When the 31st annual Mopar Mile-High Nationals visited Bandimere Speedway in Colorado earlier this year, Pietro Gorlier, president and CEO of Mopar, Chrysler Group LLC, hit town to check out the action.
The July event included a Mopar Big Block get-together on the eve of the races, weekend action at the track and various other gatherings to celebrate the Mopar brand, drag racing and all things performance.
Following the event-which included a Pro Stock win by Mopar-sponsored driver Allen Johnson-Performance Business had the chance to catch up with Gorlier and get his take on what’s happening at Mopar HQ, the current state of the drag racing industry and his thoughts on the performance market in general.
You recently spent time in Denver at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals. What were your impressions?
PG: A lot of sponsorships are simply logos and signs posted everywhere. The Mopar Mile-High Nationals is different. Whether it’s shirts, hats or tattoos, many of these passionate attendees and fans literally wear our logo on their bodies.
It’s always great to see and meet members of Mopar Nation in person. They are our customers, whose expectations we must exceed every day that we go to work in Auburn Hills, (Chrysler Group LLC headquarters in Michigan). This year was another special year in that Team Mopar NHRA Pro Stock driver Allen Johnson earned a victory, his third in four years at the Mopar Mile-Highs.
Obviously Mopar is a major sponsor of the event, as well as drag racing in general. What benefits does the company derive from being associated with drag racing at its highest level?
PG: There are many benefits. First, unlike any other car manufacturer, we have a brand that is instantly recognizable for our aftermarket business. And unlike any other aftermarket company, Mopar parts are specifically designed and engineered to meet specifications for Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram vehicles.
These are authentic, quality-tested parts. Drag racing gives us the opportunity to put these parts to the ultimate test.
Second, we know that decision-makers in repair shops and do-it-yourselfers are big fans of this sport. We want our products and technology to be top-of-mind with these folks.
And third, our performance line of products is big business for us. We sell many of our products to the sportsmen drag-racers throughout the country.
One would expect drag racing to have been hard-hit by the economic downturn of the past few years. What is it about the sport that’s allowed it to continue to move forward and prosper?
PG: Compared to last year, there was nearly a 4-percent increase in attendance at this year’s Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals. In good times or bad, we find that people still love their cars and they love making them go faster.
That’s what drag racing is all about. That’s what Mopar is all about. The passion of the fans-they are still coming out in droves and the sportsman racers are still out there.
How important these days is a vehicle manufacturer’s association with motorsports organizations at all levels, and do you expect any changes in Mopar’s involvement with racing (drag racing, circle track, etc.) in the near future-either becoming more or less involved.
PG: We think it’s important. We sell a lot of performance parts day-in and day-out, and racing is where the action is.
As far as involvement goes, for the first time, we just sponsored a USAC midget and .25 midget series, along with our Mopar HEMI Challenge race series for sportsman racers who drive HEMI-powered 1968 Plymouth Barracudas or Dodge Darts.
As our company continues to grow, we will evaluate opportunities and determine our level of involvement.
Off the track, the Chrysler Group recently introduced its special edition Mopar ’10 Challenger. Can you tell us a little bit about the car and the type of response you expect from Mopar enthusiasts?
PG: Yes, we are very excited about our Mopar ’10 Challenger. For the first time in our history, we are introducing a Mopar version of one of our iconic cars. And we are only building 500 of them.
In short, it’s Mopar’s interpretation of the Dodge Challenger. As far as a response goes, our phones have been ringing off the hook.
Under the hood is our legendary 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 engine, a hood-venting system, a cold-air intake, a front strut-tower brace with shock caps, and a unique engine cover. Under the deck lid is a rear strut-tower brace that stiffens the chassis and improves handling characteristics of the car.
Interior features include Katzkin leather seating, a custom leather-wrapped steering wheel, and Mopar shift handles-a T-handle for automatics and a pistol grip for manuals.
It’s available in black with a choice of three accent colors: Mopar blue, red or silver. Accent colors appear on side stripes and interior stitching. On the exterior, we added 20-inch forged heritage gloss-black wheels, black-chromed grille surround, and a functional, vented T/A-style hood with vintage hood pins.
Mopar ’10 customers will also receive a special owner kit, complete with a certificate with the VIN, date of build completion and build number. The kit also includes a limited-edition sketch of the vehicle signed by the design chief, Mark Trostle, a book that highlights the build, and Mopar ’10 merchandise.
The price is $38,000 for an automatic and an additional $1,000 for a manual.
And finally, what does the road ahead hold for the Mopar group and its continued commitment to performance vehicles?
PG: Mopar is synonymous with performance. This year, we expanded our crate engine offerings to include a 572-ci V-8 HEMI and a new 4.7-liter I-6 long block. And we’re the first to offer all-aluminum HEMI engine blocks in three variations.
As far as another special-edition Mopar vehicle, I can’t say.