The Yellowstone Rod Run, which takes place in West Yellowstone, Montana, has been going on for 40 years. Now, 40 years is a long time for any show, let alone one that is as remotely located as this one. But without fail, year after year since 1970, folks have been making the pilgrimage to this little town located at the west gate of America’s oldest National Park.
I personally love Yellowstone and have been there at least ten times which is pretty good for a boy from the Midwest. So when this show finally lined up with an opening in my production schedule, I pounced on it!
We flew into Bozeman, MT which is a beautiful and surprisingly trendy town that’s also home to Montana State University, and then drove the 90 miles south to West Yellowstone paralleling the Gallatin River which must be loaded with trout because it was certainly loaded with fly fisherman (and women).
The car show was on a Saturday, but we came in early enough to take part in some of the pre-show festivities which included a cruise into the park to Old Faithful Lodge on Friday morning and run up to 320 Guest Ranch for a cookout that evening. The sight of over 100 rods, customs, and classics rollin’ thru the West Gate of Yellowstone National Park was something I think I’ll always remember.
The weather on Thursday had been rainy, but Friday and Saturday were picture perfect. Saturday’s show was held in West Yellowstone’s City Park and somehow they managed to shoehorn in over 500 cars and a few thousand people.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to go up to Winnipeg, Manitoba as the guest of Peter Ginakas for one of his Sunday night cruise-ins. Peter is a restaurateur in Winnipeg and is also a serious car guy. He has four restaurants around the city which all go by the name, Pony Corral, and several years ago he started holding Sunday night cruise-ins at one of his locations. These really caught on and have grown steadily.
Winnipeg is a real car town. Without a doubt, it is the cruisin’ capital of Manitoba; and perhaps all of western Canada. There are a lot of cars there and the quality is quite high. I attribute that to a combination of factors; very skilled craftsmen and really long winters. I also love going up there because they are such huge fans of the show. I always say, there are no fans like Canadian fans!
I flew in on Saturday and when the plane broke thru the cloud cover during landing, I noticed a lot of standing water everywhere on the ground. They apparently had gotten quite a bit of rain the previous night and earlier that day. I figured that surely it would clear off for Sunday’s cruise-in, but instead it proceeded to dump record amounts of rainfall through the evening and well into the night.
Underpasses throughout the city were flooded, the Red River which runs thru Winnipeg was well beyond its banks, and the flood control system that diverts excess water around the city was at its capacity. All I could think was, “Well this sucks!”
Sunday morning didn’t start out much better. It was grey and chilly and showed little promise for improvement. Peter had a VIP brunch at one of his restaurants, and I was surprised at the number of people that attended with their cars in spite of the weather. These Canucks are tough!
The cruise-in itself was scheduled to run from 4 to 10 pm at another one of Peter’s locations, and I was really keeping my fingers crossed for an improvement in the weather. As luck would have it, almost on cue, the clouds parted at about 4 pm, the sun beamed thru, and the cars began streaming in. It was still only 55 degrees but hey, for Winnipeg, that’s balmy.
Last weekend I was in McKinney, TX as the special guest at a party being thrown by a friend of mine, Don Clark. He and his wife, Paulette, had just finished a three-year build on their Tuscan-themed retirement home, and they were having some of their car friends over to celebrate.
I have known Don for a number of years and actually first met him when we were producing the TNN series, Popular Hot Rodding Television. The second season of that show was shot in a studio in Dallas and Don supplied us with a car to have on the set for one of the episodes.
I learned that this car was just one of several really amazing cars in his collection, and this led to me shooting with him for an episode of My Classic Car in 2002. It was hard to decide what to focus on, but I ended up going with his COPO Camaro and his ’69 Yenko Camaro. Really, how can you go wrong with that pair?
Don is a real car guy and at that time he was hosting an annual party at his place just for friends and fellow car enthusiasts. People could tour his collection and since they all brought their own toys, there was also quite a car show going on outside too.
This past week I was in Washington for SEMA’s biannual DC Rally.
SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) is the trade association that represents the automotive aftermarket. It is made up of 7,500 member companies; most of which are small businesses. In fact, the annual SEMA show in Las Vegas is the largest gathering of small businesses in the US. And while the individual companies may be small, the automotive aftermarket in total accounts for $32 billion in sales annually.
I’ve been on the Board of Directors of SEMA for the past seven years and will finally be terming out in July. There was a board meeting in DC in conjunction with the Rally, but the main purpose for being there was to keep this industry and this hobby top-of-mind on Capitol Hill.
I had meetings with the two senators from Indiana, Richard Lugar and Evan Bayh, as well as the congressman from my district, Brad Ellsworth, to discuss issues that affect our industry like health care costs for small businesses and tax credits on capital expenditures and R&D.
This may seem like sort of boring stuff, but there is a direct correlation between the strength of the car hobby and the health of the aftermarket. The hobby is as strong as it is today at least in part because of growth of the automotive aftermarket. Twenty years ago we couldn’t do the restorations, the rods and the mods we can these days because the parts simply weren’t available. However, the demand was there, and leave it to American entrepreneurs to create products (and entire businesses) to meet that demand. Actually they fuel each other; the hobby is strong because the aftermarket is strong and vice versa.
SEMA has a Washington office that is dedicated to keeping legislation “hobby friendly”. Many of you (or perhaps your car clubs) are members of the SEMA Action Network (SAN); a grassroots network that stays on top of local issues and that can be rapidly mobilized when we need to make our collective voice heard in Washington.