A customized convergence
About 1,500 owners and cars will show and schmooze at the Southeast Street Rod Nationals.
By MARTY CLEAR
Published October 14, 2005
Over the past week, hundreds of extremely cool cars have been hitting the nation's roads, setting out on cross country treks. They're been coming from all over - New York, California, Canada. They all have the same destination: Tampa.
Specifically, the Florida State Fairgrounds, which this weekend is the center of the street rod universe.
Today, Saturday and Sunday, the fairgrounds will host the 18th annual National Street Rod Association's Southeast Street Rod Nationals.
It's the biggest street rod event of the year in this part of the country. Organizers are expecting between 1,400 and 1,600 custom street rods to be on hand.
"We have 13 events nationwide every year," said event director Mike Chrispyn. "The biggest one is the nationals in Louisville, Ky., and we get about 12,000 cars at that one. Other than that, this should be one of our biggest events of the year."
The National Street Rod Association encourages its members to drive their rods to these events. Chrispyn left last week and drove down from his home in Goshen, Ind., in one of his two 1932 Fords. He knows eight couples who were to have a street rod caravan from Pasadena, Calif.
Local street rodders look forward to this event all year long. They get to show off their cars and reconnect with friends from around the country.
"It's kind of nice for me to see all these guys," said Dennis Parrish of Lutz. "My mother's been sick with cancer and so I haven't been making it out to as many of the events as I would like. So I'll get to see friends I haven't gotten a chance to talk to since last year. A lot of these people, especially the ones who are retired, they just travel the circuit, going from one event to another."
Parrish - who owns a '47 Chevrolet pickup, a '33 Ford coupe and a '32 Ford two-door sedan - is a member of Tampa Knights Rod and Custom, the largest local street rod club and the host club for this event.
There's no telling how many thousands of people will come to the event just as spectators. Maybe 10,000 to 15,000, but weather has a lot to do with that so it's hard to predict. But organizers have made sure there's plenty to do, even for family members who aren't so much into cars. There are games for the kids and arts and crafts for spouses who get dragged along. There's a swap meet for car buffs, and a DJ who travels around to NSRA events and plays oldies.
"He takes requests, and I've never once seen a time when somebody asked for something and he didn't have it," Chrispyn said.
Mostly, though, there are just tons and tons of street rods.
A street rod - for people who aren't into the car subculture - is any vehicle from 1948 or earlier that has been customized to suit its owner's tastes. There's no limit to the kinds of vehicles or the kinds of modifications. This weekend's show is likely to include Model Ts from the 1920s and motor homes from the 1940s. They might have powerful modern engines, huge sound systems and gorgeous custom interiors.
The only rule is that the bodies have to be from 1948 or before. They can even be fiberglass reproductions of the original bodies.
Why 1948? Chrispyn explains that 1949 was something of a watershed year for Detroit automobiles. Technology that had been on hold during the war years found its way into cars in 1949, and necessitated bodies that were welded together. Before then, fenders, windshields and other body parts were bolted on so modifications were easier.
The atmosphere of the event is friendly and informal, like the biggest cruise-in you've ever seen, Chrispyn said. Visitors can get up-close looks at the cars and talk to the owners about the work they've done.
"In most cases you're going to have to be the one who walks away," Chrispyn said. "There, guys love to talk about their cars and they'll talk to you all day if you let them."
There's a limited competitive aspect to the event, but it's not a car show in the traditional sense. Selected street rod experts will pick their favorite cars, and the owners will get awards. But because most owners drive to the event, some for thousands of miles, the cars aren't going to be in pristine condition, so they're not judged in a detailed way.
In fact, "trailer queens" - cars that never see the open road - are looked down on by most street rod owners. They're welcome at the event, but they won't impress anybody.
"There are a few people who bring their cars in trailers," Parrish said. "But they're usually people who are new to street rodding. If you ever see one of my cars on a trailer, it's either broken down or someone's stealing it."
IF YOU GO
The 18th annual National Street Rod Association's Southeast Street Rod Nationals runs from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. today and Saturday and from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $12 for adults, $3 for children ages 6 to 12 and free for children younger than 6.
[Last modified October 13, 2005, 08:20:12]
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