Celebrating Mopar's 80th Birthday the Mile-High Way
This year marks the 80th birthday of the famed Mopar brand, and what better way to celebrate the trademark's long existence than with the 38th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals and the Mile-High Block Party at one of the NHRA's most unique racing venues. This year, we got the inside line on both!
Introduced as its own distinct brand in 1937, Mopar has provided original equipment, services and customer care under the Chrysler umbrella for eight decades. Much more broadly known as a reference to all Chrysler Group vehicles — from classic Plymouths and AMCs to new Dodge, Ram and even Jeep vehicles — the Mopar brand continues to have a following in the automotive world filled with incredible passion and dedication.
Every year, that passion can be seen for miles in Colorado as the ultimate celebration of the brand comes to Denver in the form of the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals.
Kicking off the annual event is the Mopar Mile-High Block Party, held in Golden, Colorado, Thursday evening before the three-day race event at Bandimere Speedway. Now its 16th year running, this Block Party brought out thousands of Mopar and NHRA fans for a night full of muscle cars, live music and of course, some up-close interaction with some of the event's top Mopar drivers and their cars.
Among the racers on-site for photo opportunities and autograph sessions were legendary Funny Car drivers like “Fast Jack” Beckman, two-time Funny Car World Champion Matt Hagan and sophomore Funny Car driver Jim Campbell; Top Fuel greats, like eight-time NHRA Champion Tony Schumacher and fan favorite, sophomore Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett; and notable Pro Stock drivers, like Allen Johnson and “hometown hero” Deric Kramer.
For many of the drivers, Denver and the Mile-High Nationals holds a special place in their hearts and drag racing careers.
“There's nothing like this track,” said Jack Beckman. “The scenery is amazing, and it's the only track that has liquid cooling tubes underneath it for traction.” Beckman has been racing at Bandimere for the Mile-High Nationals since 2007 and loves coming back, though he admits that things, such as elevation, are a bit more challenging in Denver.
“Tuning is a big deal,” he explained. “The crew chiefs all pull their hair out. We warm up the car an hour earlier than normal here, just in case it doesn't start. In full gear and strapped in a full harness, it's harder to breath at first. And the parachutes are not as effective, because there's less air to grab.”
For Leah Pritchett, who started in Jr. Dragsters at Bandimere Speedway, racing at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals is all about fulfilling a long-time dream.
“I have one goal; this is a chance at what I didn't do at 13,” said Pritchett, in regards to competing for and winning a Wally at Bandimere. “When I race Bandimere, it's like a personal redemption from childhood.” As far as being back where her drag racing career started, she told us it was a thrill to return, especially as the driver of the flagship Top Fuel car for Papa John's.
For Pro Stock driver Deric Kramer, Bandimere Speedway is his home track, having lived his whole life in Sterling, Colorado. Kramer rose through the ranks, from Juniors up at the mountain-side track.
“I don't know if it's an advantage, but I do have more laps here than anywhere else, but not as many total laps as some of the other drivers,” Kramer told us when asked if he thought racing at his home track might give him some sort of home field advantage.
Though he may not have the upper hand having grown up drag racing at Bandimere, he did admit that his cheering squad might be a bit bigger at the main event than others' because of it. Regardless, there was only one thing on his mind heading into the weekend: winning.
“It's always nice to win in front of family and friends,” Kramer said. “I want to win. I don't show up to go home early.” While the drivers dispersed from their autograph signings, the Mile-High Block Party continued well into the night, with lines continuously growing for the Penzoil and Dodge Demon simulators.
The Steve Thomas Band played to a giant crowd, the beer and Papa John's pizza flowed, and plenty of Mopar and NHRA-themed booths stayed open late while the streets stayed full of fans.
When the party was over, the celebration of Mopar had only just begun, with three full days of NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series fun kicking off just a few miles away at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals.