Did you miss it? I would have, had it not been for my neighbor Darlene Hardie. Darlene is a member of the Portland Art Museum. Several months ago she received a copy of their publication “Portal” announcing the opening of a new exhibit showcasing streamlining in automotive design. Seventeen cars and two motorcycles were put display, all having been created between the years of 1930 and 1942.
A Chrysler Airflow Coupe I expected to see, its styling was considered ground breaking when it appeared in showrooms in 1934 but it wasn’t a big seller. Contrast the cranberry colored 1938 Talbot Lago… considered by some to be the most beautiful automobile ever built. Other manufacturers represented were: Mercedes-Benz, Bugatti, BMW, Alfa Romeo, Delahaye and Cord. The motorcycles were built by BMW and Henderson. Included in the display were several “one offs” — the Scarab, arguably the first minivan and whimsical fish tailed Airomobile were two crowd pleasers.
A tip of the hat to guest curator Ken Gross, thanks for pulling together such a compelling show. A more eclectic collection of vehicles I’ve never seen. And thank you Darlene for bringing this significant exhibit to my attention.
Take a 320 acre State Fairgrounds and fill it to capacity with 12,000 pre-1965 show cars, 450 vendors, car auctions, live bands, a massive swap meet, and more greasy food than you can shake a stick at…and what do you have? The answer… the Minnesota Street Rod Associations incredible “Back to the 50s” car show.
Born and raised in the Midwest the BTT50s show had always been a local event for me, and one of the highlights of my summer. Now that I have moved a couple thousand miles away to the Pacific Northwest the event is anything but local, but it’s one I will continue to attend as there is nothing else like it. The mature State Fairgrounds in St. Paul, MN are the most beautiful I have ever encountered, and once you fill them with 12,000 show cars it become an amazing spectacle. Cars line both sides of the streets winding through the grounds, but the middle of the lanes are left for cruising, and that is exactly what people do non-stop for 3 days. The fact that people cruise brings the show to life verses just having cars on static display…you get to hear, feel, and even smell the cars. The best part is when you get tired of walking you can grab some cheese curds and a milk shake, sit under a shade tree, and let the car come to you…it’s amazing.
If you have a bucket list of car shows to attend, make sure the MSRA’s “Back to the 50s” show is on there. I’d suggest putting it on top as it is truly as good as it gets…hope to see you there next year!!
They say you can never go home again. That is not always true. You can go home, only things have changed. Home for me is Portland International Raceway. For 23 years I was involved with the Indy Car races at PIR. In 1984 I volunteered as a technical inspector. My job was to help weigh and measure the race cars. Another part of the job was to keep track of the pop off valves for the turbochargers of the car I was assigned to. As an observer I had the privilege of going just about anywhere. This included the paddock area, the pit box and even the race team tent and trailers.
During the race I was in the pit box, off to one side, out of everybody’s way, observing the pit crew in action. During the pit stops, I would be checking the number of crew over the wall, number of tires that were being changed, fuel and several other things, for instance if the race car runs over the air hoses.
I had a great time over 23 years meeting crew members and owners and drivers. The only thing I regret is the rule I was not allowed to have a camera, so no photos.
Fast forward to 2018. I am at home again at PIR this time with a camera. I am here as reporter and photographer for Roddin’ and Racin’ NW Newspaper. As a photographer, I had just about the same privileges as before. I could not go into the race teams trailer and tent area without permission from the team. That also goes for the pit box. However, I could go anywhere else. The main rule was not to take any photos of the race cars if certain body parts were off the car, unless you get permission from the team.
My plan was to do a follow up story about Alexander Rossi, the NAPA driver. I did a story earlier this year when Alexander visited the World of Speed Museum in Wilsonville. Alexander was, of course, much busier preparing for the race than he was at the museum. So I concentrated on his pit crew.
It was great watching these guys in action. Just like true athletes they would stretch and limber up before pit stop practice and before the race. I asked nicely and got permission to be in the pit box. Here I am 11 years later, standing in the corner of the pit box at the pit wall. It felt great, just like old times. As I stood there I watched them remove a coil over shock, take it apart and change the spring in less than a minute. Amazing!
