Both the NSRA Milwaukee Nationals and the Right Coast Syracuse Nationals are relatively new on the car-show scene. They both welcome the later-model cars to their events and attract street rods, customs, musclecars, and special interest vehicles. This year the two events landed on back-to-back weekends so they were chosen as the bookends to the Classic Automobilia leg of the Street Rodder Road Tour. Started in 1989, Classic Automobilia in Youngstown, Ohio, specializes in pedal cars, vintage gas station items, and all those items that make the car hobby even more fun.
The weekend was spent in Milwaukee at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds. The Street Rodder / PPG Road Tour tent soon became the gathering place for all the folks who had signed up to travel on the Classic Automobilia leg. We had folks from Canada, Wisconsin, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Ohio, and Michigan traveling along for the week. After a great three days of nice weather and high-quality cars at the NSRA Milwaukee Nationals, it was time to head out on the highway. Our stop for Sunday evening was in LaPorte, Indiana. The reality was that the city of Chicago and its dreaded traffic snarls laid between us and our evening's lodging. It actually was not too bad, as the Sunday afternoon traffic was fairly light by Chicago standards. There were still some tense moments, but all the Road Tourians managed to make it through.
This was the third year for...
This was the third year for the NSRA Milwaukee Nationals. Held at the state fairgrounds (home of the famous Milwaukee Mile), the event welcomes street rods, customs, and musclecars 30 years and older.
We gathered for the morning drivers' meeting at 7:30 a.m. in front of the hotel on Monday. We soon headed off to our first stop at Jim Wise's Hot Rod Shop in nearby Elkhart, Indiana. Jim is the president of Wise Guys Seating-manufacturer of the seats that have made my life comfortable for the last three Road Tours. Jim is also a very talented car builder and he invited us to stop at his home and shop for some donuts and coffee and a look at his latest projects. There were a number of cars in various stages of assembly, with one nearing completion for its debut at the NSRA Nationals in Louisville two weeks from the time of our visit.
Our next stop was at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana. Housed in the original Auburn dealer showroom, the museum is an incredible art deco showplace with examples of all of these fantastic marques on display. It is well worth a visit. From Auburn it was time to make the three-hour run to Flaming River's facilities in Berea, Ohio. The folks at Flaming River have been longtime supporters of the Road Tour program with their high-quality steering components. This year the traditional look of a dropped axle combined with the smooth ride of an independent front suspension is achieved on our coupe with a Flaming River Dominator front axle (the best of both worlds). We were treated to dinner at Flaming River and were given a tour of the company's manufacturing facilities.
After our evening at Flaming River, we spent the night in Berea, just west of Cleveland. On Tuesday morning, we headed out on a very special day for me. For the first time in the history of the Road Tour, we were going to my hometown of Youngstown, Ohio. We did have a few stops to make before we made it to Classic Automobilia, a nostalgia company I started in 1989.
We made a stop at Jim Wise's...
We made a stop at Jim Wise's Hot Rod Shop near Elkhart, IN, on Monday morning. Jim (second from left) is the president of Wise Guys Seating, which has made my life very comfortable over the past three years with their quality seats.
The trip down the Ohio Turnpike lasted about an hour. Our first stop was just north of Warren, Ohio, to see the incredible street rod collection of Patti and Fred Warren, longtime friends of mine. Their cars include the 1993 Ridler winner Aero Coupe, ShockWave (the 1933 Ford roadster that won the America's Most Beautiful Roadster award at the 50th Grand National Roadster Show), AfterShock (a Ridler contender in 1999), various Street Rodder magazine cover cars, and, for my money, one of the most famous street rods of all-time: The Smoothster (the AMBR winner from 1995). It is an amazing sight to see all of these fantastic cars in one room, and the moment was not lost on the Road Tourians. What made it very special was that Fred spent time talking about each car and relating stories about the buildup and history of each vehicle. Thanks to Patti and Fred for sharing their breathtaking collection with all of us.
From the Warrens near Warren, we traveled across the city to the manufacturing facility of Backyard Buddy, famous for its high-quality, American-made car lifts that have become so popular. Owner Larry Gross gave us a personal tour of the manufacturing plant and showed us what sets their lifts apart from all the others available. After our tour, they fired up the grill and served up hot dogs and hamburgers for everyone.
