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A late-life convert

hose of you who are paying attention may have noticed that although my name appears on the masthead of this mag as the editor I don’t write a column. The reason for that is simply I came to the world of Mopar late in my career and I haven’t felt like exposing my lack of Mopar knowledge to our readers.  During most of my early journalistic career I edited a Drag Newspaper and a couple of  drag racing print magazines including a stint as the Editor of Super Stock and Drag Illustrated, and a couple of issues of Drag Racer. {Both have long since ceased to exist. Could that be a sign?) 

Over ten years ago, when I made the decision to get out of the paper and ink publishing business and go online I started up Drag Racing Online.  Later I added Max Chevy and Oval Tracking and most significantly Mopar Max.  For the Chevy and Oval Tacking magazines I hired editors that were experts in their fields. I was lucky enough to get Ro McGonegal, ex-editor of Hot Rod Magazine and Chevy High Performance, for the Chevy book, and Glenn Grissom for the Oval Tracking publication and genuine Mopar expert Mike Bumbeck to edit this magazine.  I also convinced old pals and certified Mopar experts Steve Magnante, Jok Nicholson and Geoff Stunkard to contribute regularly to Moparmax!

Well, the editor deal with Mike just didn’t work out, so after three or four issues I was forced to take over the editor job. Truth be told, I had no clue as to what to do. I just followed the trail blazed by Mike and the guidance of Stunkard and Magnante.  That was almost a year and a half ago now and during that time I’ve been getting a crash course in Mopar. Although I’m still a long way from being as knowledgeable of the Brand as I need to be, I now think I’m at least qualified to write an occasional editorial about the world of Mopars. So, here we go with a few notes out of the old editor’s Pentastar-shaped notebook.

I think it’s just a matter of time until the Chrysler Co. will significantly reduce or altogether cease factory support of race teams involved in NASCAR, the NHRA, and other major series. If you read the financial pages or watch the financial news on TV at all, you know that Chrysler, like all of Detroit, is struggling financially. In the St. Louis area where I live they reportedly are trying to decide if they are going to close one or both of the Fenton, Missouri, Chrysler plants because of continually dropping sales.

As I understand it, Chrysler’s NASCAR program is funded in large part from the advertising budgets of Chrysler dealers and those dealers are starting to complain that they need to spend their advertising dollars somewhere other than NASCAR. In other words, the dealerships aren’t getting enough return on their investment. Mopar’s withdrawal of monetary support of at least parts of the NASCAR’s truck series is just the first shot.  Look for them to bail out of direct support of drag racing teams by the end of 2009. (That is the last year of their contract with Don Schumacher Racing.)

As a longtime fan of the Mopar-dominated NHRA’s SS/AA (SS/AH) class and Hemi Challenge races, I never thought that it would get to the point where building a clone Dart or Cuda SS/AA or the 426 Hemi engines that power them would become as expensive as building an NHRA-legal Pro Stock Mopar with a 500-inch wedge motor. At Indy this year, one SS/AH Cuda owner reported that he spent $500,000 building his new SS/AH Cuda. 

I never really fully understood the level of devotion that Moparians have to the their brand until I attended  a couple of recent events: the Mopar swap meet at Indy hosted by the folks at Indy Cylinder Head and the Monster Mopar Weekend show at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis. I was simply amazed at the number and availability of every conceivable body part, engine part, and drive train reproductions. It appeared to me that virtually every part required to build your favorite Mopar from scratch was available for a price. Evidently all you need is a frame and a VIN tag. I think that no matter what happens with the parent company, Mopar events, fans, and businesses are going to be around for the foreseeable future, and I’m grateful for that.

For those of you who are worried about the future of the Mopar brand, or more importantly, the Mopar Performance brands, I would advise you not to worry. Observing this car industry for the last 30+ years leads me to believe that no matter what happens with Chrysler LLC going forward, the precedent has been set that insures the profitable brands and departments will survive and the less profitable will disappear. Certain Chrysler cars and trucks and certainly Mopar Performance are very profitable and I believe Chrysler in some form will be around as long as there are Chrysler high performance fans.

I’ve always been impressed with Mopars. When I was a kid going to Amarillo Dragway in 1959-63 Fenner Tubbs’ Mopar dominated first Stock then Super Stock Even as a Ford fan (My Dad was so I was too) I realized that all of the really fast door cars and nitro cars had Chrysler engines.

I truly became a Moparian though the day I bought my first of my three (so far) used Dodge Caravans. I try to buy them with 70,000 miles on the odometer because that is when they are relatively cheap. I have driven the shit out of all them and when the odo turned over to 150,000 miles I generally sell them for about half what I paid for them and buy another one. I love them, as does my wife. I have even bracket raced them on occasion and my current ’96 model will actually burn rubber from the stop light once in a while.  I simply won’t have any other brand of family transportation. In that respect I am a died-in-the-wool Mopar guy and damn proud of it!