During the times of hot pit practice, Alexander would bring the car in at full pit speed, just like during a race. The pit crew jumped over the wall, changed 4 tires, got a full tank of fuel and then off he would go. It was like watching a ballet, the smooth fast motion, every crew member on their toes doing their jobs precisely. As Alexander took off out of the pits, it reminded me of how Little Al would leave the pits in a cloud of tire smoke.
In the time leading up to Sunday’s race I have never seen such a large crowd in the paddock area. It was very much a family event. Parents and their children were looking at the race cars and talking to crews and drivers. I even saw one of the drivers kneeling down to talk to a little guy on his level, face to face, and autograph the hero card. It was great.
While going through the paddock area I talked to one crew member about the body part that covered the front shocks. The cover was made of carbon fiber and the vinyl decal weighed just as little as the body part, they are that light.
Sunday, I was invited to the NAPA hospitality chalet. I took photos of Napa guests with Alexander. As he was leaving, I had a moment to ask a few questions. Simple questions, such as how do you like Oregon?
“I love it.”
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
“I don’t know.”
Who is your favorite driver?
“Lewis Hamilton and Kyle Bush.”
Now that is two different ends of the spectrum: Nascar and Formula 1.
As I watched the race from the chalet I thought you can go back home. The view from the chalet was great, but not as exciting as being in the pit box as the cars come in for a pit stop as I did 11 years ago. I want to thank the guys from NAPA and Alexanders pit crew for a great weekend. Alexander weekend was not so good. He finished eighth after leading the race. Yellow flags did not help him. Takuma Sato was the winner of the race this time.
Oh yes, you can go home again, as long as you expect things to be different.
He came into this world as many do. Bright red and screams. Clenched fists and trembling with anger as the revelation that life begins now. As she slipped from this world, his mother told us his name was to be Tide. Tide?
His mother was a SoCal beach girl, had spent days wandering the shores, and would just disappear as she watched the incoming tides. Tide. I nodded. It was perfect.
But Tide’s dad had only stayed in California because of the girl. His hometown was a Pacific Northwest blue-collar town far from the sun and sand where Tide had been born, and that was where he returned as a widower and new father at only 26. I uprooted and moved myself there, too, to help my son-in-law raise the starry-eyed child.
I noticed it right from the first time we took Tide to the coast. The coast. Funny, on the Eastern seaboard, they call it going to the shore. Anyway, Tide was enthralled. He walked down to the crashing waves and sat down. The waves crept in, washed over his bare feet, and he was in awe. He waded out a bit, bent, and touched the sea. Righting himself, he gazed out across the vast horizon. Slowly, he raised his arms and stood still, bathing in the salt air and endless sky.
Tide’s dad turned to me, “This is something new. He’s so damned quiet. He doesnt say much at home or react to much of anything. This…well…”
I looked at Tide. The surf rushed in, and the boy reveled in it. I nodded knowingly. “Clem, the boy has found his own. The sea rushed through his mother’s veins, and so it does in him.”
Clem turned to me, and we locked eyes. He knew it as plainly as I did. Clem took Tide to their home in Longview and I returned to Big Sir.
And so it was, as the years washed away, that Tide became a student of science and embraced that was all of the oceans. Ya see, I was a surfer bum. Since my return from ‘Nam in ’69, I spent those days on Venice beach surfing and doing what a 22 year old man would do. And, well, that is how I became a father. I stopped the surfing and hot rodding and became a Dad. Hidden away, I had stashed an old ’49 Merc woody. She was a rock solid car and well, too good to sell.
