Masses Of Street Muscle Gather At The Route 66 Mother Road Festival

The Route 66 Mother Road Festival has been a happening in Springfield, Illinois, for the past 18 years. The event originated to commemorate the car culture with show cars of all makes, models, and eras. It is a happy coincidence that it also brings thousands to enjoy the festival atmosphere surrounding the show.

Whether it is the cruise, pin-up girl contest, or the massive show, the Mother Road Festival has something for every genre of gearhead.

There is no shortage of horsepower-riddled machines that make up the more than 2,000 vehicles occupying the various functions throughout the weekend. It lives up to its festival title with a Friday night car cruise, concerts, a burnout competition, vendors, and the very popular Miss Mother Road Pin-up contest.

The event packed the place this year, lining the downtown streets with thousands of unique vehicles. Car owners traveled from across the country to enjoy the weekend sitting just off the actual Route 66 highway. The festival is much more than just a car show.

Mike Moore has owned his 1970 Boss Mustang for 19 years, buying it from a backyard where it sat since being hit in the front and rear. “It didn’t run. It was a mess and needed a full restoration, but it seemed solid,” Mike says. "It feels good when people give me the thumbs-up when I have it out.” He did much of the work himself including bodywork and paint.

The celebration of all-things Route 66 got its start in 2001 in downtown Springfield, Illinois. The fest then relocated to the nearby Illinois State Fairgrounds in the following years. The fairgrounds is of significant size, but still not big enough. It was filled to capacity within a couple of years, and then the event shifted back to block after square block of the massive downtown Springfield area where it remains to this day. The 2019 event was no exception, as a reported 25,000 spectators came out for the pleasant weekend.

The weekend began with a police-escorted cruise/parade that virtually shut down a central corridor of the city for more than three hours. The ceremony started on the east side of Springfield and wound its way into the streets of downtown. The sun was still shining brightly when the cars started pulling of the parking lots. Hours later, drivers were continuing to populate the parade procession well into nightfall.

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Spectators began claiming their parade viewing spots early, with lawn chairs filling the entire route. Children shouted and cheered for their favorites and grabbed candy thrown out by the participants. Cell phone cameras constantly flashed as watchers captured their choice of cars in picture form.

“I used to cruise the streets of Springfield when I was in high school back in the ’70s,” Donovan Redding, one of the local spectators, commented. “I had a 1967 Nova, and I was a badass on Friday nights (laughs). So, I saw a lot of cars tonight that bring back a flood of memories.”

Early on Saturday morning, the barricaded downtown streets were already filling up with registered display cars. The parking crew was kept busy fitting the vehicles in tightly as each entrant vied for their best position. All years, makes, and models ranged from restorations to screaming supercharged machinery. Lots of cleaning products were uncorked to shine wheels, windows, and bodies to prepare for the judging.

Rodney Snyder, Riverton, Illinois, first built his Pro Street Fiero in 1989. “I worked and played with it for about three to four years pretty heavy,” he says. “Then kids came along and it sat in the back of my dad’s garage for about 18 years.” With his kids grown, Snyder decided, “It was time to get the Fiero back out again, and I’m having a ball.”

“My wife and I have made this our show to attend every year,” Bob Wright says. “We travel from Oklahoma for it, and love that we can enjoy this and stay right on an actual part of the Route 66 highway. We meet up with the same friends and make new ones each year.”

One section of street is kept open for the display cars and drivers to have their photos taken with the old Illinois state capital as a backdrop. Bonnier Events, the promoters, also market that visitors can stop by the Lincoln sites and other historical landmarks of Springfield, such as the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, just a block from the car show area.

Scott Smith bought his 1967 Chevy II in Pro Street condition back about 30 years ago. He brought it home to Peoria, Illinois, and spent the past 11 years slowly working it into his own custom. Smith is not afraid to drive the ground pounder. He has about 10,000 miles on the car traveling to shows and cruises.

The vendor marketplace not only has items for the car enthusiasts, but also a wealth of souvenirs related to all-things centered around the Mother Road. Block after block continued to fill with cars on display and spectators to view them. Many families walked hand-in-hand to get up close and personal to the cars and owners.

The Miss Mother Road contest brought out several ladies in their vintage clothes and sunglasses. The Mother Road Champion was Miss Aurora Borealis. Miss Ruby Steele received the title of Miss Route 66 (first runner-up), and Miss Molly Mayhem rounded out the three winners with her title of Miss Route 55 (second runner-up).

Steve Lowe is a lifelong fan of Pro Street Novas. In 2017, he found a half-finished project online and bought this 1970 Nova the very next day. “The cage and tinwork were already done,” Lowe comments. “The drivetrain, I did myself over the next year or so. My wife, Mary, and I joke that the car will never be completed.”

Another popular competition at the festival is the burnout contest. Smoke rolled out and down the streets in mid-afternoon as crowds came running to watch their picks. Billy Reese, a local from Springfield, was the winner in his 1988 Chevy S-10 pickup. Runner-up was Jimmy Dixon of Pana, Illinois, driving his 1975 Chevy Pickup.

It took hours of walking, looking, and taking notes to choose our top cars to list here. As you view through the entire photo gallery, all Street Muscle aficionados will agree these were some tough choices to make.

About the author

Todd Silvey

Todd has been a hardcore drag racing journalist since 1987. He is constantly on both sides of the guardwall from racing photography and editorship to drag racing cars of every shape and class.
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