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Rock ‘Til You Drop

It’s Monday, and I’m sick. Not the sort of ‘I don’t feel so great’ sick, but the worn-out, shallow-breathing, ‘stay in bed and pray I don’t get worse’ sick. While I could party like a rock star in my younger days, these days it was just too many hotel rooms, fast food or uneaten meals, long hours on the road, and not sleeping enough that pushed me over the brink.

It started in late August when my son John and I went to the All Hemi Reunion, which was, by all measures, the most important Mopar gathering in the last decade. This show, put on by Dick Towers (match-race-madness.com), Jim Kramer (kramerauto.com), and Mark Janaky, featured over 100 real factory race Hemi cars, including the debut of several important restorations. While the reason for doing this in 2008 was the 40th Anniversary of the 1968 Hurst package Darts and Barracudas, those cars were joined by every existing 1965 factory-created altered wheelbase car (Landy, Golden Commandos, Strickler, Faubel, Smith and Flynn), plus other authorized conversions on the 1965 platform. The Dick Landy and Ramchargers 1964 A/FX cars also made appearances, as did examples of the 1964 and 1965 Super Stock packages. In all, 200-plus race, street, vintage pro stock, and modified drag cars were on hand for the three-day event.

The promoters called it the ‘Woodstock of race Hemis,’ having agreed going into the event that they would not try to do it again. Towers and Kramer, with collector Mike Guffey, had previously arranged for displays at the 1992 and 1993 Carlisle All-Chrysler Nationals. The 2008 event was promoted at Quaker City Raceway near Salem, Ohio, and took over a year to put together. Without the aid of sponsorship, the promotional pre-event publicity was not immense, but to those who knew what was coming, it will remain a treasured memory. A special thanks needs to go to all the owners, who brought in cars that are rarely seen in public. Check out www.allhemireunion,com for details on left-over souvenir goodies.

I was home for exactly two days before heading to Indianapolis for the U.S. Nationals and five days of drag racing action. The big deal at Indy, of course, was the Hemi Challenge put on by the folks at Mopar Performance. There were 28 of the beasts at the Nats this year, all of them hoping for a shot at the $10,000 prize for the class winner on Friday. Once again, the Warfish guys from Jackson Engine Tech, Charlie Westcott Sr. and Jr. (hemimalitia.com), took on the world and won. Charlie Jr. got the bucks, the notoriety, and the undying complaints of the competition for his effort.

The modern race Hemi is a very sophisticated beast, and the Westcotts have found something that allows them to run just a little quicker than the pack. I enjoy just about everybody I know in SS/AH; they are all pretty good guys. However, I was a bit surprised to hear some of the whining. In my opinion, there is a nugget of truth that NHRA is not supervising the class closely enough – and frankly, in my opinion, if you are not ‘more legal’ these days, you will be a runner-up. But NHRA has also not been focused on Super Stock racing as a stand-alone problem these days, and their tech officials may not always perceive some of the latest technical changes being applied to SS/AH mills and vehicles. Regardless, since the Westcotts got through tear-down at Indy, they deserved every bit of respect that their event title entails, and the naysayers should stand down.

No matter what the politics are, from Mopar’s standpoint, the class run-off is a spectacular way to connect the heritage of the old Hemi with modern performance. Arlen Vanke was honored this year during the final of the Hemi Challenge, having won the Indy Super Stock crown way back in 1968, when the cars were still classed in SS/B. Right out there with him was the new 2009 Drag Pak Challenger, soon to be available in semi-finished condition as a Mopar Performance part from your local dealership. According to Mopar’s John Donato, based on your options and finished vehicle, you could end up anywhere from SS/A to SS/I. Pretty cool stuff.

So I came home and cranked out deadline stuff on both events until leaving for the 2008 Forge Invitational Musclecar Classic at the Meadowview Resort and Conference Center here in Tennessee a week later with both my sons, John and Joel. As a Mopar fan, there were many things to see, but you had to be blown away by the collection of Boss 429 Mustangs, with one of every color on hand, and the appearance of ZL1 Camaro #2 for the first time ever. Tim Lopata and his family have made huge personal and financial sacrifices to put on the event for the last six years; this was, in their opinion and mine, the best show ever.

Among the Mopars at the Forge this year were cars like Steve and Brenda Ashby’s 472” Hemi Coronet R/T tribute, Mike Duarity’s ’69 Coronet R/T, the 1966 Hemi cars of Judy Holman and Keith Artemann, Al and Val Taylor’s ‘68 GTX convertible, the Six Pack Road Runner of Jason King, Chuck Smith’s Don Grotheer Hurst Barracuda restoration, and others. Tim and Pam Wellborn, who normally have Mopars on hand but came this year with a 4,000-mile Boss ‘9 in Grabber Blue, were honored with a Lee Iacocca Award for their efforts in the hobby.  This was the first time this treasured award was bestowed at this event. The 2009 one-day-only running of the Forge show, now considered to be the most important multi-make musclecar show of the year, will be on September 12, 2009.

So many friends and so little time, plus shooting car features at dawn and dusk, put me into my current state of malady, but I can only blame myself – I wanted to do it all, see it all, live it all. Nobody ever wants to get sick, but would I do it again? Heck yeah I would!  

Read Stunkard's feature: The All Hemi Reunion, Salem OH >>

Stunkard can be found here at MoparMax every other month, or all the time over at www.quartermilestones.com.

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