My intentions were to someday upgrade the drive train, keep the wood as is and well, drive her. And then, well, Tide began to show his own in school. His grades were top tier. One day he told me “Grandad, well, I love the sea. I am going to attend the Western Washington University. I want to be a marine biologist.” Clem smirked. “Boy, you need grades.” Tide looked at me and his eye were like razors. Clem had lived a hard life. He had never taken anything from anyone, he had said, yet. Yet. The bastard had shook any tree, begged borrowed, and had stole to keep his sorry head above water. My gaze narrowed. I looked at Clem and said, “Let the kid dream. This may happen.” Clem and I stood across from one another. Eyes locked. I tilted my head and that was when he cast his gaze to the side. Ya see, anyone can speak and spout words. But a man will stand behind what he says. Clem looked downward and walked out of the room. Tide, well, the kid knocked down any wall the system through in front of him.
As a senior, his grades placed him in top tier in the nation. Clem shook his head. Always one who hated himself, he condemned his only son. “Yeah, like that will happen.”
Tide graduated in the top of his class and was awarded a full scholarship to the school of his choice. I missed his graduation, ’cause I had a plan up my sleeve.
Tide was resting in the sun outside his home that he and Clem shared. It was August and soon September would be here. I saw him and from a side street, I fired up the old Merc and trolled slowly toward him. His eyes narrowed. The ol’ girl growled. The new crate 347 ci Roush mill barked. Varnished wood and painted a deep burgundy. Wide whites and chromed reversed. Two long boards strapped atop. Tide stood up and his jaw just dropped. The license plates read NDLSSMR.
I rolled up and parked the Merc. “Ya know, she is even better than when I found her in ’69! Take care of her, she will serve ya well at school.”
Tide stood beside the Merc. His lower jaw hitched and I could see the tears.
“I love ya grandad.”
I paused. “Love ya too son.”
It doesn’t end here. My years fade here, but the years roll on. Tide drives the Merc everyday, still, and is now a doctor.
Big personalities are nothing new to racing. From the very beginning, motorsports has attracted some extremely colorful characters. Since I have been working in racing, everyone pales in comparison to Willy T. Ribbs. His presence is instantly recognized in a room, and it always has been that way throughout his career. From the very beginning, Ribbs idolized Muhammad Ali, and modeled his physique and attitude after the iconic boxer. Pair that with an intense gaze and larger-than-life stories, Ribbs always stood out. That, and he was the only African American driver around.
A second-generation racer, Willy can thank his father, Bunny, for putting motorsports on his radar. Growing up in San Jose, CA famous motorcycle and IndyCar driver, Joe Leonard lived next door to the Ribbs family and was an influence as well. “I wasn’t a problem child, but my thing was driving fast” explains Ribbs, “By the time I got out of high school- I knew where I wanted to go… you look at all the drivers that came from around the world and they were racing the British championship.”
Ribbs made a name for himself in Europe through Formula Ford before coming back to America and competing in the Formula Atlantic series. He fell through IndyCar, Champ car and NASCAR, tried his hand at Trans-Am thanks to Paul Newman, and raced in IMSA for the late Dan Gurney.
Ribbs credits a handful of highly-recognized friends that have helped him through his career. “If I were to have been a grin’n shugglin’ idiot- it wouldn’t have changed anything… I also knew that for me to continue to go up the ladder of the sport, I had to have a name. I could not be like the other guys. It was that personality that got Bill Cosby’s attention.”
Though recent issues have been brought to light about Cosby’s life off-camera, Ribbs admits that his career would not have been the same without the help of the famous comedian. “I didn’t call him, he called me!” Ribbs says that Cosby was not the slightest bit interested in racing. In fact, though Cosby helped funnel a significant amount of money into Ribbs’ career, he did not come to the track. It was purely a business transaction. Cosby had the funds and the name recognition in a time when there were few African American men in the spotlight. This was an investment in Ribbs as a promising athlete and man of color.
Another influential figure in Ribbs’ Rolodex was famous boxing promoter, Don King. “Don knew me through my relationship with Ali. He said that he wanted to represent me,” says Ribbs, “Bernie (Eccelstone) knew that Don was representing me and wanted to meet.” Ribbs recounts how the eccentric boxing promoter came face-to-face with his motorsports counterpart “If you ask Bernie Ecclestone about this, he will still remember Don walking into the hotel room eating an ice cream cone. It was fascinating to watch the two engage.” It was King that helped orchestrate Ribbs’ first entry in the Indy500, but the relationship was fleeting. “I just think that Don thought that there was going to be more money in racing, at that time boxing was all cash.”
