It was more than just another car show. It was the beginning of the end. The Car Craft Street Machine Nationals was just beginning its third turn at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on the seedy side of Indianapolis. A scant two years after the inaugural event, the Nats had exploded. It was the must-see, must-attend event of the year at a time when traditional car shows were wimpy, sedate, indoor affairs with neat rows of roped-off cars festooned with angel hair. The Car Craft Nationals blew that all apart with an astonishing 4,000-plus street machines tightly bound by lure of participating in Woodstock with Wheels, but it was also tinged by the thought that maybe some magazine guy might photograph your ride.
Mild fixes were commonplace on the fairgrounds. Holley had a repair tent on grounds and ma
I was one of those roving magazine guys. I was the rookie, commonly referred to around the office as the FNG (f-ing new guy). Editor Rick Voegelin had hired me a scant two months earlier and I barely knew how to find my way to work. But there I was on a plane to Indy to meet with the rest of the CC staff of malcontents—Jon Asher, John Baechtel, Neil Britt, and art director Charlie Hayward—to cover the event. And because I was the FNG, I got to do the story.
Baechtel, on the other hand, had volunteered along with Britt to transport the Grand Prize '79 Mustang behind John's turbocharged Suburban. This spawned the story "Missouri Loves Company" in the Oct. '79 issue, where Britt recounted how the 'Burban's big-block blew up in the Show-Me State and the pair had to drive the Mustang the final leg to Indianapolis. All this drama and the Nationals had yet to start.
The official story, however, was the jam-packed attendance for this third rendition of the Nats, the year that Scott Sullivan showed up with his blue, 6-71 supercharged, big-block '67 Nova and absolutely blew everyone away. In terms of cars that set trends, this one clearly pointed the way for blowers, four-link suspensions, narrowed rears, and giant tires. According to Scott, the Nova "really didn't attract a lot of attention at the show." It was almost as if it was lost in the sea of Camaros, 'Cudas, and cut-off jeans.
If there is a classic image of the ’79 Nationals, it would have to be shirtless males ling
But that would change the following year when the Nova won just about every award there is, five of them altogether. This was after all three of the major magazines had featured it. Scott's was not the first significant Pro Street car. He's of a mind that that distinction belongs to Gary Kollofski's black, blown '55 that had stormed the beaches at the '77 Nationals. But if you had to pick one car as a prototype for what would soon be called the Pro Street movement, you could not go wrong with Scott's Nova. It's still around and has changed very little, owned as it has been for decades by a friend of his in Rhode Island.
While the official story focused on the amazing attendance, the real event, the one that everybody remembers, is the near riot on 21st and Shadeland Avenues on Saturday night. This intersection was the confluence of several hotels filled with young street machiners with not much else to do except cruise the boulevard. Official accounts lay the blame directly on the participants, which is indirectly true. Yes, the sheer number of high-performance cars combined with adult beverages and overflowing testosterone all contributed to what went down. Yes, many participants were doing their best to cloud the area with tire smoke that might have looked to the uninitiated like that corner of Indy was on fire. But this torque-fest atmosphere also brought out the worst in the local populace, people who were veterans of the bacchanalian rites that had gushed from the Indy 500 infield just weeks before. The devilish locals knew what was coming. They spilled out, crowding the intersections, congregating with pails of water, encouraging burnouts. There was even one enterprising soul who had cleaned out a store and was selling gallon jugs of bleach from a purloined grocery cart. It was not unlike like Mardi Gras except that the revelers were tossing tire rubber instead of love beads.
Ford went all out. For the Grand Prize, they gave us a Mustang that we outfitted with majo
Of course, all this activity attracted the police. By 10 p.m., the cops had allowed the burnouts and the exhibitions of speed to continue unabated for way too long. Soon after that hour struck, Indy's riot squad lined up and began to disperse the crowds, police dogs in the lead. It was a scene from television replays of the street action at the '68 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Luckily for us, the only thing lacking was tear gas. Nobody wrote a song about this confrontation, but it was no less real for the unlucky ones caught up in the melee. Car Craft's tag line at the time was "Takin' It to the Streets" and CC's following was doing exactly that. Sullivan was staying at the (ground zero) Motel 6 and remembered, "The dogs chased people right into the hotel. We had 20 people in my hotel room we didn't know because of the dogs."
Frankly, it was a black eye for the event—and for the city. It was clear that the police allowed the burnouts to continue too long without intervention and then overreacted when it came time to reestablish order. So there was plenty of blame to go around and along with it at least one lawsuit against the city. While the Nationals returned to Indy for two more years before moving to Springfield, Illinois, in 1982, it was the insanity of 21st and Shadeland that eventually led the city fathers to banish Car Craft forever.
Cruisin’ was the order of the evening once the show shut down on Friday and Saturday. Desp
Just in case you were wondering where our “Camaro Craft” nickname originated, look closely
This was the police staging point before they moved to disperse the crowds that had gather
It seems the Gasser look has experienced several resurgences.
