Competition Heats Up
The show was gladly invited back for 1987. Although most of the high-end Pro Street cars were repeats from the year before, a few new builds were brought out. On opposite ends of the Pro Street spectrum were Wayne Bushey’s cool, red, classic ’64 Nova Wagon and Charlie Teidt’s low-slung, late-model Corvette. An unknown teenager from up the interstate in Manteno also made the trip in his Porsche-red, mild Pro Street ’66 Chevelle. That same teenager—Troy Trepanier of Rad Rides by Troy fame—would return in 1988 with the car painted pink.
What spectators couldn’t have known about an ’87 show with so few new cars revealed was that most of the major players in pro street already had their eye on 1988. Hay, Grimes, Robertson, and Scott Sullivan had each either started or were planning major builds for the next year. It was shaping up to be the best ever.
And, man, was it ever.
The ’88 Nats were arguably the single most impressive gathering of freshly built, cutting-edge, high-end Pro Street cars the world has ever seen. Oh sure, there were several noteworthy cars that made a splash prior to 1988, and there have been plenty of awesome cars in the years since. But the sheer volume of breathtaking, one-of-a-kind street machines debuted in 1988 may never be duplicated. It was unbelievable.
Nearly everyone who was anyone in the Pro Street game rolled out a trick new build just in time for the event. Two blowers from Hay were countered by three blowers from Grimes. Monochrome pink from Robertson was countered by monochrome Cheez Whiz from Sullivan. The build quality just kept getting better, and the competition was fierce. High style was in style.
As the cars got better and better, so did the event. In 1989, more than 100,000 spectators showed up, effectively multiplying Du Quoin’s quaint population of around 6,000 17 times over. For one weekend in June, the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds had almost as many “residents” as Peoria.
Trepanier was back—this time with cool Steve Stanford–inspired graphics and a trick set of one-off Boyd’s billets. Danny Taylor of Taylor’s House of Colors in Louisville, Kentucky, was in attendance with a slick ’80s Malibu. Neil Jacobs’ awesome blown and injected Hemi ’64 Belevedere just missed out on Pro Street judging because it was too old for the ’67 cutoff. Rod Saboury was back with another trick Vette. If the Nats were a wine, the ’89 vintage would go down in history as a very good year.
Late-model Pro Streeters continued to trend upward. The Hays’ Thunderbird was back, as was Grimes’ Eurosport and Robertson’s LeSabre. Rich Gebhardt rolled out a trick citrus-colored Beretta, while Tom Davis’s Sullivan-painted black and aqua version also impressed. Fueled by the popularity of NHRA pro stock versions of the little Chevy front-wheel drive, they were the first of many more to come.
Nothin’ But a Good Time
By 1990, signs of strain and fatigue in Du Quoin had already begun to surface. Many local residents wrote to the local newspaper, demanding that city fathers do precisely as leaders in previous host cities had done and throw the show out.
However, it was hard to argue with the estimated $7 to $15 million economic impact. Every hotel for 75 miles was crammed to capacity. Sales were brisk. A gallon of bleach was about as easy to score as suitcase full of plutonium. Beer flowed freely. Trash piled high. Parking lots hid in a thick blanket of late-night burnout haze. It was wild and getting wilder by the minute.
Dare to Be Different took center stage in 1991, with Troy Trepanier’s big-finned, mint-green ’60 Impala leading the charge. Other notables included Chuck Davis’ orange ’89 Beretta, Keith Eickert’s high-tech Monte Carlo SS, Rocky Robertson’s Le Sabre, and Wally Elder’s nasty blown and injected ’69 Dodge Daytona. Pro Street was still going strong, and a fresh crop of new builds helped keep the trend alive.
The year 1992 proved to be one of the last big years for Nats reveals. Trepanier’s ’50 Buick, Al Hinds’ Lumina, and a number of other top-notch Pro Street builds all showed up. Although car counts and attendance remained strong for the next several years, magazine coverage shifted to other events. It would be the beginning of the end for the event.
With national media coverage limited, the show’s appeal began to slide. Each passing year seemed to include strong car counts and spectator ticket sales but eroded overall build quality. Pro touring and more participation-heavy events like the Hot Rod Power Tour gained in popularity. Memorable Pro Streeters included Bret Voelkel’s air-ride-equipped ’70 Mustang that would serve as the springboard he’d use to launch his company, Ride Tech. Others like Gary Buckles’ body-dropped Camaro, Dave Verschave’s Nova, Bob Maynard’s inline-six Camaro, and Todd Clark’s “Dem Bones” Camaro impressed, as well.
Although still going strong, by 1998, Du Quoin had had enough. City leaders and Family Events representatives were unable to come to terms, and the show was not invited back for 1999. After 13 consecutive years in Du Quoin, the Nats was homeless again.
The show managed to bounce around and stay alive for a few more years and ultimately landed in Lima, Ohio. It died a slow, painful death, finally succumbing in 2004. With just 791 cars and less than 15,000 spectators, it was a pathetic shell of its former self.
Back From the Dead
Fans of the event thought it was gone forever, but a persistent grassroots effort managed to sway Family Events into giving the Nats in Du Quoin one more chance for 2013. The event proved to be a smashing success, with a car count nearly triple expectations and scarcely any run-ins with the law. A number of Pro Street legends made the trek back, too, with a number of their iconic cars on display. For Nats fans, it was a nearly unbelievable dream come true. In many ways, it was like a trip back in time.
If only gas was still a buck a gallon.