The Hot Rod Challenge

The Pacific Northwest isn’t exactly well known for being a hot-rod hot spot, but Portland International Raceway hosts what must be one of the best weekly cruise-ins in the country. From June to September, hundreds of classic and collectible cars converge at the racetrack every Wednesday evening for the Beaches Cruise-In (http://beachesrestaurantandbar.com/community/cruisin/) — a laid-back show-n-shine that takes place alongside PIR’s Wednesday night bracket racing.

On the last Wednesday of this past September, we were treated to an exceptionally beautiful afternoon — cool, but not cold, and without a single cloud in the sky. The brisk air and the low sun and the faraway smell of a wood fire was everything one could hope for when wrapping another summer up and retiring it for the winter. I spent the majority of last year’s sunny months underneath my ’69 Chevelle, so my boys and I were chompin’ at the bit to get some seat time.

I left work early that afternoon, and when I pulled up at the house, the boys were jumping around shirtless in the front yard like a couple of miniature headbangers in the middle of a mosh pit of two. I was pretty excited as well.

With my wife double-checking that we had enough supplies in the car to last us through the winter, I herded the boys into the back seat while they reminded me a minimum of 45 times that we were: A) Going to the car show, and B) That the “Vlachelle” is super-fast like a rocket. But not a space rocket — just a ground rocket. But that’s okay because ground rockets are still pretty fast.

With all the windows down and the 4-barrel opened up, a quick glance in the rearview proved that at least three of the four of us had nowhere else we’d rather be.

Cruisin’

When we pulled up at the entrance to the track, row upon row of hot rods, restorations, four-bys, stockers and race cars were sprawled out across the grounds. We would later hear over the loudspeakers that more than 1,000 cars were in attendance, and that number was easy to believe. We weren’t late, but we certainly weren’t early either, so we chugged our way through a crowd mostly wearing the same goofy grin that the boys and I were. No one in front or behind was in a rush to get anywhere. Idling aimlessly never seemed so purposeful.

Later, as we chomped on hot dogs and pretended the sun wasn’t sinking, I couldn’t help but wonder why I had spent so many afternoons not doing this. And, more importantly, why had I allowed myself to get to the point where a cruise-in was a necessary destination. And what about everyone else? I’m constantly driving all over town, and I hardly ever see Bel Airs in grocery store parking lots, or Galaxies in the drive-thru at Wendy’s, or Deuce Roadsters at Home Depot. Why not?

Are we all so petrified our cars will break down on the freeway? Are we all so paranoid that we’ll get a door-ding and want to fistfight a stranger? Have we become so concerned with potentially risking the monetary value associated with our vehicles that we’re unwilling to use those vehicles for their intended purpose?

What’s the point of owning an old car that never gets used? We jump in our appliance-mobiles to save wear and tear on the oldies, but all that means is that we spend all our time driving appliance-mobiles!

The oldies then sit. Batteries go dead, gaskets dry out and fluids begin to leak. Now we have real issues. The best way to make sure your car is roadworthy is not to guess at what’s wrong, but to drive the heck out of it and dial it in as you go.

Personally, I had resolved myself to just about every excuse available over the past couple of years. I was too busy or too tired or too lazy to fix what I needed to fix. The weather wasn’t cooperating. Moving car seats is a pain. Traffic is too soul-crushing. Gas is too expensive. Pathetic excuses, all of them.

So right then and there, with a mouth full of hot dog, I decided, “To hell with this.” My old Chevelle has flaws, for sure, but it also has a big-block, sounds tough, and can burn the tires off as long as you’re willing to stay in it. That should be enough.

A challenge is born

The next day, I sent Editor Pickering a picture of my car idling in the driveway, and then a second with my oldest in the backseat, ready for a ride to school. Thus, the Hot Rod Challenge was born.

What exactly is the Hot Rod Challenge? Well, it’s a work in progress, but it might as well be called the “Quit Making Excuses and Drive Your Car Challenge.” I’ll now challenge you just like I did Pickering a few months back to get that old car of yours fired up and on the road. I’m making up the rules of the Challenge as I go here, but here are the basics:

  • Only driving to non-car events counts for credit. No cruise-ins, no car shows. Get in that thing and go to the grocery store. And then the hardware store. And then to dinner. The more stops, the better.
  • Bonus points awarded for each passenger.
  • Double points if the passenger was born in a different generation.
  • Double points for each child seat.
  • Add another point if it’s raining.
  • Two more for hitting rush hour. Want to know how that cooling system will hold up? Here’s your chance.

Challenge yourselves to get out there. Allow that old rig to remind you why you were so willing to part with your hard-earned cash to own it.

Being remembered for driving a cool old car is very different from being remembered for owning one. What kind of experience are you searching for? Send your challenge stories to comments@americancarcollector.com, or post them in the comments below.

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  1. Jay,

    Until this last trip to the shop (still waiting), my 61 Buick Bubble has been my daily and I love it. I really like picking up the young one at school with it since folks always appreciate it and want pics etc. Gotta keep the dream alive. Of course my alternative this spring and summer has been my SRT 10 single cab truck. But not the same as the 61. So, yes get out there and you will be surprise that the enjoyment of seeing your car on the street only begins with you.