Joel Vandiver








3,800 lbs. with driver and fuel


7.0-liter Hemi, 465 whp


Front: Eibach multi pro R2 springs and dampers, Razorsedge upper control arms

Rear: Eibach multi pro R2 springs and dampers , Razorsedge control arms


305-645-18  whatever used brand I can find  that I can afford


Front: Stock SRT-8 Brembo calipers with Carbotech XP 20 pads

Rear:  Stock SRT-8 Brembo calipers with Carbotech XP 10 pads

Data system:



 Razorsedge Motorsports, Injected Engineering

Joel Vandiver’s 2008 Dodge Challenger is something of an oddity in American Iron. The story behind it, and the four cars it took to piece it together, is even odder.

You are looking at one of two Dodge Challengers in American Iron in the nation. Joel Vandiver built the car after he decided to get out of Time Trials and into American Iron racing. His Time Trial car was a Dodge Charger he built from an old police car, so he wanted a racecar he was not only familiar with, but also something that would accept the powertrain he already had.

The only car that suited his needs, really, was a Dodge Challenger, but he was trying to source a car for cheap back when that particular model had only recently returned to dealer showrooms.

“Dodge wouldn’t sell me a body,” said Vandiver a firefighter from Cornelia, Ga. “So I looked and there was a body listed on RacingJunk.com. The guy was from Canada and he said it was rescued from a junkyard up there and didn’t get put through the shredder. So I assumed it had some kind of defect where they never finished the assembly on it. It never had any seam sealer. It just had whatever they dip it in after they spot weld it.”

After he bought it, he discovered the sheet metal on it was brittle in places, leading him to believe that was why it was in the salvage yard to begin with. Vandiver doesn’t know why it’s brittle, but can point to a half dozen places where the sheet metal has split. He said the manufacturer might have been doing some testing with different metals before sending it to the salvage yard.

He had the powertrain to go under it, and he now had was a chassis. He still needed a lot more parts to complete the project, so he bought a wrecked — destroyed is probably a better word — Challenger to salvage other pieces he needed. Even then, he still needed a lot of other parts, which he sourced from Craigslist and eBay, but he had enough to get started.


“I bought a 2008 Challenger that had been rolled end over end and side over side and was tore all to hell,” Vandiver said. “I took that car and basically built it out in the parking lot of my little business in town.”


When he had the body sitting out front before he installed a roll cage, some paint and body guys suggested he put some self-etching primer on it. Otherwise whatever paint he tried to apply wasn’t going to stick.

“So we went and bought some self etching primer and it just happened to be green,” he said. “People kept coming by, saying, ‘What color is that? I like that.’ So we ended up just spraying clear over the primer. The car actually has no paint.”


The transmission at that time was a five-speed automatic, which was all the Challenger came with initially. Vandiver raced it in American Iron with an automatic a couple of times, but he realized that wasn’t going to get him far.

“With a stock motor, and with the weight of the car, it wasn’t really going to work well for American Iron,” he said. “I knew that I needed to change to a six-speed because the automatic was kind of holding me back.”


He found a brand-new six-speed manual transmission and pedal box from a guy on an online forum who had bought it all to convert his Dodge Charger to stick shift. When he learned how much work would be required to the engine management system, he sold the lot to Vandiver and went out and bought a new Challenger with a manual transmission, which was just becoming available from the factory at the time. Vandiver discovered firsthand how difficult it is to do the conversion.


“Trying to trick the computer into not seeing the German five-speed automatic transmission was fun,” Vandiver said with a chuckle. “I ended up having to change almost everything out to put the six speed in it.”

He’s still having some issues with the ABS system, but he’s racing the car regularly and is currently second in points in American Iron in NASA Southeast. His Challenger challenges, however, were not over.

Southeast2224 copy

The engine he built, which came from yet another car, a Dodge Charger SRT8, had been crashed into two trees at 120 mph, which nearly split the car length wise. After installing a 7.0-liter stroker kit in the engine he got from that car, and installing in the Challenger, he discovered that the engine leaked oil. Apparently the crash had cracked the block near an oil galley and it began to leak as soon as he started it for the first time. He fixed it by pumping JB Weld into the oil galley with air pressure, forcing the mix out through the crack, which held.


He also blew up several harmonic balancers and nearly smoked a differential. An aftermarket dampener and a homemade differential cooling system did the trick, and he’s been racing it in American Iron since 2011. And in a class dominated by Mustangs and Camaros, Vandiver’s Challenger is a refreshing change. The car’s unique build history is a bonus.


“For the parts that were too damaged to use from the wrecked donor car, I just went on Craigslist and wherever I could find parts,” Vandiver said. “This car was built on such a cheap budget that most people would flip out over some of the things we did.”

Image courtesy of Brett Becker

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