November in the Midwest means that, for the most part, car show season is over. Classic cars are put into storage as snow and salt get ready to take to the roads (if they aren’t there already).
An exception to that rule is the Muscle Car & Corvette Nations aka the MCACN. The show is held annually in November at the Donald E. Stevens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.
Hundreds of some of the nicest Corvettes and muscle cars in the country converge in the convention center. I’ve been to several, and the 2021 show did not disappoint. This year it was held on November 20th and 21st.
The Muscle Car & Corvette Nationals is full of vendors, automotive celebrities, seminars, and lots and lots of cars.
Outside of the show, there’s a range of unique cars on display. Before even stepping foot inside, I was greeted by a 1966 Ford GT40.
You’ll find almost 400,000 square feet of some of the coolest cars to ever roll out of Detroit packed tight together. The organizers really do a great job of making sure each show is different.
The classes are divided by make, model, as well as modifications. The quality of the cars is evident when you see ones surrounded by mirrors on the ground.
It’s hard to overstate just how many cars are on display at MCACN. It seems like everywhere you turn, there’s a sign with an arrow telling you there are more cars this way.
It’s one of the few places I’ve found where you can become sort of numb to all the cars; wherever you look, there’s another showstopper.
This year, GM cars, 1970, and 1971 cars were some of the vehicles highlighted.
Mecum Auction Cars
Once again, the Mecum Auction company brought some rare and iconic cars to the show. Their display included a prototype Ford GT40, several road racing Corvettes, a Shelby Cobra drag car, and a rare “tanker” Corvette, to name a few.
The Barn Finds
Barn finds have a special place in automotive lore. Countless car fans have dreamt about opening a creaky barn door or a desolate shed only to find some ultra-rare piece of automotive history. MCACN has an entire section dedicated to them.
The barn find display has a variety of cars in various conditions (some still covered in dust). The barn finds definitely attracted a crowd.
Besides the cars, there’s also vintage snowmobiles (it is the Midwest after all!), vintage bicycles, some awesome old school minibikes, and classic dirt bikes to top it all off.
The year 2021 marks the 36th Trans Am Nationals. It’s a three-day celebration for all Pontiac Firebirds hosted by the Dayton Chapter of the Trans Am Club of America. This year it was held from August 27th through the 29th.
It takes place at the Dayton Holiday Inn in Fairborn, Ohio, which is on the eastern side of the city of Dayton. I’ve been coming to the Nationals for years now, and I always have a great time. It’s fun to see what new cars show up.
On Thursday and Friday, a movie theater on the southeast side of Dayton had screenings of Smokey and the Bandit (naturally).
The Car Show
Firebirds, Formulas, and Trans Ams fill the parking lot around the Holiday Inn. The 35 years of the Pontiac Firebird are well represented. The rumble of cars and music from the DJ fills the air. You’ll find everything from showroom stock to custom Firebirds.
The classes are divided up by years, as well as the level of modification. A car is considered “modified,” “heavily modified,” or “custom,” based on the number of modifications it has. There are several Concours classes and a driver/work-in-progress class as well.
The categories the cars are judged on include the interior, exterior, engine compartment, as well as the overall appearance. On Sunday, the winners of the show are announced and presented with their trophies.
This year the show had 494 Firebirds registered, up from the 485 at the last show in 2019. This year, the Nationals also raised over $10,000 for the A Special Wish Foundation. This charity helps grant the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses. The Nationals have supported the A Special Wish Foundation for years now. You can learn more about the charity on their website.
On Saturday, there were several seminars. There was a presentation by people involved with the engineering and design of the Firebird, Trans Am, and Camaro. They told some great stories about working at GM in the 60s and 70s under icons like John DeLorean.
They discussed the evolution of the iconic “Screaming Chicken” design evolved from the logo used on 50’s GM experimental cars to possibly the world’s most famous hood decal. A radical design element at the time, the hood decal faced pushback from factory higher-ups. There were concerns over the perceived difficulty of installing them in large quantities.
The aluminum Snowflake Wheel’s creation was also covered, including the design process, and the pitch meeting that set it into production.
The Mini Nats
Like the full-size show, there’s always something new at the Mini Nats too. The Mini Nats is a room in the hotel filled with model Firebirds and Trans Ams in a variety of scales.
There’s everything from plastic model kits to die cast replicas. Tables are covered with Firebird, Formula, and Tran Am models, some decades old and others still in the box. In addition, an incredible scale model of the host Holiday Inn was on display, complete with model Firebirds surrounding it.
Tipp City Cruise In
Located just outside of Dayton, the Tipp City Cruise In draws hundreds of Firebirds. It’s been a part of the Trans Am Nationals for years. Saturday afternoon, hundreds of Firebirds make the drive from the Holiday Inn to Tipp City, a city with just under 10,000 residents. The entire downtown area is shut down for the cars.
Firebirds fill the main street and parts of side streets. Restaurants around town are filled to the brim, and a band performed on one end of town. The downtown is made up old brick buildings that are great for photo-ops, especially when surrounded by cars.
