Mopar Sunday 2023

Chrysler aficionados gather at Willowbank Raceway to celebrate 20 years of Mopar Sunday, with good mates, tough cars and plenty of track action


For some, the old adage ‘Mopar or no car’ is more than just a catchphrase; it’s a way of life. These are the kind of folks who came out to mark the 20th-anniversary celebration of Queensland’s Mopar Sunday event. Willowbank Raceway hosted 1500 spectators on 30 July as more than 100 Chryslers raced down the quarter-mile.

“It’s pretty special,” said event organiser Sam Tatton. “I never expected to be doing this for 20 years! It goes to show that crowds may come and go, but the hardcore grassroots Mopar guys will always be here.”

Roughly a quarter of this year’s participants were newcomers to the event, and you would be hard pressed to find a more like-minded group. Passion runs deep among Chrysler fans, and Sam said that many of them have passed down that enthusiasm to their offspring. “Traditionally, it’s been an older generation who have had these types of vehicles, but it was great to see young guys in their 20s out in their Valiants,” he said. “It’s exciting to see fresh faces and new crews coming in.”

The event has come a long way in the 20 years since its origins as a track day that Sam organised for his dad’s birthday, but the core premise remains the same: run your car, race your mates, and make some new ones in the process.

The action began around 9am as the staging lanes opened for a test-and-tune session. Soon after, bracket racing took centre stage, divided into four categories ranging from 10.99 seconds or quicker to 15 seconds or slower. The quarter-mile match-ups highlighted the sheer diversity of the Pentastar brand, with everything from turbo Barra-powered show cars and angry aspirated ’Cudas to VGs, Plymouth Dusters, Challengers and Dodge Demons lining up to race.

A break in the action came in the form of a midday cruise, when the show ’n’ shine entrants were also welcomed to the track for a drive.

Panel van tragic and long-time Street Machine contributor Simon Major was among the bunch in his 1971 318-powered VG Valiant hardtop, ‘Loose Morals’. “The sign of a good event is one that people build cars specifically for,” Simo said. “I’ve built three or four cars over the years with Mopar Sunday as my deadline.”

In previous years, Simo has raced his ’77 CL panel van and his street gasser-inspired 1969 VF hardtop, ‘Old Daze’. After selling the latter, Simo got to work on the VG hardtop, which he bought from the original owner 33 years ago. “It has all the running gear out of Old Daze,” he said. “I converted it from a six-cylinder to a V8 and gave it a new identity.”

Simo clocked a PB of 13.60@101mph this year in the freshly built VG, though it wasn’t enough to outrun Jody Wentworth in her blue Charger, who pipped him by just two-thousandths of a second. “I think it was the best race of my life, even though I lost; I was pushing the accelerator that hard my bum was lifting off the seat!” he laughs. “It’s one thing to win a race easily, but when you lose a race that’s so close, it’s still a great race!”

The day was full of thrills and zero spills, with not so much as an oil-down to dampen spirits. The smoothness with which the event ran was a credit to the quality of the cars and the enthusiasts who cherish, build and maintain them.

When it came down to the finals, it was a showdown between Gary Smith’s VF Valiant and Craig Simpson’s VE ute in the 10.99-or-quicker class. Both ran with spectacular consistency throughout the day, but it was Gary who took the win and the main title. Glen Wardle’s Challenger was victorious against Scott Campbell’s Centura in the 11-12.99 class, and it was old school versus new in the 13-14.99 class when Stephen Kopp lined up his Charger against Peter Pritchard’s 300C, with Peter first to cross the line. Joseph Scott’s AP5 took out the 15-and-over class against Todd Aitken’s VC ute.

Racing was run and done just after 1:30pm, when judges took one last look at the show ’n’ shine cars and prepared for the trophy presentation. There were plenty of winners among the show cars, drag cars and suspiciously quick grocery getters, but there was no cash to be won – just shenanigans to be had and memories to be made.

“If I had to summarise the event, I’d say it’s been 20 years of Mopar mateship,” Sam said. “As long as people keep turning up, we’ll keep going.”


Stephen Kopp has been driving his 1974 VJ Valiant Charger since he bought it in 1980, even taking it to the first Summernats in 1988. He’s been a Mopar Sunday regular over the years and managed to run a 13.7@98mph this year, making it to the finals.

