General Motors Corp. is entering the growing sport of front-wheel-drive drag racing to help it capture a youth enthusiast market enthralled with foreign compacts. “We're not even on the youth market's radar screen,” admits Josh Peterson, GM manager-drag racing programs. “It's really an import-dominated market.”

Forget about the old muscle cars traditionally favored by teenagers. Over the last decade, racing enthusiasts from the Echo Boomer generation have turned their street-tuning efforts to Honda Civic and other foreign models, although Ford Focus is garnering some attention. Chevy Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire, however, have remained an afterthought. Despite Cavalier/Sunfire's outdated body styles, GM believes its all-new, all-aluminum 16-valve, dual-overhead-cam 140-hp Ecotec 2.2L 4-cyl., which debuted in the '02 models last fall, will draw interest from the aftermarket crowd.

GM Racing works a little magic and finishes with a customized 2L Ecotec that produces 600 to 700 hp. Two races into a season that features 14 stops, early results have been encouraging.