2010-05-22 / Front Page

Chrysler Mania Returns to Dragway

by Scott Rawdon

HEBRON – Shana King sits surrounded by old license plates, taillights, steering wheels, and sea of spare parts, most carrying the Chrysler logo. The Dayton native is just one of hundreds of Mopar enthusiasts who flocked to National Trail Raceway last weekend to enjoy the 18th Annual Chrysler Classic event, and the company of the most devoted fans of the Big 3 automakers.

“I was raised on Chryslers,” she said. King’s father owned a couple of Roadrunners. “The B body stuff,” she said. Her father also owned a couple Dodge Darts. She owns a 1970 Super Bee. “It’s still a work in progress,” she said. “It’s drivable.”

National Trail Raceway Sales Manager Mike Fornataro agrees that Chrysler enthusiasts are as devoted as they come, and they showed their support all weekend. “The turnout was good, better than the past couple years, but the weather was better, too,” he said. Fornataro said highlights included a strong show car turnout and, probably for most spectators, was the addition of the Jet Dragster, which was new for the event.

“Why are people so loyal?” asked Fornataro. “I think Mopar fans are the most loyal of any brand, period.” He said they race Mopars, tow with Dodge trucks, even their motor homes often have Mopar engines. “I think it is because of the traditional ‘Big 3,’” said Fornataro. “Mopar was by far the most ‘out there’ in regard to styling, engine options and marketing.” He said at one time the older Mopars were like the second-class citizens of the automotive world, but the incredible rise in their value is something of a vindication for the faithful. “Also, when there were lots of parts being reproduced for cars like Mustangs and Camaros there was nothing, and I mean nothing, available in the reproduction market for Mopars.” The community of Mopar enthusiasts became much more close-knit, as they were forced to work together to find the parts they needed.

“I absolutely agree that Mopar fans are the most devoted of any make,” said Eric Gebert, Cincinnati Tri-State Mopar Club president. “They are very proud of their racing heritage and relish in the fact that Mopars have always been a little bit different.” He believes it all goes back to the 50s and 60s when Chrysler was “so over-the-top” in its styling and drive trains. “It began with huge fins and first generation Hemis in the ‘forward look’ Mopars of the 50s,” said Gebert. Then, he said, as the Big 3 American automakers tried to out-horsepower each other, Mopar stepped up to the plate with huge motors like the 440 six-packs, Magnums, and TNT torque monsters.

“Chrysler engineers were ahead of the curve when it came to designing and building big horsepower,” said Gebert. The 392 Hemi was the engine of choice among early top fuel racers. Then, he said, the 426 Hemi raised the bar again as drag and oval track racing made huge performance gains.

“When it came to ordering a new Dodge or Plymouth in the late 60s and early 70s, you could order it in any color imaginable,” said Gebert. The blinding “high impact” factory colors are Mopar muscle car era signatures. “You can go to any Mopar event and see colors like Plum Crazy purple, Go-Mango orange, Sublime green, and Panther pink,” he said.

“Wanna talk styling?” Gebert said the Coke-bottle styles of the 1968 through 1970 Chargers, Roadrunners, and Super Bees will forever be considered some of he most appealing designs to come out of Detroit. “The winged warrior 69 Charger Daytonas and 70 Plymouth Superbirds were some of the most outrageous vehicles ever built,” he said. “When it comes down to it, gatherings like the Chrysler Classic and Mopar Nationals are a celebration of cars and auto enthusiasts who dare to be different.”

The next big National Trail Raceway event is the all-diesel drags and truck pull, June 5. “We’ve never hosted this event and the promoters tell us it a big, big deal,” said Fornataro. Visit www.nationaltrailraceway.com for more information.
Photos by Scott Rawdon Photos by Scott Rawdon

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