Ponies In The Smokies Returns Bigger Than Ever in 2021

After taking last year off (like the majority of all things fun and exciting) thanks to the pandemic that was 2020, the annual late-March trip to the Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee was back in business! Over 1,000 Mustangs made the trip up to the Sevierville-Pigeon Forge area for the 5th edition of Ponies In The Smokies (March 24-27). Featuring a unique blend of everything from driving events to an indoor car show of over 100 cars inside the 108,000-square-foot Sevierville Convention Center, there was a little bit of something for everyone at the event.

The event (which is traditionally four days long) kicked off a little early with a “fifth” day, which saw the event return to the Quaker Steak & Lube lower parking lot on Tuesday night. The venue had played host to the annual Thursday night “Shine Run Party” for the first three years, but quickly outgrew the limited amount of parking. Still the lot remains a popular stop because of its now famous PITS (Ponies In The Smokies) Wall. An idea that started as some basic graffiti and has now turned into more of a painting thanks to the handy work of local artist Steve Spangler and his “barn door” design, which was set to debut at the 2020 edition of the show. Around 100 early arrivals into town came out to hang out with the PITS Crew in an informal cruise in, dubbed “#PITS American Graffiti Night.”

This white 1965 convertible rolled into town Tuesday night just in time for the meet at Quaker Steak and Lube. Take a look at those black plates, yes that is right, California. Ray and Marion Davison drove their one owner convertible all the way from Apple Valley, California just for the event! Ray tells us he does all the work on the car and has since it was new, including a minor breakdown on the way because of fuel pressure issues. Long gone is the original engine and in its place is a 427 Windsor topped with Trick Flow aluminum heads and a FiTech electronic fuel injection. After the event, the Davison's were headed further south to Road Atlanta for the upcoming Mustang Club Of America event before heading back home to California. Such an amazing story, car, and couple!

The PITS wall has became a must stop for Mustang enthusiasts in the area both in their Ponies and regular cars alike. All year long people share the wall on social media with everything from their Mustang to their work truck to their family cruiser in front of it. Pictures above are the Mustangs of the four men behind the event. From left to right, Troy Raby's Saleen, Travis Smith's Saleen, Kevin Brown's Cobra, and your author's GT.

The show officially kicked off on Wednesday at Smokies Stadium. It was the first stop for the popular shine run, a modified poker run that takes participants to local hot spots like The Dragon, several local distilleries, and a mountain alpine roller coaster while trying to complete the best poker hand. Winners chose from an assortment of prizes based on their rank including a set of Axe Wheels, a weeks vacation, and a ton of prizes from PITS sponsors such as Steeda and National Parts Depot.

Once participants got their card stamped at the Clearshine booth inside the stadium, they headed outside to experience the first driving event of the week. Gateway Classic Mustang hosted the autocross and ride-alongs on Wednesday and Thursday as well as the BFG Driving School on Thursday. Ron and Tim Schoch from Team RSRR was on hand with their Optima Ultimate Street Car Association prepared Mustangs and gave over 200 ride-alongs. TN Drift was also on hand doing drifting exhibitions as well as drifting ride-alongs on Wednesday.

Gateway Classic Mustang's BFG Driving School was a rain or shine event and unfortunately, like most of Thursday's events, it faced rain. But that did not stop participants from hitting the course and soaking up all the knowledge that they could behind the wheel of their own ponies. (Photo Credit: Stephanie Phillippi)

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Phillippi)

With most all of Thursday being a wash out, including what was to be the first Shine Run Party held at the recently opened Junction 35 Distillery and Restaurant in Pigeon Forge, most of the attention quickly shifted to the Sevierville Convention Center in preparation for Friday and Saturday’s portion of the event. Show car after show car patiently awaited their turn to get in out of the rain and fill out the convention center as dozens of vendors and over 100 equally unique Mustangs filled the convention center floor.

