The time had come. What started seven months ago and covered a summer full of travel to rod runs around the United States came down to two remaining events. While they were close in terms of time, they were definitely not close in distance.
From my home in Youngstown, Ohio, the Golden State Nationals in Sacramento, California, was 2,400 miles due west. From there it was four short days and 3,000 miles to Tampa, Florida, and the Southeast Nationals. It is a 6,000-mile thrash that has been appropriately dubbed the Ironman Run and it is a real test of the street rods and the people driving them.
My route west this year was a straight shot across the I-80. I can see the I-80 from my front porch at home in Ohio. This one highway travels across the Midwest, the Plains, and the Rockies, and runs right to Sacramento. I have traveled across this highway many times, and during this late-September time of the year, the weather can be a real factor--especially in the mountains out West. I traveled this route and encountered snow flurries in Wyoming the first year of the Ironman Run in 2002. Hopefully I would fair better this year, but the fact that I was in a coupe did make me feel better.
My first day's travel took me across Ohio, Indiana, and the road construction zone, through Illinois and then on to Des Moines, Iowa. I had a nice evening with street rod pal Paul Clergy. In 1998, Paul spent quite a few miles traveling with me on the Road Tour. The next morning I was up before dawn and headed west across Nebraska. The coupe was running fine and the weather was cooperating. The long flat landscape gave way to Wyoming and the Rockies looming in the distance. After an 800-mile day, I landed in Cheyenne, Wyoming, for the second evening. The following day's weather was perfect--sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s were ideal for my trip across the Continental Divide, the Rockies, and the long drop into Utah.
Just an hour past the Great Salt Lake is a mecca for all street rodders: the Bonneville Salt Flats. I had stopped there on a number of previous tours, but it is always inspiring to think about the legendary cars and racers who competed on that hollowed ground. I spent the evening in Wendover, Nevada, about four miles west of the course.
The next morning and afternoon were spent traveling across Nevada. I stopped and visited my good friends Debbie and Bob Reynolds (of the NSRA) in Glenbrook, Nevada. From Debbie and Bob's it is a short, although very steep, two-hour downhill run to Sacramento. I arrived at my destination by dark. As planned, I was about four days early for the event in Sacramento. Mary Ann flew in and we spent two days in the Yosemite National Park area. In an attempt to save my strength for the run to Tampa, I elected not to climb El Capitan.The Golden State Nationals was a huge success, with almost 1,500 registered rods and beautiful northern California weather. By Sunday afternoon, it was time--time to point the car southeast in the direction of Tampa, Florida, 3,000 miles away. Nine street rods carrying 16 people were all headed to the National Street Rod Association Southeast Nationals on the Ironman Run. Leaving at 3 p.m. on Sunday, I spent Sunday evening five hours south in Bakersfield. Monday it was up and over the Tehachapi Pass, past Edwards Air Force Base, into Arizona, up the hill at Flagstaff, and then on to Albuquerque for Monday evening. The only tense moment of the day was when I failed to top off the tank at Kingman and almost ran out of gas by the time I got to the next fuel stop in Seligman. I was OK going down hills when the gas would flow toward the fuel pick up. Going uphill was a different story, as the gas went away from the pick up. Needless to say, I made it, but it was very close.
As I crossed through New Mexico and into Texas, I had to make a decision at Amarillo. I could stay on I-40 and go to Memphis, then south, or I could head southeast on Texas Route 287. The wild card was that Route 287 would take me past Dallas, on to Shreveport, Louisiana, Baton Rouge, and eventually on to just north of the devastated areas of New Orleans and the Mississippi coast. The questions concerned road conditions, room availability, and gas availability. I did some quick research on the Internet and found that the roads were all open, so I decided to go for it.
I spent Tuesday evening just west of Shreveport and headed south toward I-10 and the storm ravaged areas of the Gulf Coast. Gas was available and the roads were fine. I did see some of the impact that the storm had on the area. Many trees were down and buildings were heavily damaged. I spent Wednesday evening in Tallahassee. Thursday morning my sights were set on Tampa and the finish line.I did make one more stop that morning at the Don Garlits Museum. I had stopped in 1996 and it has really grown since then. I rolled onto the Florida State Fairgrounds at 1 p.m. on Thursday. I made it and so did the eight other Ironman rods. We had a great time exchanging stories at the traditional Ironman dinner Thursday evening.
It was another weekend of sun and rod run fun in Tampa. The Southeast Nationals was record setting with 1,413 registered street rods. In an instant, at 3 p.m. on Sunday, it was over: the 18th Southeast Nationals, the 2005 season of the Road Tour, and a decade of traveling across America in a street rod. It was a time of reflection for me as I looked back on 250,000 miles. It has been an incredible journey for me and hopefully for you, the reader. It has been an honor and a privilege to be able to live out and report on what many rodders would consider a dream job.
No, we are not done yet, but some big changes are on the way for the Road Tour next year. For all of you who have said you would love to do what I do, then you may have your chance next season. Stay tuned as we announce our plans for the next Road Tour. I am excited and I am sure you will be as well!
Just past the Quad Cities...
Just past the Quad Cities in western Illinois is the bridge over the Mississippi River. Later that evening I stopped in Des Moines, IA, for the night.
I made a quick stop in Omaha...
I made a quick stop in Omaha to say hi to friends Diane and Andy Anderson at their Park Drive Garage company. Besides having a huge body shop facility, the folks at Park Drive are major manufacturers of gas station memorabilia items.
This fella is the biggest...
This fella is the biggest cowboy I have ever seen. Wendover Will stands guard at the western end of Wendover, NV, about five miles from the Salt Flats.
The Florida State Fairgrounds...
The Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa is the home of the National Street Rod Association Southeast Nationals. This event wraps up the NSRA season and closes out 10 full years of street rodding across America for the Road Tour.
This group of folks was ready...
This group of folks was ready for the challenge. Here are the drivers meeting for the Ironman Run held on Sunday at noon. Almost three hours later, nine street rods with 16 passengers headed east for the 3,000-mile trip that needed to be completed in a little more than three days.
The Don Garlits Museum is...
The Don Garlits Museum is in Ocala, FL, and comprises three buildings. I had not stopped there since 1996. These three Mooneyes cars are just a small part of the collection.
I walked through the swap...
I walked through the swap meet area at Tampa. Whenever I see a stack of older STREET RODDER magazines, I usually take a look. Just a few magazines down the stack, I came across the issue from 1996 that had our first Road Tour coupe on the cover. Hard to believe it was 10 years ago!