everything went south.
The supercharged muscle car began to bog. In an unfamiliar reaction, I gave it more throttle.
The amount of torque generated by my goose on the gas resulted in its rear steamrollers spinning as they attempted to find traction in the wet.
The rear of the car began to slide out to the right.
Ken pressed his arms up toward the ceiling and shouted something uniquely British and Ken-like.
“Oh, bloody what tha f$ck!”
I began to pull hard on the wheel and counter steer in an effort to regain control. I took my foot off the gas just as the car found its way into a quarter-inch of standing rainwater.
The car came to a halt.
“What the eff, man!” Ken said.
Embarrassed, I apologetically told him, “Sorry, brother. This thing is a death trap.”
My friend stared and shook his head at me like a disappointed headmaster the rest of the way back the SRT encampment.
Ken and I could have died or been badly hurt that day.
Lesson learned: When it’s a cold and wet day—and you have access to a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat with summer tires—don’t.