Various special displays lined the inner ring of the convention center, the largest being the Years Of Mustang display, known this year simply as “The 58.” A tradition started in year one at PITS, the goal is to get one Mustang of every year. While this year the PITS crew tackled the hard task of filling all the Mustang II slots (1974-1978) they came up short on one Fox-body (1980) and a 2005 thanks to a last minute no-show. However, both years were in attendance in the outside show. The cars in this display are judged in one of the toughest competitions of the weekend in which only one award per generation is given out along with an overall Best Of Show for the inside.

Pictured above are the first three generation winners from the inside show. Stacy & Lucinda Moore's gorgeous 1965 convertible brought home another PITS award after taking home Best Of Show honors in the outside show in 2019. Marty Miller's 1978 King Cobra took home the honors in the Mustang II generation. Jason Smith's time capsule 2,700-mile 1993 LX convertible took home the honors in the Fox-body generation that featured some of the toughest competition around including a Saleen coupe, a gorgeous black and gold Saleen, and an equally as impressive time capsule 1982 GT.

The SSP Reunion filled the center display as twenty eight Special Service Package Mustangs and one LTD. The cars were a mix of in service condition featuring lights, radios and all the gear all the way to race cars, the fate many of these cars seemed destined for over the years. Shortly before awards, “Bad Boys”, the theme to the popular television show “Cops” played over the sound system as the lights dimmed, giving participants a chance to put on a light and siren show for all the spectators.

The outside show was sold out this year for the first time in PITS history. With over 800 cars in the outside show field, the judges had the tough task of picking out the top award winners. Five of those winners came inside on Saturday to compete for the outdoor car show Best Of Show. From left to right: Jamey Mattingly's 1986 Coyote-swapped GT, Barry Cason's Roushcharged 2016 GT, John Coates' twin-turbo 1996 Cobra, and Joe and Edna Morgan's 1965 Fastback.

The event featured around 60 vendors inside and out. One of the most unique and interactive vendor displays was brought by Saleen. It featured the "Saleen Challenge," which let participants take a drive in a new GT Mustang, followed by a Saleen Mustang. They also had a couple of special anniversary Saleen Mustangs on display as well as one of their all-new Saleen trucks.

While the outside show featured plenty of award winning cars, sometimes you find the coolest Ponies are not always the most polished. Check out these two awesome in progress builds we came across while walking the show field. Top Row: Bob Goodson's 1990 Saleen was bought new and modified at the famous John Bleakly Ford in Georgia. Bob has a history of restoring unique and cool Fox Mustangs and we cannot wait to see what he does with this one. Bottom Row: While most people were busy inside looking at Bobby Edwards pristine 1988 Georgia State Patrol Car "Mojo Rising," we were outside checking out "Project Lily." A 1968 body mated with a late model Mustang chassis and interior. Check out that dash! The retro look blends in nicely in the 1968!

And then there were two, the Best Of Show winners. On the left, the inside winner, Brian Dunham's near perfect 1972 Mach 1. The car was Brian's first car that he bought at age 15. On the right, Ronnie Davis' amazing orange 1965 Fastback, the outside Best of Show winner.

The PITS crew are already hard at work planning the 2022 version of the event, the dates are set for March 23rd to March 26th. Car show spots should go on sale sometime in June and will certainly sell out fast after this years sell out, so keep watch and make plans to attend! Check out our huge gallery below for all the photos!

Photo gallery

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About the author

Jeff Southard

Growing up with a dad who loved Corvettes, I was destined to be a gearhead from day one. Beyond that, my dad owned an auto parts business for over 25 years. There, I learned the automotive basics as a child, then began my professional career working there after high school. From Corvettes and Superbirds to Hemis and Cobra Jets, my dad has owned a little of everything over the years, so I've had my chance to get some quality seat time behind the wheel of some rare, unique, and sometimes, just odd automobiles. I have owned my share of toys, including over 20 Mustangs. I guess to make a long story short, if you look up "car crazy" you will probably find my photo listed pretty close to it!
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