For more information on the Trans Am Nationals, you can check out the official website at tanationals.org. You can visit the website for the Trans Am Club of America, Dayton Chapter, the club responsible for putting on the Nationals at tacadcinc.com.
The Madison Regatta, an annual boat race held on the Ohio River in the small river city of Madison, Indiana, had its 67th running in July 2021. It has been run almost every year since 1951, with boat racing in Madison going back decades before that.
The city of Madison has a unique connection with boat racing outside of hosting races; since 1961, the city has owned a race boat. Miss Madison, as the boats are known, has won the Regatta several times over the years. Madison currently has two race boats.
The Regatta is a three-day boat race complete with a music festival. I had a chance to attend both this year. The Roostertail Music Festival is held at a park just outside of downtown Madison at an outdoor concert venue. For the Regatta, the road along the river becomes a spectator area complete with vendors and a concert stage.
People wear shirts that say, “You Gotta Regatta,” and a couple was even married there (it was broadcast over the PA System).
The 2021 Madison Regatta featured two boat racing organizations: Grand Prix America and H1 Unlimited (which Miss Madison competes in). Grand Prix America boats run blown 468-cubic inch Big Block Chevys with around 1,600 horsepower. Most H1 Unlimited boats are powered by Viet Nam War-era turbine helicopter motors with around an astonishing 2,600 horsepower. That’s the kind of horsepower you’d expect to find at a dragstrip.
Both classes of boats have enclosed cockpits. When the Grand Prix America boats are on the water, it sounds like a dragstrip. When the H1 Unlimited Boats are on the water, it sounds like an airport.
Both H1 Unlimited and Grand Prix America boats race in a counter-clockwise oval course on the river. The Grand Prix America Boats run a shorter course, while the course for the H1 Unlimited Boats extends under a nearby bridge that connects Indiana to Kentucky. The course is marked by different color buoys that signify the boundaries of corners and straights.
The event takes place over three days, with qualifying and several races. This year, the drivers and officials had to contend with higher-than-normal water levels. Heavy rain northeast of Madison (where the Ohio River flows from) caused the river to rise.
Before each race, the boats are lowered into the water by crane and placed at the wet pit (set up just for the event.) Then, they’re held to the dock by crew members until it is time to talk off.
When you’re on the water, a standing start isn’t easy. The H1 Unlimited and Grand Prix America boats utilize a unique “rolling” start.
Before the race gets underway, a timer counts down from 5 minutes. Then, the boats do laps around the course until the timer hits zero. After that, the person who crosses the start/finish line first starts the race. Watching the boats go into the first turn together was a rush.
With the “rolling” start, the competitor closest to the start/finish line with the most speed built up has the best start. Timing is everything. In one instance, a competitor misjudged the timer and got too close to the starting line only to have to slow down (and got overtaken.) This kind of start means the competitors can get spread out before the race begins.
Each heat consists of several laps and lasts for a few minutes. In between rounds, a safety boat made passes on the water, looking for logs and other stuff floating down the river that could get in the way of boats.
Between the other competitors, limited visibility from rooster tails, and the wake of other machines, racers have their hands full. Debris proved to be a real threat as one boat had its hull pieced by something floating down the river.
The Final Heat
In the H1 class’s 5-lap final heat, the field of 5 boats saw 3, including Miss HomeStreet “Miss Madison,” neck and neck at the start. At the end of the first turn Miss HomeStreet on the inside and in the lead. The second time into the first turn, only one boat was keeping up with her.
Jimmy Shane held his own, despite a persistent competitor behind him. Lap after lap, he held onto the lead. In the end, it was Jimmy Shane and Miss HomeStreet, a.k.a. Miss Madison, the hometown favorite.
The final H1 Heat
More information and Wrapping Up
The Madison Regatta was a motorsports event unlike any I’ve ever attended. For more information on the Regatta you can visit their official website. You can visit Grand Prix America’s office Facebook page. For more information on the H1 Hydro Series head over to their website. Have you been to the Regatta or know of an event I should go to next? Let me know in the comments!
I recently made the trek across Illinois into Iowa to visit the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum. Located next to the World’s Largest Truck Stop in Walcott, Iowa, and just northwest of the city of Moline, the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum features over 70 pickup trucks, semi-trucks, and even a few trailers. When I was there, I made sure to stop into the iconic slice of Americana known as the “World’s Largest Truck Stop” to grab something to eat.
The World’s Largest Truck Stop
Not every museum has the convenience of having the World’s Largest Truck Stop next to it. Established in 1964, The World’s Largest Truck Stop, also known as the Iowa 80 Truck Stop, tends to evoke the feeling of being at an airport or a mall more than it does a truck stop. The inside of the truck stop seemed larger to me than the exterior. There is a row of fast-food restaurants and plenty of space to eat. They have a semi-truck chrome shop and truck wash. It also hosts an annual truck show known as the Walcott Truckers Jamboree.
