Admittedly, I had only walked the grounds of National Trail Raceway, the Columbus, Ohio home for the annual Mopar Nationals only once before. Oppositely, this past weekend marked Directly Connected‘s Technical Editor Mike Wilkins’ 20th-something time at the show; having entered a car for judging nearly every single year (and successfully bringing home top honors and hardware practically each time). And this year would be no different. Wilkins had dedicated himself to a whirlwind all-but-impossible mission of reassembling a flawlessly disassembled-and-restored ’71 Plymouth RoadRunner 383 4-speed project that until two months ago, had taken the better part of two years.
Even as I climbed in to Wilkins’ truck to depart early Thursday morning, the RoadRunner’s completion was still in question. A handful of minor details needed to be addressed before showing (and judging) on Friday, and Wilkins was scheduled to not only finalize the remaining items, but also judge the Plymouth B-body Street class while the ’71 ‘Runner was judged in Plymouth B-body Original. I, on the other hand, had one of the nation’s largest Mopar gatherings to cover by my lonesome. Walking the 320-plus-acre facility can be daunting, particularly as there is so much to see over three days, so be prepared to get some good cardio in (and it doesn’t hurt to wear your most comfortable tennis shoes).
Above left: The Plymouth B-body Original class saw some stiff competition, particularly from this near-perfect ’67 Satellite. Above right: Not all Chargers were of the two-door “Bullitt” variety.
Above left: The FAST (Factory Appearing, Stock Tire) class welcomed three A12 lift-off hood cars. Above center: The 3rd Generation Chargers and 2nd Generation RoadRunners had plenty of representation. Above right: Altered wheel-based “A/FX” ’65 Mopars were a belle of the ball.
Previous years had seen temperatures in the 100s, and humidity dipping into the 90-percentile, that is, if the grounds weren’t soaked with rain. This year was completely different, with cool mid-60s all-day Thursday, and the mercury in the low-to-mid 80s all weekend long. Thousands showed up from across the US and Canada with hundreds of cars both on display and ready to race on the 1/4-mile long track. In fact, it’s the National Trail Raceway’s NHRA-owned and operated track that separates it from events like Carlisle. All weekend long, the cacophony of lopey cams, open headers and the sweet smell of burnt race gas wafted in the air, making conversations only a slightly muted screaming match.
Vendors of the highest order filled the asphalt between the staging lanes and grandstands, including Mancini Racing, Indy Cylinder Heads, Petty’s Garage, Edelbrock and Finer Details (among many, many others). Dodge occupied the northernmost corner of the Manufacturer’s Midway paddock with a fantastic “Mopars at The Beach” display with activities including hand-airbrushed Mopar tattoos, a free prize wheel and test rides in your choice of a Hellcat Challenger or SRT Viper in an abbreviated drag strip and cone course. In fact, the supercharged Hemis were almost everything any ever talked about. Hellcat T-shirts were nearly sold out faster than the official Mopar Nats shirts, and the Mopar Modern Muscle section of the main field was almost exclusively Hellcat territory.
Above left: Netzel’s eye-scorching green boosted Belvedere was saved from a salvage yard in North Dakota over 20 years ago, and is all but completely hand built by Netzel and his friends. Above right: The Belvedere as has been at the Nats before, but as a crazy pink blown 440.
Above left: Not everything in the show field was pristine. This ’70 Coronet was saved from a rotting warehouse. Above center: This Hemi ’71 ‘Cuda looks resplendent in Curious Yellow. Above right: Although the weekend welcomed some seriously fast race cars, this ’70 GTX impressed all with its street-friendly looks but mid-10 second, wheel-lifting passes all day Saturday.
Other highlighted displays included the 50th celebration of all 1965 Chrysler, Dodge and Plymouths, the return of the original ’67 Plymouth GTX corporate test mule known as the “Silver Bullet,” the reunion of the MoTown Missile cars, and of course, the sprawling car corral and swap meet just east of the pits. Friday and Saturday welcomed the ever-popular burnout contests as well as the Factory Appearing, Stock Tire (FAST) racers, who this year consisted of three incredibly fast A12 lift-off hood 440 Six-Pack Super Bees and RoadRunners, with Sunday featuring a parade of all the judged class winners from Friday’s judging. Near the entrance, a Viper Alley occupied the corner with Dodge’s most outrageous supercars.
Amid the running around, we were excited to learn that the gold ’71 Plymouth we entered had won first in its class, evidencing the skill level of Directly Connected‘s tech editor (you’ve already seen the engine build for this RoadRunner). Likewise, we meet lots of new friends, possibly gained some new staffers and are sure to announce a few new sponsoring advertisers all from attending this year’s Mopar Nationals. We’ll also have a handful of awesome car features that are sure to blow your mind (we know, because they knocked our socks off and we got to ride in ’em). Sure, there’s plenty of folks who’ll gripe about the loss of the Brice Road Cruise, but the cruise and burnout contest Saturday night in nearby Hebron seemed to fill the gap quite well.
Above left: Power Wagons and Ramchargers were in big demand this year. Above right: A curiously-equipped Six-Pack 440 ’69 Charger (obviously not stock) showed plenty of personality.
Above left: Gen III Hemi swaps have become exceptionally commonplace and are found in a wide range of cars (and degrees of customization). Above center: The AAR Tribute tent was full of awesome track-ready Mopars. Above right: One amazing ’70 ‘Challenger hardly left a single inch of this Dodge untouched.
Far left: Back when engine “call outs” mattered. Center left: Even old Mopars need a “boost.” Center right: We like this vintage take on the new “SRT” badging. Far right: We don’t care for billboards at car shows, but this weathered RoadRunner states it was purchased for the owner by his father when he was 2-years-old. Thanks dad!