But Springfield was still in the future, far from the incredible buzz that attracted all kinds of enthusiasts to the Nationals in 1979. Among them was another car crafter who would eventually write for the magazine, Chuck Hanson. I met him and his wife, LaRae, that year along with a rebel band of crazy Tennessee friends. Chuck was driving a bright-yellow '74 Camaro. I later traveled to Tennessee to visit his collection of big-block Chevrolets, a visit that became somewhat hazy after my introduction to his friend Jack Daniels. That relationship with Chuck eventually helped convince then-editor Jon Asher to hire him as Car Craft's southern representative.
At the end of the three-day excess, while the city swept up the detritus and debris, each and every participant realized that they had been part of something truly special. And there was something else afoot, too, something beyond the tire smoke and exhibitions of speed. It was a gnawing among the prescient that a movement was gaining momentum—a fat-tire movement about to be blessed with the Pro Street moniker that would add a whole new level of enthusiasm to street machines. Those who saw this coming would be the ones to build the cars that we now all recognize as trend-setters. And it all evolved out of that crazy night on 21st and Shadeland.
The Matt and Debbie Hay Connection
By the '79 Nationals, Matt Hay was a seasoned veteran of the craziness. He had attended the previous year with his '66 Mustang powered by a 6-71 supercharged small-block Chevy and giant tires sticking out of the wheelwells. The car appeared as a one-photo feature by Gray Baskerville in the Nov. '78 issue of Hot Rod and was enough to launch Matt and Debbie's future with fat-tired cars. We'll let Matt tell the story.
In 1977, Matt Hay with his buddy Larry Hertzler called themselves H&H Fast Guys and we
"In the small town of New Paris, Indiana, there was the greatest speed shop of all, Competition Engineering, owned by the late Jerry Marquart. The machine shop work and engine building was second to none. I used to hang out there, just a starry-eyed kid dreaming of the day I would have a car worthy enough to display the Competition Engineering sticker on the back window. Jerry Marquart was also the local NHRA drag-racing hero. He owned several NHRA Class records and had a shelf displaying his NHRA Wallys for all to see. As I got to know Jerry better, I was invited to his Christmas parties at the shop. The who's who of northern Indiana and NHRA Division 3 would be there, Pro Stock drivers, Funny Car, Top Fuel, and alcohol guys. It was a Mecca and a dream for someone like me to be a part of that setting.
"As time went on, Comp built my engines and sold me the parts I needed to compete in drag racing and Pro Street. Our first Street Machine Nationals was in 1978 with a '66 Mustang with a supercharged 350 Chevy LT1 and fat rear tires sticking out past the fenderwells. That was the norm back in the day. But later that summer, Deb and I knew we would need to tub the 'Stang to keep up with this new trend called Pro Street. But money was an issue. It just so happened late one summer day I went to Comp to hang out and Jerry was there. I told him my intensions for tubbing the 'Stang and he said, ‘Matt, I have just the deal for you.'
"He was planning on updating the rear end in his record-setting Corvette and would sell me the narrowed rear end out of the 'Vette. My jaw dropped. Even though I did not have the $1,500 to buy it, I raced over to Deb's house to tell her the news. Even though Jerry is no longer with us, he will always be the man, and thanks to Larry ‘Dean' Hertzler for keeping me motivated back in the early days.
"Now for the rest of the story. This was 1978 and Deb and I were not married. And yet, later that week, Deb went down to the bank and secured a loan in her name and bought the narrowed rear end for me right out of Jerry's record-setting 'Vette. And we are still married today. I am the luckiest guy on the planet."
Not all of us had a great time Saturday night at 21st and Shadeland. Remember, everyone is
How Did This All Start?
The first Car Craft Street Machine Nationals took place at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in 1977, but the story goes a little deeper. According to then-editor Rick Voegelin, it started when the National Street Rod Association (NSRA) wanted to attract street machines to its traditional street rod shows. The NSRA had asked CC to help get the word out with promos published in the magazine in 1972. Then-editor Ro McGonegal sent Steve Collison to the show for a story for the Nov. '72 issue. Steve raved about the event…and planted the seed. Jon Asher covered a later show and appointed himself chief advocate for a Car Craft–sponsored street machine show. The rest, they say, is history.
How Long Ago Was This?
•In February 1974, the Ayatollah Khomeini assumed control of Iran after the Shah skedaddled
•Margaret Thatcher was elected Britain's new prime minister
•First-class postage cost $0.15
•The Pittsburg Steelers defeated the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl, 35–31
•Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff" became a best seller
•Saturday Night Fever by the Bee Gees was, sadly, album of the year
•The Summit Racing Equipment ad in the Oct. '79 issue listed these prices:
-Holley 750 double pumper: $119.95
-Velocity stack air cleaner: $12.95
-Moroso SBC gold valve covers: $26.50
-TRW 11:1 pistons for 350: $89.95
Street Machine Nationals Chronicle
East St. Louis, Illinois
Du Quoin, Illinois
Return to the Street Machine Nationals in Du Quoin, Illinois
It got a little heated when the Indy cops brought in the dogs.
With the head count approaching 5,000, you’re bound to attract a different drummer or two.
Besides the blowers, cars, and tire smoke, another real attraction for entering the Nation