Inside the warehouse-sized building is a collection of trucks, many from the first half of the 20th century. Looking down the long hall of the museum, the sheer number of trucks is hard to fathom. They have a replica of a 20s and 30s era Texaco gas station. Many of the early trucks had solid rubber tires, and fittingly, there is even a vintage solid rubble tire press on display.
The trucks on display are primarily American trucks from the early 20th century to the 1960s, although there are exceptions. Most of the trucks have been painstakingly restored to look as they did when they were new. The trucks range from everyday models to unique prototypes, a show truck, and even a movie-used truck: a police truck made for the 1978 Sylvester Stallone movie F.I.S.T. There are even a few early electric trucks and a Mercedes-Benz Unimog. With so many early semi-trucks on display, is possible to trace their evolution from the earliest days of open cabs to the introduction of the diesel motor use in trucks decades later.
One of the first trucks you see when you walk into the Museum is the 1903 Elridge. As of writing, it is 118 years old. As a reference, the Elridge truck predates the first Ford Model T by five years. Like many vehicles of the era, it features heavy use of wood in its construction, a steering wheel that is parallel to the ground, wagon-style wheels, an opposing twin-cylinder motor located under the vehicle, and chain drive. Interestingly, the driver sits on the right side of the truck.
The second oldest truck in the museum, the 1910 Avery stands out even among all the classics. The wooden wheels feature a unique “tread” design, with replaceable wooden plugs making up the tread pattern. With paved roads often scarce in the early 20th century, especially in rural areas, these unique wheels undoubtedly proved useful. Like the 1903 Eldrige a few years before, the Avery features right hand drive, chain drive, and a parallel-with-the-ground steering wheel. The Museum notes it has a 40-horsepower engine, which might not seem like a lot until you consider a 1910 Ford Model T only had 22 horsepower.
Hank’s Highway Hilton
If a semi-truck can be a celebrity, “Highway” Hank Good’s 1981 Kenworth K100 aka Highway Hilton No. 1 would fit the bill. A heavily modified 1981 Kenworth K100 cabover, the Kenworth has been a work truck, an award-winning show truck, and the means by which Hank Good toured Europe. The Highway Hilton features hand-lettering as well as an eye-catching paint job, and many horns and lights. Not to mention the massive sleeper.
After checking out the museum and truck stop, I was off to my next destination: The National Motorcycle Museum, just over all hour away in Anamosa, Iowa. You can check out The I 80 Trucking Museum’s website here: iowa80truckingmuseum.com and The World’s Largest Truck Stop’s website here: iowa80truckstop.com. If you have been to either one, or know a place I should go to next, let me know in the comments!
Madison, Indiana, is a small town. Resting on the edge of the Ohio River, where Indiana meets Kentucky with just over 11,000 inhabitants, it fits in with many other small towns across the nation. Located in the Ohio River Valley, it is both every small town in America and like no other place. A paradox town. It has a sizable downtown area, with shops and restaurants all within walking distance. It stands between Louisville and Cincinnati. Madison is surrounded by rolling, forest-covered hills and farm fields.
Madison Municipal Airport
Just northwest of the city is the Madison Municipal Airport. Madison Municipal Airport has a single runway and a nice building to wait for your flight. It is home to several businesses, including flight schools, airplane restoration services, and aircraft repair services, among other businesses. At Madison Municipal Airport, Cliff Robinson runs Robinson Aerobatics, where he teaches aerobatics and gives rides in his 1941 Boeing Stearman biplane.
When Boeing Made Biplanes
Cliff’s Boeing Stearman, a military training aircraft that was the steppingstone before pilots moved on to fighters, has been restored and modified. The engine puts out 500 horsepower, roughly double what it originally had. After stepping up the wing, I grabbed the handles on the top wing and lowered myself into the cockpit. Amazingly, all 6’2 of me fit perfectly into the front passenger cockpit. I had wondered about how much space the cockpit would have. People tended to be shorter in 1941, and this plane’s purpose was to train pilots, not fly them across the country in luxury. After getting strapped in and putting on a headset, we were almost ready to go. On the ground, the Boeing Stearman points upward due to its “taildragger” style landing gear layout, meaning that, unlike many contemporary aircraft, it has two wheels in the front and one in the back.
The Ohio River Valley from 2,100 Feet
After taxiing and a pre-flight check, we took flight. The Boeing Stearman did not need a lot of runway to take off, and it climbed effortlessly. Soon, we were 2,100 feet up, and farm fields and woods appeared as a colorful patchwork quilt on the ground. Despite the 500 horsepower, the noise from the front seat was not excessively loud. Cliff remarked that we could see for 50 miles. I could feel the grin on my face. We crossed the Ohio River that separates Indiana and Kentucky. I saw it extend into the horizon as it weaved its way out of sight. We passed by downtown Madison, nestled between the Ohio River and the hill that leads down to it. It appeared as rows and rows of neat brick buildings. After turning back into Indiana, it was my time to take the controls.