Our Monday evening stop was...
Our Monday evening stop was at Flaming River Products in Berea, OH. The folks at Flaming River have been longtime supporters of the Road Tour, and always roll out the red carpet when the tour comes to visit.
After our lunch stop at Backyard Buddy, it was a short 15-minute drive to my Classic Automobilia showroom in Youngstown. The Road Tourians all seemed to enjoy the diner theme of the showroom and its display of pedal cars, soapbox derby items, and automotive collectibles I have assembled over the past 20 years. The Classic Automobilia line includes the 1932 Ford pedal cars and also the new Classic '34 Hi-Boy, which has the look of a 1934 Ford roadster. From the Classic showroom, we made a stop at my home; it was really fun to have everyone see my personal collection of vehicles, and I took the opportunity to show off my 1927 full-fendered T roadster that is almost completed. My wife, Mary Ann, had put together some food and desserts that everyone enjoyed, and my mom even stopped by to greet everyone. It was a very special afternoon for me, as all the Road Tourians got a glimpse of my business and my life off the road.
The day wrapped up with a party at the Quaker Steak & Lube in Austintown. This automotive-themed restaurant was the perfect place to spend the evening, and we were treated to some of their famous chicken wings. Thanks to everyone at the Lube for their hospitality and watch for a Quaker Steak & Lube opening near you.
The facilities at Flaming...
The facilities at Flaming River are first class. The company's state-of-the-art equipment produces hundreds of steering component parts on site. This year's coupe is equipped with the new Dominator front-axle assembly.
It was time to head toward New York and the Syracuse Nationals Wednesday morning. It was a foggy start in Ohio as we made our way up Route 11 toward Lake Erie. It was then east along I-90, as we had made Niagara Falls our destination for an afternoon sightseeing stop; it was an amazing sight for those who had never seen the falls. After lunch, we made the short drive to Lockport, New York, the home of the brand-new facilities of Mac's Antique Auto Parts. President Rick McIntosh and vice present and brother Randy McIntosh greeted us and gave us a personal tour of their recently opened showroom, offices, and warehouse. To say these folks stock some Ford parts is an understatement. In addition to their inventory of 1900-72 Ford parts, their on-site upholstery facilities manufacture high-quality, realistically priced interiors for Ford vehicles up to 1952. After the tour of the facilities, the staff at Mac's provided sandwiches for everyone. I had a surprise when Ken Horner showed up at Mac's in his 1937 Ford phaeton. It was great to see two old friends, as Ken was the winner in 1998 of the Road Tour phaeton. I had spent 25,000 miles and touched all 48 states in that phantom phaeton, and it was fun to see Ken and his prize once again.
On Thursday morning, the time had come. The only thing between the huge Syracuse Nationals and us was some beautiful New York countryside and good two-lane highways. We arrived at the headquarters Holiday Inn about 3 p.m. on Thursday. This was my first trip to the Syracuse Nationals, and Bob O'Conner and the Right Coast folks had done their homework and everything at the event's eighth edition was running smoothly when we arrived. The next three days were spent enjoying all the things that have helped this event grow into a 7,000-car spectacle. The New York State Fairgrounds was packed all weekend as tens of thousands of spectators covered the grounds to enjoy the street rods, custom cars, musclecars, and special interest vehicles on display. There was plenty to see and do with burnout contests, a thrill show, demolition derby, and live entertainment keeping everyone busy from dawn till late into the night.
The Street Rodder tent was a popular spot, as the Right Coast folks provided special reserved parking around our tent for all of the Road Tourians. With our Road Tour coupe on the cover of the current issue of Street Rodder, there were lots of questions about my ride for the summer. Many folks asked about the different wheel and tire combinations that have appeared on the coupe over the summer. It was the idea of Wheel Vintiques owner Mike Stallings to switch the wheels and tires for each event. Mike wanted folks to see how different wheels and tires dramatically change the appearance of a vehicle. It is an exercise that has had great results, and everyone seems to have their favorite combination.
The weekend went by quickly as the Syracuse Nationals, and the Classic Automobilia leg came to a close on Sunday. We are halfway through our Road Tour summer, but have many miles to go-although that should be no problem, since the little Deuce coupe with the Flathead mill is purring like a kitten.