Of all the benefits of participating...
Of all the benefits of participating in the judged show arena, perhaps none are more valued as the restoration information gleaned through the judging process. Mark Herbstrith of Utica, Illinois, bought this '70 R/T Challenger in 1986. The restoration had already been started by the previous owner, so Mark inherited the dreaded "boxes full of parts." He planned to rebuild and drive the Challenger, but after discovering its relative rarity, decided to restore it to showroom condition. In 1994, the car made its debut in the original restored class. There, Mark discovered many things that had to be redone, thanks to the critical eyes of his judges. Mark would like to take the Challenger to higher levels, but now finances may be the limiting factor.
The Mopar Nationals (that ultimate wing-ding for Pentastar enthusiasts worldwide) is the end-all, be-all gathering of the Mopar hobby. Whether you seek drag racing action, show competition, rare parts, or simple camaraderie, you'll find it here.
What you'll also find is something many folks view as a curious separation, both physically and "spiritually," within the ranks of the Mopar faithful. We're talking about the judged showfield arena, where restored, modified, and original classics of all flavors compete against each other, and themselves, for recognition and perfection. The perceived dichotomy stems from two facets of the showfield scene: physical location, and a more nebulous notion we'll call philosophy.
Mopar National attendees come to this annual event for any number of reasons, and show organizers do their best to accommodate their varied needs. Show cars that are competing for points and class awards have special requirements, such as a safe showfield with traffic control, minimal dust, and ample room for judging. Thanks to the layout of National Trails Raceway, in Columbus, Ohio, these needs are met, but at the expense of isolating the judged showfield from fun field participants and other venues. It's a necessity-the nature of the show car beast, if you will-not a choice of the judges or participants.
This physical separation has also led to a seemingly philosophical division of Mopar Nationals attendees. The idea that one relatively small group is treated to "special accommodations" while the rest of the participants are relegated to the "dirty back 40" has done much to create an emotional rift between judged and non-judged participants. From here the misconceptions and misunderstandings between the two groups continue to grow. The reality, however, is something entirely different. Perceptions aren't always what they seem, and differences are often not always so different after all.
Drew Park of Mechanicsburg,...
Drew Park of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, is the owner of this '70 'Cuda. Purchased in 1991, Drew had his 'Cuda ready for showing in 1994, but admits that the project is...ongoing.
"Judges pick things," says Drew. "You fix them, then they pick something else. Funny how judges miss things. That's the reason the work is 'ongoing.'"
Drew's advice is, unless you're rich, to do as much work as you can by yourself. The judging process, even if it's sometimes a drawn-out prospect, is one of the best avenues for obtaining restoration info.
"Better be serious if you want to do it," Drew warns. "Nothing is standardized in this hobby. Not like the Corvettes!"
Because we feel that everyone who owns a classic Mopar and is interested in its preservation and continued use can benefit from participating in judged show competition, we wanted to give those readers who have pondered the possibilities of stepping up to a more competitive showing level an idea of what to expect and what can be gained. This article will attempt to explore what the judged showfield arena is all about and illustrate how everyone can participate and benefit from this unique Mopar experience.
Judged Competition Overview
There are three distinct areas of show competition at the Mopar Nationals: Modifieds; Stock, which also include the Senior Division; and OE Certified, with The Paddock being the primary sponsor of all the judged show classes.
Most popular are the Stock classes. Here the cars are assigned by body style and year, and compete against each other for First, Second, and Third places. Cars participating in the stock classes are evaluated against a set of standards by teams of judges who are extremely knowledgeable about the cars in those particular classes. Once a car places First in its Stock class, it can no longer compete in that class, and is only able to display in subsequent years, or must move on to the next level-Senior Division.
Senior Division is the next step up in the Mopar Nationals show hierarchy. Unlike the Stock class, Senior Division cars are not competing against others in their class. Instead, these cars are competing against an even more demanding set of standards. You are competing against yourself, trying to earn the highest possible points score as determined by your judging sheet.
Senior Division participants can remain in this class as long as they like, but at some point they often choose the next and final judging class-OE Certified.
Learning from judges and doing...
Learning from judges and doing it yourself is what has brought Mark Stiegman of Thawville, Illinois, to this point. Mark bought this '67 Belvedere GTX in 1987 and did a "halfway" resto. Ten years later, in an effort to be more competitive, Mark began the restoration again-this time from scratch. Mark says that doing the work yourself is "where it's at," and that judges and original cars are about the best restoration info sources around. He cautions other restorers to be wary of "folks who claim to know more than they do."
Like the Senior Division, OE Certified cars are judged against a set of standards rather than fellow competitors, only these standards are even more demanding than the previous. A mere seven cars are selected each year to be judged in the OE Certified class. This is the high water mark of the Mopar show arena, and the cars scoring top marks in this class are considered to be the best of the best.
If "restification" is more your game, the Modified classes offer a chance for good spirited competition that pit enthusiasts' restoration and auto craft skills against one another. Here, judges look mostly at fit and finish, and the consistency of the car's theme.