I had never flown a plane before, but if I was going to do it for the first time, it might as well be in an 80-year-old, 500 horsepower aerobatic biplane. I took the control stick in my right hand and did my best to keep the plane smooth as I looked towards the horizon and the Stearman made its way through the air. After heading straight for a while, Cliff told me over the radio to make a left. I let the wings drop to the left and looked into the turn. After bringing the plane back to level flight and continuing to fly a bit, it was time to hand the controls back to Cliff. We then made our way back to the airport. After landing and taxiing to a stop, I headed back through the building. The Boeing Stearman undoubtedly made an impression upon landing. A man sitting in the building with a smile on his face who seemed as excited as I was asked how it was. “It was great!”
One of the biggest surprises of 2020 in the automotive world was the announcement of the fully electric GMC Hummer EV. The brand, whose original production ended in 2010, was famous for its massive size and off-road ability. Its discontinuation was a product of rising gas prices. It was one of several GM brands, alongside icons like Pontiac and Oldsmobile to be discontinued in that time, when GM was in significant financial trouble.
The Original Hummer
Few vehicles say “heavy-duty off-road performance” like the legendary military-derived Hummer H1. One of several iconic civilian vehicles with military origins, the Hummer H1 was first produced in 1992. The popularity of the H1 helped launch the Hummer brand, with the H2 and H3 models following. With each model, the Hummer got smaller and more economical, with the H2 and H3 ditching the flat, angular military design and exterior hinged doors with smoother lines, giving them a more “civilian look”. The last H2 and H3 rolled off the line in 2009 and 2010, respectively, leaving the brand dormant for a decade.
The Hummer EV
The fully electric Hummer EV differs significantly from its predecessors, although it shares traits with the previous Hummers. This time, the Hummer EV will be sold under the GMC brand. The dimensions of the Hummer EV are comparable to the H1, coming in at 216.8 inches long, 81.1 inches high, and 86.7 inches wide (without mirrors) to the H1’s 187 inches long, 77-79 inches high and 87 inches wide. As a reference, a 2021 four door Jeep Wrangler is 188.4 inches long, 73.6 inches high, and 73.8 inches wide.
The style for the EV is similar to the more modern, civilian style of the H2 and H3. One of the biggest surprises of the Hummer EV, aside from its electric power, is the multitude of radical features it has, many of which are geared to help it perform off-road. One of the most talked about features is undoubtedly the optional “crab walk.” Essentially, what it does is move the vehicle diagonally; all four wheels turn in a single direction, while the Hummer EV faces forward. It also has an under-body camera, giving the driver a unique view of the road or trail. Given the electric power of the Hummer, it has a decent-sized storage area under the hood. On the inside, it features a wide-screen infotainment center, with a fully digital gauge cluster, as well as a pitch and roll gauge.
Like the new Ford Bronco, the Hummer EV has a first edition version, known as “Edition 1”, which has already filled up its reservations. It has a release date of Fall 2021. GM estimates that it will do zero to 60 in 3.0 seconds, putting it well into supercar territory. As a comparison, the Tesla Model X SUV does zero to 60 in 2.6 seconds. The three other models are slated to be released from highest to lowest spec-level, with the top-of-the-line Hummer slated to arrive in Fall 2022. The different models will come with either two or three electric motors.
The new Hummer looks to be a unique blend of brute strength and modern technology. By using the Hummer name, GM is likely targeting off-road enthusiasts who have not considered an electric vehicle. The use of an iconic name for a new electric vehicle was also utilized by Ford with their Mustang SUV. With GM’s recent commitment to only selling electric vehicles by 2035, it will be interesting to see if other iconic models are revived as electric vehicles as Hummer was. You can check out the Hummer EV on GMC’s website here: https://www.gmc.com/electric-truck/hummer-ev.
Few names are as synonymous with hot rodding culture as Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. For decades he built some of the most innovative and unique custom cars the hot rodding world had seen. However, he is probably best known for his creation of Ratfink, a cartoon rat. With Ratfink’s trademark bulging eyes, the cartoon rat adorned countless t-shirts, posters, and comic books, often sticking out of a cartoon hotrod, with his hand on the shifter. Recently, I had the chance to visit an Ed Roth exhibit (now closed) at the National Corvette Museum entitled “Car-toon Creatures, Kustom Kars and Corvettes: The Art and Influence of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth.” Many of his legendary cars were on display, as well as plenty of memorabilia and some of his Equipment.
“Kustom” Cars, Ratfink and More.
Ed Roth went far beyond just making wild cars. Besides his famous Rat Fink character, Roth created countless t-shirts with his iconic monster characters. To the general public, one of his best-known endeavors creating “monster t-shirts”, although he was also a pinstriping pioneer. The art of pinstriping developed rapidly in the 50s and 60s, and Roth was one of the artists at the forefront. He even went on to create two books on the subject. He helped shape the look of hot rod culture and even the sound. In the 1960s, Roth put out three surf rock albums under the name Mr. Gasser and the Weirdos.
