Yes, the Dean Skuza shot-or, more appropriately titled, the "Getting knocked on my butt" s
Editor's note: Jim Frye, Mopar Muscle's copy editor, made his first-ever trek to the Mopar Nats. With this in mind, we thought we'd let the newbie give his impressions of what the Nats are all about. From the Mopar Muscle caravans to the first time he stood on the starting line when a Top Fuel Funny Car launched (sorry, Jim), the stories of his experiences are told with the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for puppies when their masters come home. Anyway, here are the Mopar Nats as seen through the eyes of a first-timer.
OK, I admit it, my knowledge of the Mopar hobby is somewhat limited. Don't get me wrong-I read every issue of Mopar Muscle cover to cover no less than three times (of course, that's my job, so eating and paying bills factor in here). But whereas I didn't follow the hobby a few years ago, I now find myself scoping out all Mopar mags at the newsstand and feeling my heartbeat kick into double-time when I spy a top-down '70 Road Runner rumbling into the local Saturday-night cruise-in. And I belted out a few Tim Allen grunts (a.k.a. Tool Time) as I salivated over the "ultimate real muscle machine" yellow '74 'Cuda dominating our August cover (I almost said "gracing our August cover," but grace had nothing to do with it).
I now understand why my dad laments trading in his '69 383 Super Bee years ago. As a young husband and father, the six or so miles per gallon were hard to balance with a growing family-my newborn younger brother rode shotgun in the Bee on the trip home from the hospital in 1971. Mom still remembers the bumblebee stripes and lack of power steering. Seems Dad sneaked the whole "musclecar" thing past her while selling her on the "family car" (I asked her if she was blind at the time). Now Mom is nostalgic for that old Bee too.
So, I do come from Mopar lineage, but my knowledge is still limited. That said, I set out at the Mopar Nationals to discover the true Mopar enthusiasts-who they are, where they are from, and why they pledge allegiance to the mighty Mopar. I wanted to know why folks travel from around the world to attend a car show.
Mark Saxton, left, and cousin Derek Saxton, (right, with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Gal
First, let me say, as a first-timer to the Mopar Nats, I was blown away (literally, as you'll soon read). Usually chained to a desk, pounding on my keyboard, performing blurry-eyed wordsmithing to Mopar Muscle articles, I jumped at the chance when publisher Pitt suggested I join Steve Dulcich on the Memphis/Paddock leg of the Return to Brice Road caravans.
Although my time as copy editor for the magazine has shown me the loyalty and devotion of Mopar owners, it was during the caravan that I realized it went even deeper. That's when I came face to face with the fanaticism that is Mopar-mania. Two guys drove their Charger from California and met us in Effingham, Illinois-in case you're counting, that's ... lots and lots of hours. And the owner decided to take the "leisurely" backroads home. A Prowler and Viper met us en route-needless to say, we didn't have to slow down for them to catch up.
Then came Brice Road-the sound and the fury. Bumper to bumper muscle
The actual Nationals event proved daunting for this first-timer. It took me two days to realize there was a show field on the other side of the dragstrip. I'd been busy rummaging the midway and swap-meet areas, not to mention losing my hearing under the Christmas Tree.
I met Antonello Jelitro from Milan, Italy, renewing his subscription and picking up a Mopar Muscle T-shirt at our subscription tent. Beginning in 1991, he'd been to the Nats many times. As a matter of fact, he-get this-honeymooned with his new bride at the Nats and other Mopar shows last year. "I have every issue of Mopar Muscle," he told me, "starting all the way back to the first issue." Wow! That's devotion.
Nope, this ain't Abercrombie & Fitch, but new Young Guns looking for parts for their own M
The Toronto Film Studio shot tons of footage at the Nats, staking out spots on the dragstr
Well, OK, if you insist
"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.
Young Guns participant Von Felton has one beautiful Challenger. Wait 'til the feature next
Lined up as far as the eye can see, the faithful flock to Mopar Mecca.
Bob and Judy Long, selling The Cloth at the swap meet, find that Mopar owners are a devote
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."
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.
It's definitely worth the price of admission-smokin' and squealin' under the Christmas Tre
Antonello Jelitro and Corso Lodi, longtime Mopar Muscle readers and Nats attendees, spent
There's no better place to sell your 383 four-speed than here. With approximately 50,000 p