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by Larry Roberts

April 10, 1998

Over the past few decades, almost all auto makers have found that motorsports is more than simply a sports venue. It can also be a sales tool by promoting the company's image as being up to the challenge of going head-to-head with the corporate opposition. Participation can range from the relatively low profile effort by Hyundai in the Sports Car Club of America professional rallying program, to the Ford effort within CART "Champ Car" racing, international Formula One, the high-profile NASCAR Winston Cup and Craftsman Truck circuits and SCCA Trans Am events.

But of all the auto manufacturers in this country, none are as eclectic and true to its amateur enthusiasts as Chrysler with its Team Mopar program. I'm reminded of this fact every month when I receive my complimentary copy of Mopar Performance News, a slick-paper, 40-page magazine that is sent to paid-up members of the Chrysler performance "team," distributed through "tuned-in" Chrysler, Plymouth, Dodge and Jeep dealers and sent to interested parties like me. I can't think of any other auto maker who goes to such lengths to make its loyalists feel that they are part of the overall corporate motorsports picture.

The word Mopar originated many years ago as an acronym for Motor Parts, the parts producing arm of the Chrysler Corporation. Enthusiasts who raced Chrysler products of any make came to call their racers Mopar products rather than by their individual names.

The jewel in the Mopar crown is the participation of Dodge trucks in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series and Chrysler makes much of it in Mopar Performance News. Both Dodge and Plymouth were very big names on the NASCAR racing scene in the late '60s and the Craftsman series is as close as Chrysler can presently come to the big time in professional racing. Every copy of Mopar's magazine devotes four or five pages to the exploits of the half-dozen teams that carry the Dodge banner. Unfortunately, the competition in the NASCAR Craftsman truck races is as keen as it is in its Winston Cup competition and while they've finished OK, the Mopar contingent saw the checked flag only once in two years.

But the main thrust of the Mopar publication is drag racing and the reason is plain: there are hundreds of thousands of young amateurs racing on drag strips all over the country every weekend, and since Chrysler has had a decades-old tradition in quarter-mile drag racing, many of them are competing in Chrysler products that date back the to late '50s. The Mopar Performance Parts program was set up to provide modernized hot-rod bits and pieces for these older machines to keep them running and competitive in the hands of amateurs. Its products are promoted in Mopar Performance News.

As an example, the Mopar 380 CID "Magnum Crate Motor," is covered by a three-page article extolling its 300 available horsepower that can be slipped into vintage Chrysler products. An answer in its monthly Q.& A. column explains to the owner of a '71 Dodge Demon how the job is done. Other questions that got answered ranged from changes made by a Mopar high performance computer for '96 Dodge Dakota to how to home-modify the crankshaft from a '69 Dodge Dart 383 CID V8..

Every month, Mopar Performance News prints calenders of motorsports events that involve Chrysler products but these chronicle not only professional races like the NHRA drag meets and NASCAR events, but Mopar-centered amateur swap meets, auto shows and conventions, too.

New Chrysler Corporation products are promoted in full-color articles, as are the company's "concept" show cars - but they're relegated to the back pages. The main thrust of the Mopar Performance News is its amateur racing readers and it's a successful campaign to ensure their loyalty.

When I was young, automotive brand loyalty was akin to being true to your high school. Chrysler, through its Mopar Performance News, is having great success in instilling that same loyalty in its followers.