Wild Show Cars.
In a span of about 40 years, Roth created some of the most innovative and imaginative custom cars in the show car scene. These creations ranged from the more traditional Tweedie Pie to the bubble top, hand-controlled Beatnik Bandit, both of which were on display at the Museum. Roth also went beyond the conventional power plant of the hot rodder: the V-8. He used everything from V-8s, air-cooled VW motors, Corvair motors, and Triumph motorcycle motors. He was a big fan of putting the engine behind the driver, saying in an interview that that was the best spot for it. Many of his cars had Sci-Fi influences. He made more than traditional hotrods, with wild creations like his MINI based Surfite surfboard hauler and the twin-Triumph motorcycle motor-powered hovercraft dubbed the Rotar. I had the opportunity to see the following Roth cars at the National Corvette Museum.
The Beatnik Bandit
Arguably Roth’s most famous car: The Beatnik Bandit, carries his trademark space-age bubble-top roof. Interestingly, it is controlled entirely by a central joystick type lever located in the middle of the interior. The joystick even controls braking and acceleration. There was even a “sequel” to the car Roth made in the form of the 1995 Beatnik Bandit II.
Another one of Roth’s cars with space-age influence the Orbitron, like the Beatnik Bandit sports a bubble top. It even comes equipped with a color TV. The driver sits far back, over the rear axle. One of its most unique features is its asymmetrical front end. The Orbitron has a story as wild as it. Lost for many years, it was discovered in rough shape outside of a store just over the Mexican border. It received a full restoration (and a new TV!)
One of his wildest cars, unfortunately, the original was scrapped after the customized frame broke. The wild twin-engine/transmission car was recreated in painstaking detail. Like the Orbitron it also features an asymmetrical front end. It comes with a single seat.
A more traditional custom car (at least by Roth standards!) Tweedie Pie is done in the t-bucket style. According to Ed Roth’s website, Tweedie Pie was purchased by Roth already customized and modified from there.
One of Roth’s many VW-powered machines, the low-slung diminutive Wishbone features skinny front tires, not unlike those found on early dragsters. Roth had intended for the Wishbone to be used as a design for the Revell car model company, but it was rejected due to its shape. Its restoration by Galpin Motors was documented on an episode of the Discovery TV show “Driven,” the post-restoration car debuted at the Exhibit.
The outlaw is a unique combination of a traditional t-bucket, which was very popular in the 60s, and Roth’s boundless imagination. The result is a car that is more reserved than many of his creations and yet uniquely Roth. Amazingly, according to Roth’s website, it once utilized an actual Revolutionary war sword for its gear shifter.
The National Corvette Museum Exhibit
The National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, has an ongoing Ed Roth Exhibit entitled “The National Corvette Museum Exhibit: The Art and Influence of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth,” until April 2021. The wild bubble tops and blowers of the cars at the Ed Roth exhibit might seem out of place at first glance in a museum filled with sleek production Corvettes, however there is a unique connection Ed Roth. He was a tremendous influence on former Corvette designer Tom Peters. I recently had a chance to visit the Museum and see the Ed Roth Exhibit. Not only did the Museum feature many of his icon hot rods, but his trademark tuxedo, his t-shirt press machine, and countless Roth merchandise. The display shelves are packed with diecast cars, models, and Ratfink figures. There is even a roughly life-size Ed Roth statue, naturally made of fiberglass, his preferred material to create cars with. The Museum also hosted an Ed Roth Ratfink Reunion. Besides Ed Roth’s custom cars, several show cars were inspired in part by Roth. The Museum also played host to an Ed Roth Reunion event. The exhibit will run through April 2021.
The Ed Roth Legacy.
Some twenty years after Roth’s death, people still wear “Monster” T-shirts and have Ratfink posters in their garages. His cars still make appearances at events across the country. Every year fans embark on a hotrod pilgrimage to Manti, Utah, where the annual Ed Roth Ratfink Reunion is held. Actor John Goodman even portrayed him by voice in the 2006 documentary “Tales of the Ratfink.” If you missed my blog about the National Corvette Museum, you can read it here. You can also check out the official Ed Roth website at Ratfink.com. For information on the exhibit you can check out the page on the Corvette Museums website here.
February 12, 2014: Imagine, for a second, that you work as a security guard for the National Corvette Museum. It’s hours before opening, so nothing is going on. Suddenly, a motion sensor goes off. Someone trying to steal a ‘Vette? You head to the Skydome section of the Museum, expecting to confront would-be thieves; instead, you see that cars are missing, wait, there’s more. You see a massive hole where a floor used to be. Earthquake? No, not in Kentucky. A sinkhole! This might sound like the start of a Corvette-themed-horror film, but on that day in February, it was a reality.