Willy T. Ribbs is a recognizable name in racing, but not necessarily for the results that he earned. Controversy has followed Ribbs through his career. Strangely enough, Ribbs was an extremely proficient driver. He has, to this day,a fire in his eyes. For whatever reason- and there are a few theories- Ribbs never reached his full racing potential. Some attribute Ribbs’ attitude and sometimes prickly, outspoken nature and to that he says “BULLSH*T. I didn’t talk myself out of anything.” His response points directly to the obvious. “Be honest with what the truth is. Be man enough to admit that ‘we didn’t want him because he was black.’” Realistically, it is a combination of many factors. Sadly, the result is a driver who had the gumption, bravery and talent to get the job done, but will be remembered more for superficial reasons than capability.
In fact, Ribbs has talked frequently about how he was treated in different series, and he found that the European mindset was more welcoming to him. “It was a night and day difference. When I went over there to race, it was like going to another planet in terms of acceptability. Those guys saw me as a race driver- and that is what it was all about. You know? When I got back here, I was a black race driver.”
Like being the ‘first’ of anything on an emerging front, Ribbs was faced with unfair added pressure to set a precedent. It was Dan Gurney who pointed out to Ribbs that his responsibilities as a racing driver ended with himself, his family and team- just like any other racer.
Bottom line is, Willy T. Ribbs pushed the envelope. His uniqueness steps outside his race- Willy truly is a vivacious, bold and an unapologetically fierce person. If there is an opportunity to hear him speak at an engagement, it is not to be missed. Look past the controversies, look past influences, and you will find one of the most colorful voices in racing with stories that will make your jaw drop. He is, at his core, personality with a side of Ribbs.
My mom got me started with the Matchbox cars. She always loved miniatures and getting her to pony up for a new addition to my collection was easy. I can still remember the yellow, stair-stepped, countertop displays (later “spinner” racks) showing all the models available. How cool were those?! I still dream about them occasionally.
I had cars, trucks, tractors, trailers, all of ‘em but my favorites were the sports and racing cars. I loved the LeMans winning D-type Jaguar, the Maserati grand prix car and the Ford GT in particular. And the E-type Jaguar (XKE) with its tiny spoked wheels and metallic red paint has to rate as one of the coolest die casts ever.
All of my collection saw action outdoors in the dirt and sand but mostly I enjoyed racing them on smooth surfaces. A cement patio or low pile carpet was ideal. I’d get down on my belly, eye level, line them up in a long column of two and turn them loose! I tried to be fair, giving them shoves of equal strength and letting them roll. Generally my favorites made it to the front. The latest acquisition was always a pretty safe bet but sometimes an old standby (like the XKE) would pull off an upset. Hey, auto racing is a dangerous an unpredictable game! Eventually almost every vehicle in my fleet was assigned a number and raced. Even the Snow Trac traded his treads for a set of rubber tires borrowed from a Tyco slot car. “Gregory” next door very likely introduced me to 3 in 1 oil and once applied, all entries performed remarkably better. Then in 1968 Mattel introduced Hot Wheels…Holy crap! This was a toy that answered my prepubescent dreams!
My gripe with Matchbox was that they weren’t releasing any hip new cars. They’d produced a bunch of weird English models like the Ford Zodiac and Ford Zephyr — cars I’d never seen in person. When Chevrolet introduced the Camaro in 1967 it rocked my world and I wanted a toy version. I had to “pretend’ my Matchbox Opel Diplomat was a Camaro. It was vaguely the right shape (a four door with a trailer hitch!) and at least had a snappy gold paint job. An Opel Diplomat? WTF! I STILL haven’t seen one in real life!
