Need for Speed: Southland Dodge driver a racing champ

GUMBO GURU: Charlotte’s Country Kitchen
May 5, 2015
Wallace Thibodaux
May 13, 2015
GUMBO GURU: Charlotte’s Country Kitchen
May 5, 2015
Wallace Thibodaux
May 13, 2015

A Schriever racecar driver who manages the competitive team for a Houma Dodge dealership is positioned to bring home a National Hot Rod Association championship win this year, adding to a long history of victories.

But winning is something that appears as natural to Kevin Helms as the art of driving itself, and racing is a tradition that is well-integrated into the culture of the dealership, Southland Dodge. His performance in a prized “muscle car” the dealership owns comes at a time when the auto industry is seeing a resurgence of interest in the big-horsepower sporty vehicles whose golden age began in the 1970s.

Helms has thus far garnered the most points in his NHRA division this year, and will continue seeking the national championship as master of the dealership’s 2010 Dodge Challenger and its 426 cubic inch HEMI engine.

“I really hope that I can continue going a bunch of rounds and get my fourth world championship, and right now it’s looking real good,” Helms said.

His venues are NHRA Stock Eliminator class events of the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, a national circuit that pits some of the nation’s best drivers and stock machines against each other.

Helms is the first driver to win the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series three times in a row from 2001 to 2003. He is also the first racer to ever win two stock eliminator Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway back-to-back in 1998 and 1999. He won again in 2001.

NHRA rules for Stock Eliminator Drag Racing dictate that at least 500 of that model car must have been available for the general public to buy. All aspects of the car must remain original, hence the term “stock.”

Racing distinction is not claimed by Helms alone, however. The Southland drag racing team, which includes dealership owner Jeff Tueton, a 50-year racing veteran, his son Joseph and grandson Joseph III, has earned its own bragging rights.

The Tuetons race in the Super Stock class, which allows limited modifications to racecars. Helms does, as well, but is focus is on Stock this year.

Jeff Tueton is currently in 23rd place nationally within the super stock class. His 203 points are built on a proud set of numbers. In 2011 his 2009 Challenger Drag Pak test vehicle won the Stock Eliminator at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, setting multiple records.

It was the first time the then-new Drag Pak had won in stock eliminator competition. Jeff was at that time the oldest driver to win, at age 67.

“I had a good time doing it,” said Jeff, who is gearing up to win the title next year.

Racing is fun but there is a strong business edge connected to it, said Jeff, explaining that racing involvement has lots of benefits for a car dealership

“Automobiles and racecars go hand-in-hand,” Jeff said “Always had, always will.”

The hard work and resulting racing excellence has earned Southland Dodge favor with Chrysler, Jeff said, making them an automotive business “golden child.”

Racing also keeps the dealership in the performance car loop, especially relevant because of increased interest in muscle cars, said Jeff, noting great advances in the genre.

“Now we’ve got a street-car….the thing makes 707 horsepower and passes all the emissions,” Jeff said, referring to the new Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat.

It was during a race run for Southland by Helms in the Challenger, team members said, that caused NHRA announcer Alan Reinhart to blurt out “the muscle car era is now” as he driver raced down the track on two wheels.

“It’s becoming a bigger market as it goes.” Jeff said. “And one thing, you can’t go buy an imported muscle car.”

Kevin Helms and his 2010 Dodge Challenger. Helms is currently in first place in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Stock Eliminator Class.