Located in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the National Corvette Museum is just across the street from the GM Bowling Green Assembly Plant, where Corvettes are made. Bowling Green is in the southern end of Kentucky, north of Nashville. Arriving at the Museum, we were greeted by a guide in a Corvette-styled golf cart who directed us where to park. Passing the “Corvette Only” parking spaces, we headed inside. The large entry hall is where Corvette buyers who opt to pick up their Corvettes at the Museum take delivery of their cars. After getting our tickets, we saw a cross-section 1953 Corvette and some early examples of sports cars, including a beautiful MG. The MG had served as an inspiration for the creation of the Corvette. Next, there was a short film tracing the history of the Corvette from its creation to the present day. The room it is in is indistinguishable from a movie theater, complete with licensed music, showing just how much went into making this a world-class museum.
The following section, called the “Nostalgia Area” of the Museum, traces the Corvette from its earliest days in the 50s into the late 60s. Not only are there some beautiful Corvettes on display (including a 1955 Thunderbird to give an example of some early competition), but it was set up like a 1950’s town, complete with a gas station with vintage gas pumps and garage. There are even a 1960s dealership showroom and a 1970s assembly line.
The next area is dedicated to Corvette’s extensive, decades-spanning racing career, from the earliest days to recent ones. There are two race cars from 1957, including the iconic 1957 Corvette SS race car. It looks like a concept car, but it competed in the 12 Hours of Sebring. There are some more recent race cars as well, such as the multiple race-winning 2015 Corvette C7.R (in as raced condition!). The section also has one of the wildest prototypes Chevy has come up with. A 1959 mid-V8 engine open-wheel car build to Indy-car Spec. It serves as proof that GM was experimenting with mid-engine design long before it becomes commonplace, even in race cars.
The mid-engine prototype works as a great segue into the next room: The mid-engine Corvette room. Starting in the 1960s, Chevy made many different mid-engine Corvettes. Interestingly, they looked more like production cars than an extreme, attention-grabbing show car made to generate buzz at an auto show. There was a pair of 1960’s era ones, who’s design reflected the aggressive late 60s-70s’ Vettes. An interesting piece of GM history intertwined with the Corvette in the form of a mid-engine Rotary powered Corvette is on display from 1973. GM had considered utilizing the Rotary-motor in their cars around this period. The section ends with the modern mid-engine Corvette. I love how the exhibit shows the mid-engine Corvette was a long-held dream.
Corvette Cave In! The Skydome Sinkhole Experience.
The next section of the Museum, right before you get to the Skydome, the Cave-in’s fabled site, is a section that explains the cave-in that caused multiple rare and historically significant Corvettes to fall into the cave below. The exhibit tells of the geology of Kentucky and its cave systems. In fact, The Corvette Museum is not far from Mammoth Cave, the longest known cave system in the world. Like everything else in the Museum, this exhibit is incredibly well done and looks like it was taken from a natural history museum. It also deals with the world-wide media storm that followed. Something the Corvette Museum was quick to capitalize on what happened. Turning a disaster into a triumph, as webcams were set up to document the construction crew’s recovery of the cars. At the end of the section is the chance to experience what the cave in looked and sounded like from underground. Complete with falling Corvettes.
The Post Cave In Skydome.
Walking out of the darkness of the cave in experience and into the light of the Skydome, it is hard to believe anything happened here. The only clues to suggest that anything happened, are the occasional dusty, smashed-up car, the lines in the floor indicating where the cave in happened, as well as the boundaries of the cave, and the window in the manhole cover that lets you look down into the cave itself. Beyond the remnants of the cave-in, there is plenty to see in the Skydome. There are, of course, the cars that fell into the cave. These included aftermarket-modified, classic, and significant Corvettes like the 1.5 millionth Corvette made. These had received varying degrees of damage, based on how they fell. When recovered, one ‘Vette was able to start shortly after it was brought up. One especially interesting Corvette on display in the Skydome was the only Corvette ever owned by Zora Arkus-Duntov, known as the “Godfather of the Corvette.” There is also a V-12 boat motor-powered Corvette concept car. The V-12 powered Corvette was created in response to Dodge unveiling their V-10 powered Viper. The inside of the Skydome features pictures of people who have had a significant impact on the Corvette in some way.
Car-toon Creatures, Kustom Kars and Corvettes: The Art and Influence of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth.
After the Skydome was the special, limited-time (now closed) Ed “Big Daddy” Roth exhibit, Roth was the legendary custom car builder behind some of the wildest custom cars in the 1960s and artist behind the iconic “Ratfink” character. It featured many of his legendary custom cars, as well as vehicles inspired by him. Hidden throughout the Museum in various exhibits are small “Rat Fink” figures. Why here at the National Corvette Museum of all places, you are probably asking yourself. It turns out Ed Roth was a massive inspiration for former Director of Exterior Design for the Corvette Tom Peters.
One thing about leaving the Corvette is that when you go, you will be wanting a Corvette. If you have one, you’ll probably be wanting another one. Being in production for over 60 years, you will have plenty of types to choose. It is nothing short of incredible how the National Corvette Museum could take the cave-in and the international attention generated by the cave-in and keep the public invested in the recovery of the cars. You can learn more about the National Corvette Museum on their official website here: https://www.corvettemuseum.org/. In an upcoming blog post, I’ll delve into the details of Ed Roth’s many cars, as well as the Ed Roth Exhibit. Have you been to the Corvette Museum or know of a car museum I should visit? Let me know in the comments!