As mentioned earlier, the judges for each class have exceptional knowledge of the cars to which they are assigned. This is especially helpful, not only in ensuring that all cars are judged on their correct merits, but that proper consideration is given for a car's peculiarities. If a judge owns five A-Bodies of his own, for example, he or she will know the three or four spots that seem to get the most chips, hood rub points, and other natures of the beast. This is extremely helpful when factoring in the "driven" or "use" status of a judged car. The judges are also fairly consistent from one year to the next. By continuing the same judging teams each year (many of which are husband and wife), participants benefit from continuity and judging consistency.
One thing many don't realize until trying their hand at judged showing is that judged competition should be viewed as a tool to achieve a specific level of perfection, rather than being an end in itself. The judging framework at the Mopar Nationals is designed to allow competitors to learn about and improve their cars through a fun, competitive, and structured system. The progressive nature of the judged showfield allows participants to enjoy competition at a level they are comfortable with from both a technical and financial point of view.
Myths And Misconceptions
There is something for everyone in the judged showfield arena. Unfortunately, many potential participants never make it to the field due to the many incorrect assumptions and misconceptions surrounding judged competition. For example.
"Judged Cars Are Trailer Queens"
This '69 1/2 Six Pack is waiting...
This '69 1/2 Six Pack is waiting its turn at OE Certification. The road to this point is long, but the final day or two is perhaps the longest!
Mopar buffs hold the proud distinction of being among the more active enthusiasts in the classic car hobby. We get in, fire the engine, and get down the highway. That being the case, we also know how difficult it is to keep a driven car clean. A quick glance at most of the judged showfield entrants and one would imagine them all to be trailer queens. Not so.
On a national level, people who do not normally trailer [their cars], do," says Mopar Nationals Head Judge Keith Rohm. "The reason is that to compete in a judged showfield type arena...you've been cleaning for so many weeks or even months, most folks aren't going to drive to the show even though they may drive [their car] to cruises, on sunny weekends, or to non-national level competitions.
"Most folks bring their cars in on a support trailer, have them judged, then drive them the whole weekend. Also, the predominance of 30-50 year-old participants will not give up their cruise control and A/C for a long-distance haul to the Nats. Those who say that they do drive their cars most likely do, as evidenced by scuffs and stone chips, but when they come to the Nats, they trailer them for the most part. And that is the big difference between the fun field and showfield. Fun field participants will drive their vehicles no matter how nice the car is, and they don't have another agenda. The others want to keep them as clean as possible to show, then cut loose after the judging.
No detail is too small in...
No detail is too small in OE Certified. Here one of the judges is checking for the proper date code on the mufflers and ensuring that the muffler clamps are correct for the car.
"Strictly trailer queens are a lot smaller percentage of the judged show arena than folks might think. That is until you get in the Senior Division, and those that often take First and Second in each class probably see more time on the street locally than they do on a trailer."
"Driven Cars Don't Stand A Chance"
One of the things that keeps the Mopar scene alive, healthy, and vibrant is the fact that we tend to drive our cars more than most. That's where the fun is, and, as such, the judges in the Modified, Stock, and Senior Division classes take into account cars that see road time.
"Judged showfield," says Rohm, "does not make a distinction between trailered-only and driven cars. For one reason, it's an impossibility to separate the two. The solution, therefore, is to make no distinctions. However, the judges are handed the responsibility of exercising discretion. For example, if a man has a stone chip that has been attempted to be properly repaired, [judges] do not count off or [are not] really critical because that man's car has some road scars. In theory, the judges can look at a trailered-only car and a driven car and, taking into account use, care, and maintenance, judge the two fairly and competitively.
"Judges take into consideration minor and mild shown usage. Once you get into cars that have been driven a while and the undercarriage needs to be repainted and all,those folks know their bad points, but are being judged to better evaluate the finer points of their car.
"In sum, judges give consideration to selectively driven cars and occasionally driven cars."
"Quality Cars Get More Judging Time" Human nature being what it is, it's understandable to realize that many folks think judged cars that are obviously not as far along in the restoration/rebuild process as others within their same class will get the short end of the judging time card. Not so.
According to Rohm, everybody is given equal judging time and consideration. All cars are judged by folks who appreciate that particular model, so there are no prejudices, as are evident at some shows. The judges may know going into a specific car that it will not be a First, Second, or even Third place finisher. Nevertheless, judges will not "blow by" this car in favor of spending more time on one that is obviously higher up the food chain. Instead, the judges will spend time to find all of the things that the owner is there to find out. After all, the Stock class competition is not an end, but rather a means to an end-that being to help you build your car to the level you desire. As such, few serious contenders are "too rough" to not benefit from the judging experience.