So when Hot Wheels hit the street (their first model being a ’68 Camaro) it was all over for Matchbox. I acquired one as soon as possible and with its revolutionary piano wire suspension; it promptly outclassed my starting field. I ended up trading that car for a classmate’s purple Barracuda and a red Mustang Fastback and lime gold second Camaro joined my roster soon after. The Hot Wheels lacked some of the detail of the early Matchbox series but the overall performance of the toys coupled with their eye popping candy paint jobs, more than compensated for that. From the first series on wild customs like the Beatnik Bandit, the Python and Silhouette were part of the offering but the models based on actual street cars and racers, were my preference. In 1969 when Hot Wheels released replicas of the two most popular cars in the Can Am series – the McLaren M6A and the Chaparral 2G, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I’d been fortunate enough to see the real cars compete at Laguna Seca and the fact that I could now add them to my collection was mind boggling.
Again, my races took place on large flat road courses that I laid out myself. I never owned one of the plastic orange tracks so that was never part of my Hot Wheels experience. Did I miss out? I’m not sure.
I did however get to race on one of the plastic drag sets once. A fellow collector and classmate of mine invited me over one afternoon for some friendly competition. As his parents worked graveyard and were day sleepers, we were forced to set up in their front yard. We borrowed a ladder from the garage and mounted our starting gates about six feet off the ground! The orange strip extended down his sloping yard and emptied out on the sidewalk.
It was all fun and games until a girl I had a crush on came strolling up the block! We were miles from where she lived- Turns out she and her girl friend were having a “play date” as well. What were the odds? Anyhow I was caught “playing cars” and I remember feeling embarrassed. What was she giggling about? She wore a pair of floral bell-bottoms that had actual bells sewn on them! I guess we forgave each other… many years later I took her to the Senior Ball. By then I was playing with real cars.
It was a dark and stormy night… Somewhere. But not in sleepy little town of Gresham Oregon located just on the outskirts of bustling Portland. As the sun peeked over the Eastern Horizon on Saturday August 11th, it gave way to a cool crisp morning as the town began to enjoy a brief respite from a record-setting heat wave.
Off in the distance, finely-tuned ears could tell that something was amiss. A kind of cackling sound gradually approaching downtown Main Street. Those who were there will atttest to the rising cacophony of sounds that all of a sudden seemed to surround the town. The sounds seemed to approach from all directions… Ack ack ack, pocketa pocketa, whompa. For the 20th year the annual Rockin Around the Block Cruise was underway in Gresham.
And just as had been done for so many years before, Main Street quickly filled up with arriving hot rods, gassers, muscle cars and whatever else ones imagination could conjure up. Soon all of the surrounding streets and parking lots throughout downtown were filled.
This time there would be no need for the town fathers to call in the gendarmes, as this event is a result of the finely-tuned effort between the promoters, Northwest Motorsports Association, Mount Hood Community College automotive program, Chamber of Commerce and all of the other partners, sponsors and volunteers who take part in this successful event.
Again this year there was dancing in the streets as the Ron Ruedi Band laid down his signature rock and roll Tunes. In addition, Spenellis brought in the band, Saturated Phats to entertain fans from their front porch. As always, there was plenty for the whole family along with the clowns, face painting and competitions for the kids. And as always, there were plenty of trophies for the big boys (and girls) and their toys.
In addition to the well over 300 cars, the vendors, sponsors and all of the other attractions make for quite a draw, resulting in far morer spectators than one would see at the average Cruise In.
Show promoter Jerry Lyons, heads up the Mount Hood Community College automotive program. he said they have set up two distinct accounts to directly benefit outstanding Automotive students with what has now resulted in well over $350, 000 in scholarships.
Vern Farris is sergeant-at-arms of the Northwest Motorsports Association and has promoted this event many years. His answer as to what makes this event so successful is short and sweet. He says – it is just the coolest. This Association is a conglomeration of a number of car clubs. Other car clubs out there who would like to become involved should inquire. ’nuff said.
Graffiti Alley has been serving Eugene and beyond since July 1991 with parts for classic cars, trucks and hot rods. This is the source for “the hands-on gearhead” and it’s located In Eugene, Oregon. Bob has been involved in the automotive world his whole life in drag racing as well as parts supplying.
