Generally, it takes an event of monumental proportion to call me away from the sandy beaches and ever-present 78-degree weather of North County, San Diego. The Street Machine Nationals in St.Paul, Minnesota is one of them. That said, part of me was dreading the sweltering heat and general mugginess that the weather forecasts had me expecting. But, in a strange turn of events, just as San Diego was being overtaken by a meteorological flare-up, East Minnesota was settling into what some would call, perfect weather. So, with camera in hand, and the stage set nicely for a three-day eyegasm of all things American muscle, I set off on a vision quest for the automotive shutterbug.
Normally, I have only one goal in mind when I arrive at a show of this magnitude – gather as many photo assets for future features and editorial content as I can. However, this time was different. A few weeks ahead of the show, our good friends at Bonnier Events called us up and let me know they wanted me to present a unique award for their Show-N-Shine competition – Street Muscle Magazine’s Editor’s Choice Award.
Now, excited as I was, I totally underestimated the difficulty of the task that lay ahead of me. With thousands of cars in attendance, there were more than a few that fit the bill. I had to make a decision about the type of car I would select. There are so many facets to building a muscle car, so many genres, so many years, makes and models – Pro Street, Pro Touring, Street/Strip, Restoration, Restomod – the list goes on, and Street Muscle Magazine caters to them all!
I found myself so conflicted, in fact, that I hoped to gain some guidance as to what my gracious hosts were expecting, and they simply replied, “just pick a car that you feel represents Street Muscle Magazine and the Street Machine Nationals best.” Ha! Big help that was…I still had thousands of cars to choose from! Still, I suppose that’s what they call an embarrassment of riches. So, with my camera in hand and the golf cart gassed up, I set out on my mission.
One of the things I truly love about the Street Machine Nationals is the layout of the fairgrounds. The small-town feel of the fairgrounds with its colorful buildings, copious amounts of food stands, and shade-tree lined streets provided the perfect backdrop for what would prove to be a fantastic car show. Even though the venue boasts a massive footprint to house all the cars, navigating the fairgrounds was easy because I had my trusty green golf cart to weave in and out of crowds.
Simply entering the Minnesota State Fairgrounds is like being transported to another dimension. One in which, all car enthusiasts, from all walks of life, whose style and taste differ in every imaginable sense of the word, come together to both show off and gawk at each other’s respective rides. That sounds like every car-lovers fantasy, but therein lay my challenge. With such a bevy of automotive creations to choose from, I scoured the grounds making lap after lap, snapping photo after photo of countless examples of vintage Detroit steel.
There were some serious examples of the major hits car enthusiasts love. Plenty of offerings of the GM, Ford, and Chrysler variety lined the streets – dozens of Corvettes, Chevelles, Camaros, Monte Carlos, C/K10, GTO, Tempest, Firebird, and even the lesser-seen Ventura, Vega, Skylark, and Cutlass. There was a huge presence of Mopar’s best at the show – Cuda’s, Challengers, Chargers, Darts, Satellites, and even the occasional Volare were all present.
None of the aforementioned GM or Chrysler products being present surprised me – for the most part, those are all popular cars. There were a few things that did catch me a bit off-guard though. For example, the amount of Fords at the show was noticeably less than that of its big-three counterparts – save for the ever-enduring Mustang and always popular Duece Coupe. Still, the examples that were there held it down for the blue oval crowd.
I was equally surprised by the presence of previously unloved mid-to-late-’70s cars, and tons of ’80s and ’90s GM plastic. Colonnade cars were everywhere. It seemed like I couldn’t turn my head without seeing a pristine ’77 Buick Century, ’75 Chevy Laguna, ’74 Pontiac Lemans, Grand Am, or even a 4-4-2 Cutlass of the same vintage. It was awesome!
Equally well represented were dozens of OBS (’88-’98) Chevy pickups, IROC Camaro and Formula Firebirds, and C4 Corvettes – plenty of ’80 and ’90s-era automobiles to love.
Could these new entrants to the restoration and show-car arena be indicative of future car shows? Maybe I just forgot that 1980 was more than 40 years ago…Either way, I like it. I hope to see more and more ’80s and ’90s “neo-classics” at car shows. You’d be surprised what seeing a low mileage IROC Camaro can do for your nostalgia when you see the window sticker sporting the T-top option.
Still, my quest to find the Editor’s Choice Award winner was lingering, so I kept the little cart moving…
As I made my way around the fairgrounds, I ran into a good friend of mine – Dave Kass of QA1. For those of you who don’t know, QA1 is one of the premier manufacturers of aftermarket suspension components for classic cars. The company’s coilovers and tubular suspension parts are on countless restorations, and in order to make sure people are putting their products to the test, QA1 sponsors the autocross at the Street Machine Nationals.
It could almost be considered an offshoot of a total movement the company has had its hands in for a while now. Simply dubbed, goDRIVEit, or #goDRIVEit on social media, the movement has inspired untold amounts of car lovers to dust of their projects, finished or otherwise, and get them out on the road where they belong. But, I’ll let Dave put it in his own words since it’s really his brainchild.
