The South East Moparty Picnic has quite the story for being a scant two years old. Last year’s Moparty was held at the Jack Maddox Baseball Park in Ringgold, Georgia, only a few miles away from founder Ken Meredith’s home. The event almost didn’t happen and simultaneously fueled by the untimely deaths of Ken’s brother, Rick and father, Kenneth who passed away within a few months of each other, in early 2016. Serving as fuel to make the event a success, the first Moparty Picnic welcomed 303 cars and thousands of people. For 2017, Ken had a new plan:
“For years Rick and I wanted to bring Mopars back to Chattanooga,” Ken recounted. “The Power Tour came to Chattanooga in 2011 and we bought a street and named it ‘Mopar Alley’ during the after party. In 2012 we had a show at our local dealership and 102 cool Mopars showed. 2013 brought us back to having a Mopar stop in the Power tour, on a Thursday 186 cars showed.” Ken knew Chattanooga was the place to hold the next Moparty and he was set to do it. Ken worked to bring Coker Tire on board, who almost never misses a chance to shine the spotlight on their hometown.
Next, Ken secured Brainerd Motorsport Park for a night of drag racing, featuring Doug Duell and 8 Super Stock Mopars scheduled to put on exhibition runs while Krystal’s hosted an old school bracket race in between test & tune passes. The venue – Camp Jordan just a few miles southeast in East Ridge, TN – was locked in, with plenty of parking both for show cars, vendors, a swap meet and an indoor stadium for special presentations. And throughout the weekend, tickets for food and show car registration went to raise funds [reaching over $20,000] to fight colon cancer.
Everything was set for early registration on Friday morning, with a scheduled cruise to Coker Tire headquarters in Downtown Chattanooga at noon. A procession of A, B and E-bodies lined the drive and followed a side-street route all the way to the backstreet behind the massive red-brick warehouse storing Coker’s storied museum. Cars and trucks were packed in tightly as nearly 100 cars filled the alleyway. As cruisers and spectators milled inside, the smell of hot dogs sizzling on the grill and the sounds of iced tea and lemonade being poured alerted all that lunch was ready. Unfortunately, as most stood in line plates in hand, the skies darkened and rain began pounding.
Dozens rushed outside to roll up windows, replace convertible tops and close hoods in the downpour. The heavy drops pounded on the corrugated roof filling the halls with a pounding din. “Well, here is comes,” sighed Tommy Lee Byrd, Coker’s Multi-Media Content Producer, a bite of hot dog wedged in his cheek. With little else to do but wait out the spring storm, attendees were treated to a brief tour of the Coker facilities including its new wood wheel shop and the Honest Charley’s Speed Shop. After the rain settled to a drizzle, many chose to navigate the wet roads and head back to Camp Jordan. Others stayed to inquire about tire pricing and load up on souvenirs.
The untimely rain also effectively cancelled any and all drag racing for that night. The track would require extensive drying and prep, and that was simply out of the question. Ken also received word that Duell and the other Super Stockers wouldn’t be making the trip down either, as the highways through Kentucky and northern Tennessee were simply awash. Although a bit disappointing, those inside of the arena were treated to a question & answer session with none other that Mr. 4-Speed, Herb McCandless, who happily regaled the crowd with vintage racing stories, and fielded questions on how to get their Mopar to run its very best. With all forecasts calling for a flawless Saturday, many opted to grab dinner and head to their hotels.
True to their word, Saturday was idyllic; temperatures in the mid-to-high 70s, a faint breeze and azure skies blessed the day and those outside to enjoy it. The parking lot quickly filled in waves, the first being those who had come early and stayed the night, the second being those nearby who opted to make the trip that morning. An eclectic mass of Mopars lined the roads and filled the parking lot, from 1950’s Virgil Exner-designed winged coupes, to era-correct drag racers and stockers, to late model supercharged Challengers and Viper-powered trucks. Even the unusual slab-paneled ’70s-style Tradesman van (replete with purple shag interior lining the floors, walls, etc.) and retired farm truck made the scene.
McCandless drove his immaculate ruby red ’61 Chrysler 300G hardtop powered by a 5.7L Gen III Hemi, while a near-perfect ’68 Barracuda sat a row away looking all the part of a Sox & Martin super stocker touting a cross-rammed 426 Hemi. Across the street in the “debris field” a faded bronze ’69 Dodge Charger 500 SE rested on Magnums, a for sale sign beckoning to the would-be restorer. We eyed several unique and gorgeous machines – particularly a ’57 DeSoto Firedome with its silver 341ci Hemi; and a 8-second, dual-stage nitrous-fed wedge (with all INDY top end-power) Plumb Crazy ’70 Dodge Challenger R/T. Despite the rain, all were happy to share the same love for these machines with more than most vowing to return in 2018.