You’ll find what you need for that special project in your garage, often in stock and ready for you to pick up or Bob can ship it to you. Sheetmetal, window felts, weather-stripping, dynamat, collectable memorabilia and the like. Bob can also appraise your Hot Rod, Resto-mod, Antique car or truck.
Graffiti Alley has the largest Ford Mustang parts inventory in Lane County, on the shelf and ready for you. Give them a call @ 541-689-7334 and please tell them you heard about Graffiti Alley in Roddin’ & Racin’ NorthWest. Or, stop by at 675 River Rd., Eugene, OR.
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Route 66. The Mother Road. My wife Sue and I have traveled short stretches of Route 66 incidental to other vacation trips. But this trip is different. Following an invitation from Sue’s cousin, Avery Cantwell, we are on our way to Arizona for the Route 66 Fun Run. It is on day one, while on our way to Arizona, that Sue makes the observation that there is a certain symmetry to the fact that I am 66 years old, driving a ’66 Mustang on Route 66.
The Route 66 Fun Run is now in its 31st year. The event is sponsored by the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona headquartered in Kingman, Arizona. It is held the first weekend of May each year. Things get started in Seligman on Friday afternoon when you pick up your registration material. In the evening there is a parade (cruise) on the main street of Seligman open to all registered vehicles. There is also live music and dancing.
Saturday morning the Fun Run officially departs Seligman for Kingman, passing through the Hualapai Reservation and the Grand Canyon Caverns, Peach Springs, Hackberry and Valle Vista. Each of these stops has some type of attraction making a quick stop worthwhile. Upon arrival in Kingman, those who wish to participate are parked along Andy Devine Boulevard/Route 66 in the downtown section for a huge car show that lasts throughout the afternoon. There are many attractions to see and visit in the area, including the Route 66 Museum. It is also a great time to see all the other cars and talk to other participants.
Sunday morning the cars start lining up for a ten o’clock departure on the second leg of the cruise. The departure is led by the 1954 Chevrolet Kingman police car “Pickles.” The ultimate destination is Topock/Golden Shores by noon for lunch and the awards ceremony from the previous day’s car show. This section of the highway is a bit more challenging as it traverses some mountainous terrain. Much of the driving for our Mustang was done in second gear and it was on this section that we saw more vehicles suffering breakdowns or overheating issues.
At the top of the mountain is the old gold-mining town of Oatman. Oatman’s main street is lined with real vintage old west buildings. The town stages gun fights throughout the day for travelers’ entainment. It is also home to wild burros that are free to roam the streets. The burros are federally protected and are tame enough to be approached and petted. Be careful though—as on member of our traveling group lost his bag of popcorn to one of the burros. The animal gave him a little head-butt in the ribs and then snatched the popcorn from his hands.
The Fun Run is open to all cars. This year there were cars from the 1910s all the way through the 2010s. The vast majority of the cars are classics, hot rods or special interest. Just observing the cars while we were driving, it appears that Corvettes outnumbered most other makes.
Registration for the event is limited to 800 vehicles. This year they had 788 rides signed up. Cars come from all over the southwest and farther to attend. During the awards ceremony it was noted that the domestic car club attendance award went to a group from Australia who brought eight Mustangs and a 1932 Ford Coupe all the way to Arizona. But they did not win the long distance award. That plaque went to a young coupe from Argentina who had driven a 1980 Volkswagen Van to the to the event. For them this was a planned stop on their way to Alaska.
Attending the Run was a great time. Although it may not have as many of the classic roadside attractions as other sections of the highway, it is one of the longest remaining sections of the road. It gives you a real sense of what early travelers must have encountered. If you go, be prepared for the possibility of very warm weather. At the end of the run in Topock the temperature was 104 degrees at noon. A little warm for a native Oregonian. It is also highly recommended that you reserve a place to stay early. At his mother’s insistence, since it would hold the entire family, Avery was driving a 1957 Rambler. As Avery put it, “Nothing says fun like driving your momma’s Rambler.” Turns out he was right. The car got a lot of attention and it did comfortably transport the whole family from start to finish.