We spotted Rachael McKenna cruising in her 1969 Dodge van, which she imported from New Jersey in April. “My husband has a Dodge Charger and he wanted me to be more involved and be a part of car events, so I had to pick a Dodge of course!” she laughed. Apart from fresh paint, the van is true to its roots, running the factory 318 powertrain and an untouched interior.

Check out Ben Harriman’s rad tow rig! This wild 1976 International build was based on a Matchbox model of a BP tow truck, which sits up on the dash. Power comes from a reconditioned 282ci International V6. Since buying the truck from Sydney three years ago, Ben has added signwriting and a Mexican blanket headliner, and said the kids love getting picked up from school in it.

Scott Campbell had a solid crack in his KB Centura, running an 11.9@116mph down the quarter-mile. Up front is a 60thou-over 265 Hemi, sitting at 274ci with a race-prepped crank working with forged pistons and H-beam rods. On top are CHI alloy heads and a 750 Holley.

Jason Rockstroh pulled off a 10.3@130mph run in his small-block Chrysler-powered ’70 VG Valiant ute. Jason made the trip down from Collinsville in the Whitsunday region with his brother and nephew, laying down plenty of solid passes and lining up for grudge runs at the event.

Nathan Peters set a PB of 9.4@141mph in his Barra-swapped VC Valiant. Spectators cheered as Nathan skidded past the tree to put plenty of heat in his tyres before launching the front end into the air.

Andrew Dunnett is a Mopar Sunday regular in his Hemi-powered 1977 CL ute, and the pair also won the Turbosmart Dial Your Own class at Street Machine Drag Challenge Weekend in 2018. At Mopar Sunday this year, Andrew managed a 10.53sec pass before jumping the light in his second race.

Adam Bodle cruised his green 1974 Plymouth Duster, which he spent two years building. The 360 small-block has been stroked to 408ci and drinks from a Holley Sniper kit. Adam tricked up the Torqueflite 904 gearbox and added mini-tubs and a drop tank to the back.

Tony Cairns won Top Modified Show Car, Top Paint and Top VE/VF/VG with his eye-catching 1970 VG Valiant hardtop. Tony swapped the original 245 for a 265ci engine fitted with triple Webers and extractors. The candy red bumblebee stripe and red metalflake details in the black paint certainly caught our attention!

Sam La Spina’s 1973 Plymouth ’Cuda is fresh off the boat from the US. Powering the tank is a 340 small-block stroked to 416ci. Sam took the opportunity to run her in at Mopar Sunday. “We went well, but it needs a lot more power,” he said. “Someone’s spent big dollars on the ladder-bar rear end and suspension componentry; now it’s ready for some serious horsepower!”

A 505ci stroked 440 powers Craig Simpson’s 1968 Dodge VE ute. “It’s a good, honest 10sec car, and I’ve been bringing it for seven years now,” Craig said. “It’s my workshop car, a rolling advertisement for what I do.” Craig made it into the finals in the 10.99-or-quicker class, narrowly missing the win with a 10.6@129mph pass. He placed runner-up for the day’s main event, but was the quickest car driven to and from the track.

Gary Smith won the 10.99-or-quicker class in his tough VF Valiant. “Our best run was a 9.73, which we ran consistently three or four times throughout the day,” he said. “We cut some good lights and got the win.” The naturally aspirated single-carby small-block churns out 785hp, paired with a Powerglide and 9in.

Drag Challenge veteran Jon Mitchell made the haul up to Mopar Sunday from Sydney in his 605ci Hemi-powered 1970 Dodge Challenger (SM, Aug ’21). He was rewarded with a PB of 9.7@137mph.

Clint Anderson caused a bit of a stir in his 600hp 2JZ-powered 1965 AP6 Valiant. He had some problems getting off the line during the first round of racing but made up for it during the grudge matches, with his quickest pass a 10.78@128mph. A solid run for a decade-old build.

Tony ‘Misty’ Ebdon has had his ’66 Coronet for 25 years, and it’s seen its fair share of drag strips. The tough Dodge runs a big-block that’s been amped up to 512ci and pushes out 668hp. With a healthy shot of nitrous, Tony’s got over 1000hp on tap.