Ozone is a potent oxidant and causes airway hyperresponsiveness and neutrophilia. To determine the role of p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) activation, we studied the effect of a p38α inhibitor SD-282 (Scios Inc, Fremont, CA USA) on ozone-induced airway hyperresponsiveness and neutrophilia. Balb/c mice received SD-282 (30 or 90 mg/kg i.p) or vehicle 1 h before exposure to either ozone (3 ppm, 3 h) or air. Three hours after exposure, lungs were analysed for cytokine levels and bronchoalveolar lavage was performed. Another set of mice were dosed 6 h after exposure and 1 h before assessing airway hyperresponsiveness. SD-282 (90 mg/kg) significantly inhibited ozone-induced airway hyperresponsiveness (− LogPC150: SD-282: − 1.73 ± 0.14 vs. vehicle: − 0.99 ± 0.15, P < 0.05). Bronchoalveolar lavage neutrophil numbers were time-dependently increased in vehicle-dosed, ozone-exposed mice, greatest at 20–24 h after exposure. SD-282 (30 and 90 mg/kg) significantly inhibited ozone induced neutrophil numbers at 3 h and 20–24 h after ozone SD-282 significantly inhibited ozone-induced increases in phosphorylated p38 MAPK expression, and in cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), interleukin-6 (IL-6) and IL-1β but not MIP-1α gene expression. We conclude that p38 MAPK is involved in ozone-induced airway hyperresponsiveness and lung neutrophilia. Inhibition of p38 MAPK with small molecule kinase inhibitors may be a means of reducing ozone-induced inflammation and airway hyperresponsiveness.