Dave told me, “It doesn’t matter if it’s a pristine show car, or if it’s something that’s kinda rough around the edges – that’s the whole fun of it. Just getting out there and driving these cars, that’s what it’s all about. The GoDRIVEit idea really derived from a conversation I was having with someone, and this person I was talking to said they’d put just a couple hundred miles on their car. I asked the person why they feel bad putting miles on their car. So that stemmed the whole goDRIVEit idea. There’s a lot of people that fall in that category. For whatever reason, they’ve got a really cool show-car at home, they have a…maybe an old ratty muscle car that they’re trying to make fall within that stereotypical “i need to build a show car” mindset, and so the cars are just not being driven. And it’s just a sad, sad thing to watch. If you look at cars as being an appliance, I’m sorry, this isn’t the place for you.”
Since I got to the autocross a bit late, I asked Dave how it went since he had his own C10 out on the course running between the cones.
“The autocross was fantastic yesterday. Today, we’re going to be doing it again. Any car you have here at the Street Machine Nationals, bring it down. I don’t care if it’s a 4×4 truck, an autocross-specific build, or anything in between, bring it on down. It’s awesome! Just make sure you bring a helmet.”
As a quick aside for the uninitiated, I’ll break down what autocross is exactly. Some call it auto-x, solo, or auto slalom – whatever you call it, the structure remains the same. The new-ish motorsport can be defined as, “a timed competition in which drivers navigate one at a time through a defined course on either a sealed or an unsealed surface.”
Autocross has attracted many novices and experienced drivers because of its emphasis on safety and inclusivity. It separates itself from road racing and oval racing right away because there is only one car and driver on the track at one time. That car and driver duo is racing against the clock as opposed to other motorsports where drivers are pitted against one another. Since Auto-X is considered an “entry-level” motorsport, it is often used as a pseudo-stepping stone to more advanced and competitive forms of racing.
So, if you’re interested in putting your driving skills to the test at next year’s Nationals, QA1 and the Street Machine Nationals will be waiting. Of course, there are tons of autocross events all over the country now that the enthusiast-driven motorsport has gained mainstream popularity. So, maybe brush up on those skills beforehand, because there were some serious cars and drivers out there! Then again, it’s all for fun, so just g0DRIVEit!
While many of the cars out on the autocross track would be right at home in the digital pages of Street Muscle Magazine, most of the drivers were too busy dodging cones to speak with me. Thus, none of their awesome cars wound up being my pick for the Editor’s Choice Award. Back to my little green golf cart I went…
But just as I was cruising away from the QA1 autocross track, I passed by a massive grandstand packed with ravenous car-crazed maniacs! They were cheering so loud I was having trouble making out what the announcer, my good friend Kevin Oeste, was saying.
Little did I know, he was announcing one of the show’s biggest attractions – the burnout competition! With a huge turnout of people in the stands, a group of various cars and trucks lined up, ready to take center stage and punish some radials.
I’ll be honest, I’ve done my fair share of late-night parking lot burnies and even more at the dragstrip, but I’m by no means a burnout expert…Still, I can say with confidence, some of the contestants delivered an epic performance and some were, well, let’s just say they were lackluster.
The standouts were a few Chevy pickups of varying ages. One was a Squarebody K10/C20? The other, a single-cab OBS. Both delivered a stellar performance.
The way the competition was judged was based on the decibel rating from the cheers of the crowd. So, it only made sense that the biggest clouds of smoke were placed high on the podium.
As the weekend drew to a close, I was under the gun to decide upon a car and was starting to feel the pressure. By Sunday, I had seen every car in the show-n-shine competition, at the Autocross, and in the burnout competition. There were a few that really caught my eye, and I had snapped thousands of photos, but there was one that kept calling me back…A wicked pro-street second-gen Camaro Z/28. I’ve always had a soft spot for full-bumper second-gens, and this one checked all the boxes for a Camaro to stand out from the crowd.
As soon as I had a chance to speak with the owner Scott Mahowald, I knew I’d found the right car. Without giving too much away about the forthcoming feature article – Scott explained how the car was there representing not only himself but his late father, Monte Mahowald. He and his father spent countless hours working on the car together before his passing, and it had seen many iterations before the final form I saw it in.
The factory Lime Green paint and big gleaming blower sitting atop the 496 cubic-inch monster definitely caught my eye, but it was the story of a son’s love that helped lock in my choice. He even had a little piece of his father riding shotgun with him hanging from the rearview. My choice was made!
Now, I don’t want to come off as presumptuous, but I think when Scott came up on stage to accept the award from myself and my friend Kevin Oeste, he got a little choked up, and so did I. It was right then I knew I’d made the right decision. Keep an eye out for the full feature coming soon.
In St.Paul, cheese curds and unfiltered exhaust fumes go together like strawberries and champagne. That is to say, they’re treated with the highest level of reverence from the adoring masses of muscle car lovers – myself being one of them. The weekend of the Street Machine Nationals was one to remember. Attendees were treated to the sights and sounds of thousands of muscle cars and trucks from the big three.
The show had something for everyone. The offerings included cars that spanned decades – from ’50s,’60s,’70s, ’80s, and ’90s all the way up to the latest in direct-injected muscle, and I couldn’t get enough!
I ate plenty of food that isn’t good for me, drank enough water to fill a swimming pool, covered dozens of miles of the fairground, took thousands of photos, and met a bunch of like-minded car people – I even sourced a few great features for the magazine. All-in-all, it was a fantastic success. If you were fortunate enough to be there, scan through the gallery of cars below – maybe yours is in there! Of course, let us know in the comment section at the bottom of this article, and keep an eye out for everything muscle in Street Muscle Mag.