It is hard to understate the impact the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its signature race: The Indianapolis 500, has had on Indiana. It has ingrained itself into Indiana culture as no other event has. For over 100 years, it has held a wide range of events, from hot air balloon races to the iconic Indianapolis […]
It is hard to understate the impact the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its signature race: The Indianapolis 500, has had on Indiana. It has ingrained itself into Indiana culture as no other event has. For over 100 years, it has held a wide range of events, from hot air balloon races to the iconic Indianapolis 500 itself.
For the first time in about 20 years, I returned to the track to take a tour of it and visit the onsite Museum. Getting to the Museum involves driving underneath the track, in a surprisingly sizeable multi-lane tunnel. Arriving in the infield, you are presented with a large infield, beyond it is the imposing Museum. I headed inside and for $22 I had a ticket to the Museum and a ride on a trailer around the track (complete with a stop at the start/finish line.) The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is famous for its early days of being paved in bricks, now only a strip at the start/finish line remains.
Located just outside of downtown Indianapolis, the track was founded in 1909 on farmland; in fact, one of the farm’s original barns remains at the track today. Today, it is surrounded by suburbs. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway contains an oval, a road course that uses parts of the oval, and even a dirt track in the infield.
There are two ways to take a tour around the track: A bus ride, or the open-air “Kiss The Bricks” tour that takes you around the track on an open-air trailer and makes a stop at the iconic brick-covered start/finish line. Literally kissing the bricks is a tradition for victorious race teams since the 1990s. The tour gets you close to some of the “landmarks” of the Indianapolis Speedway. When the tour made its stop at the start/finish line, I was able to get a great look at the newly-installed elevator platform that raises up the winner’s car, the Pagoda, a tall, distinct building that houses race officials as well as broadcasters, and a glimpse into the garage area.
It is hard to appreciate the size of the track just by seeing it on tv. It is longer than many major oval tracks coming in at 2.5 miles. Standing at the start-finish line and looking towards the previous turn makes it appear to almost disappear into the horizon. To put into perspective just how big the track is, there are several holes of a golf course within the infield of the course compete with water hazards and the branching routes that make up the road course. The shape of the oval stands out as much as its length, with four straights, as opposed to the typical two. There is also very little banking in the corners, especially compared with similar NASCAR tracks like Talladega and Daytona.
As we went around the track; I was blown away by just how big the grandstands are. As you round the final corner to the start/finish line, you become aware of just how many people this track can hold as large grandstands rise on both sides to tower over you. The tour naturally has a stop at the start/finish line, still paved with bricks. Interestingly, the bricks aren’t flush with the track and would undoubtedly be noticeable to racers.
After going around the track, we headed into the Museum through a side door. We were greeted by a cross-sectioned example of the latest Indy car, showcasing the many technologically advanced features of a modern Indy Car. There is also a row of tires, from the earliest tall and skinny tires that looked like they belong on a horse-drawn buggy, to modern wet and dry weather tires. Beyond that was a row of Indy cars and a classic hot rod. The next section was a room with smaller items, including a letter from Enzo Ferrari (in Italian naturally.)
Moving on into the main room, on display were many cars from the Museum’s “vault.” These include both race and non-race vehicles, and some of them had close ties to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Notable cars on display were a Ferrari 250 LM, an early exam of a mid-engine Ferrari, and a Ford GT40. Another iconic race car on display was the 50s era Mercedes-Benz W196. Unique to the W196 is that it is essentially an F1 car with a full body on it, right down to the driver sitting in the middle of it. The body had been added to make it eligible (in its day) for sports car racing, while still maintaining the advantages of an F1 car. The “vault” also included two vehicles owned by Indy 500 super fan Larry Bisceglia. Mr. Bisceglia, who had attended Indy 500 races for decades, was famous for being first in line when the gates opened at the track for the race, even if it meant camping in his vehicle. He was well known enough at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that he was given a key for the track, good for any time, and was even presented with a new Ford Van to replace his old, even for the time, DeSoto on the starting line. Both of those vehicles are on display. There are also some non-racing related vehicles there, such as the 1932 Mercedes-Benz owned by Faisal 1: the former King of Iraq.
The Museum’s main section dedicated to Indy cars spans from the first car to ever win the Indianapolis 500 to some of the most recent. The winning car of the first-ever Indy 500, held in 1911, was one of two cars on display that are part of the National Historic Vehicle Register. The first car to win the 500, a 1911 Marmon Wasp was innovative in that it is believed to the first race car with a rear view mirror. The rear view was actually a concession in the name of safety as the car was entered as a single-seater, with no riding mechanic. In the early days of Indy Car, a mechanic was normally required to ride with the driver. One of the riding mechanic’s jobs was to be an extra pair of eyes for the driver. The other car from the National Historic Vehicle Register is a 1938 Maserati 8CTF.
