"We're starting this Mopar enthusiast young," he said, patting his wife's pregnant tummy. In Switzerland, Sweden, and France, there are many more enthusiasts than there are here." Judging by the thousands upon thousands who crowded National Trails Raceway, that would be difficult-but enjoyable-to believe.

Bob and Judy Long watched the goings-on from under their swap-meet tent. They were hawking The Cloth, a microfiber cleaning rag that promises amazing polishing results. "We don't go to Ford and Chevy shows," Bob said. "Just Mopars. On a whole, there aren't true fans of Chevy and Ford cars like there are with Mopar."

Then we came upon cousins Derek and Mark Saxton, manning the family tent, selling rims, transmissions, radios, and fenders. The boys, 21 and 17, were being grafted-slowly-into the fold by Derek's dad, Randy. Randy owned a '6911/42 Six-Pack 440-6 Road Runner and a '73 Plymouth Scamp with 48,000 miles.

"Dad drives and pays for the room and food," Derek explained. He was engrossed in his copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. "But this is my fifth straight year coming, and I'm beginning to appreciate it more and more each year.

Then there were the Young Guns-I'm referring not only to the young people who entered an auto into the under-25 judging field, but also to the legions of young enthusiasts who turned out en masse at this year's event. Scrounging for deals were 22-year-old Toby Schwickerath, 20-year-old Todd Thronason, and 22-year-old Richard Christoph. Although they showed up to support friends in the judged classes, each had his own Mopar. Toby had a '99 Dodge 1500 Ram and a Super Bee; Todd, a '91 Dodge Stealth; and Richard, a '67 Chrysler Newport.

This was Richard's fifth time at the Nats. It was Toby's fourth-his first car was a '69 Dodge Charger. When asked "Why Mopars?" especially when most guys their age were lusting after The Fast and Furious go-carts, they answered, "Because Mopars are beautiful-the shapes, form, raw power. It's nostalgic back to where your parents were. And because of envy-it's great to have something that not everyone else can find."

Well said.

As most of you know, there's nearly constant quarter-mile action for the duration of the Nats. What a show! I spent the first day framing up burnouts, snapping the tailend of takeoffs, and generally enjoying all the big-motored, high-decibel ruckus ("Can you hear me now?"). Then came Dean Skuza (I already hear your snickers). Editor Bolig expressed a desire for me to get a close-up shot of Dean's Dodge Stratus R/T Funny Car in action. I'd never seen one before, so I was glad to run out onto the blacktop, not more than 20 feet from Dean's Fuel Car, and position myself for an awesome photo of this drag-racing legend.

Funny, I thought, that no one else came out there. I'd been elbow-to-elbow with the other camera hounds for the other dragstrip shots. Once Dean spun his tires, and I grappled to stand back up from the force of the car's shockwave, I knew why. I ran for cover (as the 3,000 or so fans in the stands can attest) as my co-workers Randy Bolig and Rob Reaser watched-from a safe distance-laughing at the sudden and intense induction of one more newbie into the Mopar power ranks. I got a picture. Not what I'd planned, but definitely expressive of my first-time experience with that type of racing (see lead photo).

I also ran into a Toronto, Canada, film crew shooting lots of footage. They were producing a documentary on classic musclecars and the restoration hobby. They surmised-correctly-that the Mopar Nats would be the barometer of the hobby. And like myself, they were overwhelmed by the magnitude. "This will probably be a main focus of the documentary," they said, adding that it will be weighted significantly toward Mopars. The finished product is projected to make the film-festival circuit next year. They're hoping it will garner attention not just from enthusiasts, but from the general public as well.

Power, style, loyalty, uniqueness, and camaraderie-I think I found the reasons for this Mopar thing. This Mopar craze. This Mopar lifestyle. It just took one trip to the Nats. Now I'm hooked.