Wake County

Classic cars draw thousands to State Fairgrounds

A 1949 Chevrolet 3100 frames a conversation between Ray Johnson, left, and Steve Batten during the Goodguys North Carolina Nationals car show at the State Fairgrounds Saturday, April 18, 2015 in Raleigh, N.C.
A 1949 Chevrolet 3100 frames a conversation between Ray Johnson, left, and Steve Batten during the Goodguys North Carolina Nationals car show at the State Fairgrounds Saturday, April 18, 2015 in Raleigh, N.C. jhknight@newsobserver.com

Car buffs have the chance Sunday at the State Fairgrounds to take their love of hot rods and classic cars to the next level by stepping inside these vehicles for a gut-wrenching race against the clock.

One of the most popular spots Saturday at the Goodguys inaugural North Carolina Nationals was the autocross pits, where spectators watched drivers race their vehicles through a course strewn with traffic cones. But on Sunday, spectators can become a passenger on one of those tire-squealing 50-second runs for a suggested $20 donation to the Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer.

“We know so many who have been greatly affected by cancer that we thought this would be a good fit,” said Betsy Bennett, a spokeswoman for the California-based Goodguys Rod & Custom Association, which puts on car shows around the country.

The Raleigh show is the first one in which Goodguys is giving the public the chance to ride with a professional driver certified by the group on the autocross course, which is typically open only to people who race their own vehicles. Bennett said plenty of people paid to ride Friday and more are expected Sunday.

For drivers who repeatedly push their vehicles through the autocross course, it’s a rush they look forward to. David White, 60, of Suffolk, Va., may run his 1960s Chevrolet Chevelle a dozen times through the course over the show’s three days.

“It’s just like being an athlete who wants to see how fast they can run,” he said.

Christopher Haigler, 29, of Winston-Salem, is burning plenty of rubber on the autocross course as he runs the 1933 Ford Roadster that he helped assemble.

“This is a way to enjoy what we built,” he said.

But for those who’d rather watch than ride, there are still plenty of things to see and do. More than 1,500 hot rods, customs, classics, muscle cars and trick trucks registered for the show.

Bennett said her group wanted to build on the success of the Goodguys Southeastern Nationals show held each October at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord.

That show draws more than 30,000 people annually, and Bennett said she hopes the inaugural Raleigh show draws 15,000 to 20,000 people over its three days.

“I’m glad they brought it to Raleigh so we don’t have to go to Charlotte – although we still may,” said Montie Allen, 46, of Wilson. “It’s in our range. We don’t have to get up 3 1/2 hours early to go.”

The short commute also made it easier for Ken Heltemes, 60, of Raleigh, to show off his 1952 Crosley Hot Shot, a largely forgotten roadster known for its light weight, high fuel efficiency even by today’s standards and surprising performance

“They’re a rarity,” Heltemes said. “People think it’s a toy, but it’s really fast.”

For many self-described car freaks, the show has been a chance to relive an era in automobile design.

“They’re beautiful,” said Kim Carmichael, 49, of Elm City. “You don’t see them getting built like this anymore.”

Hui: 919-829-4534; Twitter: @nckhui

Learn more

Go to good-guys.com for more information, including times and ticket prices, on the Goodguys Inaugural North Carolina Nationals that runs through Sunday at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh.

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