Since the Museum features over 100 years of Indy cars, it is easy to trace their evolution, from a high center gravity and tall tires to today’s low and sleek cars. The main entrance features a large trophy with the faces of Indy 500 winners on the side.
One of the unique things about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is that you can experience the reason for the Museum onsite. There are multiple races throughout the year, but even if there is no race going on, if you are a motorsports fan, there is bound to be something you’ll enjoy. After visiting the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it was down to Kentucky’s green hills to the National Corvette Museum, which is the subject of my next blog. You can check out the Speedway’s official website here: indianapolismotorspeedway.com. You can also visit the Museum’s website here: https://indyracingmuseum.org/.
The Indiana Dunes, formed by ancient glaciers, has long been a popular summer hangout spot for Northwest Indiana, Chicago, and beyond. Sitting on Lake Michigan’s southern tip, the State Park and nearby recently formed National Park covers miles of lakefront and land inland. Located in Northwest Indiana, the Indiana Dunes stands in stark contrast to the majority of Indiana. The sandy environment and the Dunes’ unique ecosystems differ significantly from the plains, prairies, and the rolling hills of Indiana. It has been a state park for almost a hundred years, and just a few years ago, it became a National Park. Conveniently, there is a train station just down the road from the entry point of the Park. The South Shore Train line runs from Chicago to South Bend. The South Shore stop in Chesterton: The Dune Park Station, is connected to the Park by a trail. It’s a bit of a walk, but it might be convenient for those arriving from Chicago or further east in Indiana. Although it is not far from cities, it still feels like you are removed enough from the rest of the world to relax. It is best known for its long beaches that stretch out into the horizon, and its tall sand dunes that rise behind the beach, although the Park goes way beyond the miles of beachfront.
I had a chance to go to The Indiana Dunes recently. I realized I had forgotten how fun it was to explore the beach and trails. There is a great visitor’s center just down the road from the beach. I stopped there on my way to the Park. It is a good idea to stop there to get a map for the many trails if you plan on hiking. Going down the road, heading to the main gate, you are surrounded on both sides by a thick sea of trees. I followed the road and roundabout to the main parking lot for the Park. It gives you access to the bathhouse, the beach, as well as some trails. On my trip, I was surprised to see how far some people came by their out of state license plates.
The beach is what most people think of when they think of The Dunes, and it sees the most visitors by far, with Porter Beach being its best known. The beach and Lake Michigan’s size can easily give the illusion of being at the ocean, as the sand stretches into the horizon and the water disappears out of view. When facing the water, you can see the hazy mirage of skyscrapers rising out of the water to your left. There are several beaches in the area open to visitors. Beyond the beaches are the massive sand dunes, which offer a great vantage point above the beach and into Lake Michigan. The great thing about the beach is how much space there is; it should be easy to find room even on the busy days just by walking down it.
The Dunes and Beyond
The rest of the Park is made up of steep sand dunes, wetlands, and forests. Trees cover much of the Park. It plays host to a diverse range of plant life. There are also a variety of interconnected trails that wind through the sand dunes. There is a sizeable shaded campground on the other side of the Dunes from the beach, making it perfect for RVers. The great thing about the trails is how accessible they are to both the beach and the campground. Much of the trails are sandy hills, giving a great workout, although there are easy-going ones as well. The great thing about how the trails are organized is that you can make a path shorter or longer, depending on which ones you follow. The trails range from just under a mile to over five miles, with varying levels of difficulty. The way the trails loop makes it possible to make your own trail. There are several “mountains” in the area, which are hills over 120 feet tall, including the famous Mount Baldy, known for moving slightly every year.
Another great spot to see wildlife, or just have a great view is the Dunes Birding Platform. It can be reached by following the roundabout near the Park entrance to the West Parking Lot. Depending on the season, many different species of birds can be seen; however, that is just one benefit of the Platform. It offers a great view of the beach and lake, and on the other side of the Platform has an excellent view of the rolling, grassy hills that dominate that area. There is also the Indiana Dunes Nature Center, just down the road from the beach, and still within the Park.
With so much to do, the Indiana Dunes does not have to be a strictly summer trip. Of course, the beach is fun, and the lake offers plenty of boating opportunities, but If you don’t mind the cold, there is stuff to do year-round. When I went, it was too cold to swim, but plenty of people had come to walk the beach, hike the trails, and bring their RVs to camp. If you have your own skis, there are cross-country skiing trails when the snow hits. It is fun to explore around the Park and see what is beyond that hill or down that trail; chances are there will be something for you. For the latest updates about openings, closings, and hours, please visit the official website here before you go: https://www.nps.gov/indu/index.htm.
Earlier this month, on June 16th, legendary custom car builder and hot rodder Gene Winfield turned 93. He has shown no sign of slowing down. His custom cars have appeared in countless movies and TV shows. The TV shows have ranged from the original Star Trek to the classic Batman TV series. He has designed […]