’17 Carlisle Chrysler Nationals + Celebrity Choice Award

If you follow us on social media, and I certainly hope you do, you’ll have undoubtedly seen our coverage of the 2017 Chrysler Nationals at the Carlisle Fairgrounds in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. I’ve been to this event probably a dozen times and it gets bigger and better every year. It’s grown to become literally one of the largest all Mopar shows in the world. The last few years has seen attendance of over 2,500 vehicles and over 50,000 spectators. Moparians from all over the world flock to Pennsylvania for this event and the dedication shows.

The greatest thing, and the biggest problem about Carlisle is, in fact, its sheer size. Yes, it’s a 3 day event, but it’s almost impossible to take in everything while you’re there. Aside from the sea of steel that is all the Mopar eye candy on the field, there’s also a massive swap meet. If you’re restoring a vintage Mopar, or are looking for some Mopar memorabilia, the giant manufacturer’s midway is a great place to get lost. Numerous vendors, such as American Racing Headers, RIPP Superchargers, Meguires, Hagerty Insurance and others offer great deals on parts for your ride.

But of course the display with the most attraction is the Dodge/Mopar section. FCA does a phenomenal job of providing for their fans at Carlisle. The Mopar trailer is always there with plenty of officially licensed merch to buy and that allows customers to save on shipping costs. FCA also brings out some of the new vehicles that are available to purchase, such the new Durango, SRT Chargers and Challengers. Attendees can also crawl around inside the cars to get a feel for them before they buy them. Also on display are Mopar concept vehicles to drool over.

This year, Mopar brought out the CJ Sixty-Six, which is a Jeep CJ with a 345 HEMI crate motor swap with a full custom paint job, interior and suspension.

Parked next to it was one of my personal favorite concept vehicles, the Challenger “Shakedown”; a 1971 Dodge Challenger that’s been heavily modified with a 392 HEMI crate engine, flat black paint, shaker hood and 2015+ Challenger front and rear grille and taillight treatments grafted in. I spent plenty of time getting to know this beauty.

Of course, the car that garnered all the attention, not just at Carlisle but all year long, the new Dodge Challenger SRT Demon. Yes, FCA brought out a B5 Blue edition of the muscle car that set the world on fire with its 800+ horsepower and 9.65 second 1/4 mile performance. Even though it was roped off, we were allowed to peek inside and saw that this car had the $1 passenger seat and the Speedlogix harness bar with red “Demon” logo harnesses. Say what you want, but even if you have no capability of owning one when they’re officially released, you get a little weak just being near it. Maybe that’s its demonic power.

Carlisle never falls short on surprises and this year was no different. Now, I had some clue the night before that someone special was coming, but as I was walking through the show field about to photograph a Green Go Charger Daytona, my head whipped right and I saw a stunning Destroyer Grey Dodge Challenger Hellcat …WIDEBODY! Based on Instagram posts, I knew who was driving that car and immediately messaged my good friend Doris Gilles asking if they were at Carlisle. I received a smiling selfie with the response saying, “SURPRISE!!!”.

After the media luncheon, we met up with Ralph and Doris Gilles by the Widebody Hellcat; which has been dubbed “Shaka”, short for the pop singer Shakira (who has some gorgeous wide hips herself). Ralph popped the hood and with a cigar in one hand and some spray detailer in the other, went to cleaning his ride.

We were given the opportunity to go “Facebook Live” for an impromptu interview where he discussed his feelings on the new Widebody, along with celebrating 25 years working with the Chrysler Corporation and also with the end of an era; the closing of the Connor Assembly Plant and the demise of the Dodge Viper. After the interview, Ralph does what he always does at these events; and that’s mingle with the fans and put his autograph under the hoods and on the dashes of as many people’s Mopars as time will allow. It’s always a pleasure to see Ralph and Doris, as they’re truly two of the most down to earth individuals I have ever had the honor of knowing.

Now, one of the perks of being at the Chrysler Nationals in a media capacity is being a “Celebrity Judge”. This gives us the ability to select one vehicle from the showfield to receive an award on behalf of Modern Mopar Magazine. This was NOT an easy task, let me tell you. Understand, this is MODERN Mopar Magazine, so that entails more than half of the vehicles on the field. Also, those who have been to Carlisle, know just how large that show field really is; including that massive hill! So we scoured the field looking for a worthy contender.

The obvious choice would be a new Challenger or Charger, but I wanted something that would be unexpected, and still be a badass head turner. I wanted a “show car”. I made my way into the truck section and stopped in my tracks when I saw Gary Showalter’s incredible 2002 Dodge Dakota R/T. The first thing I noticed was the paint job. According to the show board, Gary refers the paint as “Ruby Slippers”. It reminds me of a glass of red wine with a ghost flame brushed in. The paint was deeper than the Atlantic Ocean. Custom body work included a Cervini’s body kit all around, with all the handles shaved and smoothed. Cadillac El Dorado taillights were grafted into the rear of the truck and the Dakota R/T logo was airbrushed into the ‘gate. The bed floor received a custom wood treatment along with panels on the inner bed sides and bulkhead to give a finished look. Custom upholstery and a handmade center console are just some of the slick interior modifications in the truck. But the big thing was under the hood. All Dakota R/Ts came with the stout, but archaic 360 Magnum engine, which in its stock configuration put out 250hp. I own a Dakota R/T and while it’s a fun truck, it needs a lot of oomph to keep up with the Jones’. So Gary swapped in a warmed up 345ci HEMi tuned to around 375 horsepower. Now, a regular cab Dakota weighs around 3600lbs, approximately 400 or so pounds lighter than your average Challenger R/T. Given the same amount of power, that makes for a pretty quick hot rod with a bed. Walking around Gary’s truck for almost 20 minutes sealed the deal. Everything was tastefully touched on this truck and it not only received our Modern Mopar Magazine Celebrity Choice Award, but also 1st place in its respective class. Thank you, Gary, for building and showing your immaculate custom 2002 Dodge Dakota R/T HEMI, and congratulations on your awards.

Thank you, our readers, for spending a glorious weekend with Modern Mopar Magazine at the 2017 Chrysler Nationals in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The date has already been set for 2018 as July 13-15, 2018. We’ll see you there!

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