What do you get when you pair one rookie drag racer with a seasoned mentor and add an 1100 horsepower car to the mix? One heck of a thrill ride, say Kayla Rundle and Tony Arme, who competed as Team Corruptt in the Grudge Race at the 2023 Roadkill Nights event.
The 2023 Dodge Direct Connection Grudge Race at MotorTrend Presents Roadkill Nights Powered by Dodge returned Aug. 12 with a twist in its annual competition. This year, the event introduced a new mentor-rookie format that delivered intense racing action as six teams pit their meticulously crafted machines against each other, all customized but with one common foundation — the supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI HELLCrate Redeye engine from Direct Connection.
The Phoenix team was made up of Rundle, an automotive design engineer, performance car enthusiast, and online content creator, and Arme, the owner and a builder at American Legends Hot Rods and Muscle Cars, which specializes in 1974 and older hotrods, muscle and classic cars in North Central Phoenix. The 2023 event was Arme’s second year participating in the Grudge Race and Rundle’s first drag race. Both natives of Phoenix, the team brought its 1969 Barracuda build to represent their home town at the race.
In front of a record-breaking crowd of more than 42,000 drag-racing enthusiasts in Pontiac, Michigan, the duo set out to prove their engineering and driving skills. But before the race, they reflected on what got them into cars to begin with.
“I’ve been into cars my entire life,” Arme said. “My dad worked on them when I was little and I would kind of be out there tinkering with them, and he was always into all sorts of mechanical stuff; we did pinball machines and game room stuff. So, I was just kind of submersed in the mechanical world when I was young.
“When it started getting closer to where I was driving, I learned how to work more on cars and then bought my first car, a ’68 Mustang. Me and my dad kind of did the whole restoration project on it from start to finish. And that’s kind of where I learned how to work on more classic cars.”
He found out that he could go to school and make a career out of working on cars, which led him to working in a number of other garages before opening his own shop in 2017.
“I have a complete opposite background,” Rundle said. “I was not around cars at all. I discovered the world of cars actually by pulling up at a car show once I had my first car, when I was 16. I started just tinkering with my car with little things at a time.”
Although her first car, a Kia Optima, wasn’t very fast, it was reliable, but when she saw the “Transformers” movie she knew she had to have that Camaro. She worked all through high school babysitting, in fast food, and doing car detailing “basically around the entire neighborhood,” saving ever dollar so that when she was 18, she bought her Camaro — in cash, “Which I still have today,” she added. “It’s what I’m mostly known for on social media and that’s the car I learned how to drive manual on — it’s kind of what I learned how to do everything on.”
Rundle also has advice for those who may want to restore or update their own car, or perhaps buy their first project car.
“Never ever be afraid to take on a task because you could literally do anything, no matter how challenging it is. Motors for me were probably the scariest thing ever, and then you realize it’s just built like Legos. I also highly recommend YouTube and research everything, even before you start.”
Arme, who works mostly with older cars, requiring harder-to-come-by parts, has a slightly different perspective.
“Have a really good budget and a really good plan and make sure everything’s thought out before you ever jump into it,” she said. “You see projects out there being sold all the time…you know, people can’t finish them.”
Off to the races
The 2023 Grudge Race marked the second year that Direct Connection provided the engine and transmission to the teams, which then have to build out the car — either a Dodge or Plymouth — that they will race. The Corruptt team received their engine July 12 and the car shipped out Aug. 5, giving them just under a month to build, test and make it camera ready (“We went crazy with the wrap this year,” Rundle interjected) and for Rundle to take a few test runs at Radford Racing, who taught her the basics of drag racing prior to stepping into the ’69 Barracuda.
On race day, Rundle hit the 600-foot drag strip first with a test pass, then matched up against Team Sick-Bastards out of Detroit, a second run was a “By Pass,” which she ran solo, and then she went head-to-head with the car that many favored to win, the San Diego Team Throtl’s Dodge Viper — and Team Corruptt brought the win home to Arizona.
“As a first time drag racer behind the wheel of a car that makes 1100 HP, it was really intense, but I was never scared,” Rundle said. “My goal was to stay calm, and focus my vision down the track and make minor adjustments when the car wanted to go elsewhere.
“The car overall performed great, other than the wheels spinning on every pass,” she added. “It was spinning just enough for the car to launch properly while having to manipulate driving techniques to safely make it down the drag strip. If it was going any slower, we would have lost to the Throtl Viper, and if it were any faster, the wheels would have spun too much to where we would have been stationary. Tony got under the car in-between passes to tweak the suspension to ‘tune’ it to perfection.
“The celebration was the best part. I had people from RadFord, Dodge, RoadKill, competitors, and the crowd all congratulating me. Everyone expected the Throtl Viper to win in the end, so I was a ‘surprise’ for the event win,” Rundle said.