"It Takes Big Bucks"
Another part of the perceived split between the judged and the non-judged crowd is the erroneous assumption that money is the big separator between the two. Nothing could be less accurate. While it is true that the majority of cars participating in OE Certified competition are the necessary beneficiaries of serious financial investment, such level of perfection is not a prerequisite for Stock and Senior class judging. What is required is patience, tenacity, and thorough, quality work on the part of the owner. Interestingly enough, many of the cars which grace the fun field at the Mopar Nationals are as good or better than those in the judged showfield. Why they aren't competing depends on the owner. Some prefer the laid-back nature of the fun field, while others mistakenly believe that they "didn't spend enough money" to enter judged competition.
Remember, it's the quality that counts, not the quantity of money invested.
Ron Johnson's '58 Chrysler...
Ron Johnson's '58 Chrysler 300D convertible, restored by Muscle Car Restorations, on its way to Best of Show and OE Certification at the '96 Mopar Nationals.
Benefits of Judged Show Competition
By now, those of you who have debated the pros and cons of entering judged competition at the Mopar Nationals probably have a better understanding of what the showfield can offer you. Aside from providing the competitive outlet we all need from time to time, and an opportunity to share restoration war stories with fellow enthusiasts, perhaps education is the single most important benefit of having our cars judged.
Think of it this way: Unlike the Mustang or Corvette worlds, where restoration details for nearly all makes and models are well documented, Mopar enthusiasts have no "Holy Grail" to follow on their journey to restoration perfection. A significant amount of research (sometimes weeding through questionable sources), comparison and talking with various experts is required just to get to first base. The judged showfield offers restorers the most concentrated collection of Mopar restoration knowledge anywhere. For three days the most knowledgeable folks in the hobby are on hand to share information and lend assistance to anyone who needs it. They evaluate your car, tell you what's right and wrong, and suggest ways to improve it. This is budget restoration at its finest!
"I've always been a believer," says Rohm, "that the judges don't judge the cars on Friday and disappear. Judges try to make themselves available to answer participants' questions. Most participants know their shortcomings before they enter. They just want to be assured that someone else found the shortcomings. It's not usually a place for big surprises. When there are surprises, the participants learn, and that's why they're there."
Michael Laiserine's '70 R/T...
Michael Laiserine's '70 R/T is proof positive that the judged show scene can benefit everyone who is interested in improving their Mopar-even if show points and competition are the last things on their mind. Michael, a resident of Long Island, New York, bought this R/T in 1995 for use as a parts car. When he learned it might be the last SE Challenger R/T built, he decided to go for the resto. The '99 Mopar Nats was his first showing of the car, and represented an attempt to get more and accurate restoration details before setting the car on the road as a driver.
Just Do It
One of the great aspects about the Mopar Nationals is that it offers something to everyone. For some folks, that means driving hard and having fun. For others, it's the personal challenge of returning a car to showroom condition. "The judged show arena," explains Rohm, "is a good place to show your efforts to the world. You're competing against the best competition in the country. I know that may intimidate some people from trying it, because they think 'well, my car isn't good enough.' But for those who aim to bring your Mopar back to vintage form, consider judged show competition as an effective, fun and cost efficient way of getting there. And who knows? You might already be better than you think, but you'll never know until you try it."
OE Certified On The Cheap (well...sort of!)Many folks (too many, actually) have the view that judged show cars are just the high-buck restoration projects of well-heeled owners paying big dollars to top-name restorers in order to turn their classics into national points champions. Again, myths and misconceptions serve only to inhibit the potential fun factor of a restoration project. A case in point is Dave Holderied of Davison, Michigan.
Dave, a former tool maker for General Motors, spied an ad for a '69 Hemi Road Runner in a Detroit Newspaper in September 1991. Sporting pretty much everything he wanted in a Road Runner (color, Hemi engine, and an automatic transmission), Dave wasted no time in securing the car for his own.
In 1995, Dave began the job of returning the cobbled up Road Runner to its former glory. In his way of doing things, that meant doing everything as correct as possible right from the beginning. Dave says he goes to great lengths to find correct and original parts, and pays the money that is necessary to get them. He says that this way there are never any regrets-better to pay too much than to later kick yourself for passing something up.
About two years into the project, Dave realized that the direction he was taking the Road Runner pointed directly towards the Mopar Nationals' OE Certified judging. His restoration methodology, heretofore, was such that no backtracking or reworking was needed to keep the project on its new course. At the time of his decision, Dave secured his spot to be judged at the '99 Nationals (only seven cars are judged in the OE Certified class each year, and all must submit to a two-year waiting period), and the Road Runner was finished a scant three or four days before last year's event.
The result? Thanks to his thorough research, tenacity, and attention to detail, Dave's Road Runner bypassed the Stock and Senior Division classes and headed straight for OE Certified, where it earned a Silver award for its debut showing. For an additional accolade, the Road Runner earned The Paddock's Pick award. This award was presented by The Paddock (sponsor of the Mopar Nationals judged showfield) to the one judged car that The Paddock employees felt best represented their all-around dream car in terms of model year, body style, powertrain, and equipment combinations. We give this spicy Road Runner a "two-thumbs-up" salute as well.