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J ust before Irwindale Speedway in Los Angeles shut down earlier this year, we attended a very fun Thursday night at that track. There’s always a good crowd at Irwindale, regardless of the weather. We got a few laps in and then the track deteriorated due to dampness and we parked the Maulin’ Magnum and decided to just spectate for once.
While watching from the stands and wandering the pits, I noticed a strong trend. There were a ton of Mustangs in the lanes, and a slightly smaller ton of Camaros — all years from first year classics to the most recent models still wearing the paper license plate from the dealer. There were a lot of late model Mopars too, multiple Vipers, Challengers, Chargers, and even two other Magnums. There were a couple of SRT Jeeps (they get off the line quickly!) doing laps too. There were a few classic hot rods, a Chevy and a Ford. But out of the hundreds of cars there that night there was one contingent completely unrepresented — any Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth product made before 2005 (well, a couple of older Vipers). Not a one to be found.
I live in Southern California, and I know these cars exist. I see them at car shows all the time, but rarely on the streets and even more rarely at the track. Why? Where are you guys and gals? Where are all the classic Mopars hiding? The answer, I think, is in their owners’ garages. For some reason that I’ve never been able to fathom, owners of older Mopars seem much more adverse to actually driving or using their cars than owners of the other American marquees. I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around owning a car and mostly just parking it.
My wife listens to me watching the Barrett-Jackson auctions on Speed (where you’ll find our own columnist Steve Magnante educating the TV audience) and asks me, “Why do you watch that? You seem to spend most of your time yelling at the TV about how you sold that car in ’77 for $1,800 and the next one for $2,000 in ’81. And if you’re not in regret over your lost cars you’re yelling about ridiculous prices for cars that will never see the street again.” I don’t really have an answer for her; she’s not a car girl so she doesn’t get it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of having a few 100% perfectly restored examples of our favorite cars in museums and collections somewhere — they serve an important historical function. I just know that I could never pay money, much less a lot of money, for a car I couldn’t drive. For me, the thrill is in the driving, in all of the kinetic energy of motion. A car’s character cannot be fully appreciated by just looking at it; its personality speaks up when you drive it, when you run it up through the gears, when you feel it.
So to paraphrase Freddy Mercury, “Get in your cars and drive!”
Just before deadline for this issue we were informed of the passing of Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins. We are saddened by the loss of this legend, a true giant of the sport. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.