BY JERRY DIXEY
I stood at the Champlain Valley Exposition grounds in Burlington, Vermont, as the NSRA Northeast Nationals awards ceremonies drew to a close. I couldn't believe it, there were only two more NSRA events left! The reality was that the next event was 3,400 miles away in Sacramento, California. Five days after the Golden State Nationals was the' Southeast Nationals 3,000 miles away in Tampa, Florida.
It was a 7,000-mile jaunt that wrapped up a season, which had already covered nine events and 17,500 miles. It remained to be seen whether our Road Tour roadster (which had performed flawlessly all summer long) was up to the task. The weather can be a real factor this time of year across the country. Running in a car with no windows or side curtains is tiring enough when it is sunny and warm. Throw in rain and cold and it turns into a real test.
From Burlington it was a 700-mile run home to Youngstown, Ohio. I spent Monday afternoon and evening at home then set out Tuesday morning pointed westbound and down. But, which route? One was straight across I-80, which is flat until Wyoming, and then it really rises as you cross the Continental Divide in the Rockies. It is then through Nevada and over Donner Pass to California. I had taken this route in 2002 and got caught in some snow flurries in the higher elevations. The second choice was taking 1-70 across Kansas. It was also very flat until Denver, and then it climbs very rapidly through the Rockies. The third choice would take me over to St. Louis, down through Oklahoma, and across the lower section of the country on 1-40. While this route is a little longer, it only gets into the higher elevations around Flagstaff, Arizona.
I chose the southern route and it is a good thing I did. The Rockies were hit with an early season snowstorm with accumulations in the higher spots on 1-80 and 1-70. I headed out on Tuesday morning and made a stop in Brookville, Ohio, to visit my friends at Brookville Roadster. My route brought good weather until Amarillo, Texas. As I approached Amarillo the skies darkened and as soon as I found myself a room and covered the roadster with its California Car Cover "blanket," the skies opened up. Thursday night I was in Laughlin, Nevada, where the Roddin' at the River cruise was underway.
I rolled across the California border on Friday morning as the stretch between Needles and Barstow through the desert is always hot (thank goodness for the Walker radiator). Friday afternoon I stopped in Fresno and visited Mike Stallings and crew at Wheel Vintique. This year's roadster sports a set of Wheel Vintique's Lakester wheels.
On Saturday morning I was up and rolling toward the San Francisco Bay area. I had spoken to Roy Brizio the day before and he told me that the Billet Proof event was being held on Saturday in Antioch. I decided to stop by and check out some of the alternative rods at the get-together. It was a very interesting afternoon with some very creative vehicles on display.
On Saturday evening, I picked up Mary Ann at the San Francisco airport. The next three days were spent doing some great sight-seeing around San Francisco. With the top off the roadster, it was fun to cruise down the Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur and then up north over the Golden Gate Bridge. The weather was perfect and the sights were spectacular. The crew at Brizio's took time out of their busy schedule to give the roadster a mechanical once over and found that things were fine.
By Wednesday it was time to get back to work and I headed toward Sacramento, the site of the third annual Golden State Nationals. From San Francisco it is about a one-hour drive to the state capital of Sacramento. The Cal- Expo grounds are perfect for a rod run with a nice combination of shade and cruising areas. Sunday at 3 p.m. the time had come for the Iron Man Run to begin. This test of man and machine for street rods involves leaving Sacramento on Sunday and getting to Tampa in time for the infamous Iron Man on Thursday evening. This year's group included eight street rods and their occupants and three commercial vendors making the trip.
While some on the run stayed together, I elected to travel at my own pace. I spent Sunday night in Bakersfield. Up at dawn, I put down 800 miles on Monday and got to Albuquerque just in time for an incredible lightning display and lots of pea-size hail. Tuesday was a real test as I started the day at dawn with an hour-long traffic jam along an I -40 detour and through the afternoon with a very heavy rain across Texas.
I have done enough wet driving this season to know that the most important thing for safety and comfort is to dress for the occasion. While I did not have to use my now famous goggles, I did suit up in all my foul weather gear. It was a long wet afternoon. The roadster performed flawlessly as it has done all season. By evening I decided I had put in enough wet miles for one day and stopped on the Oklahoma-Arkansas border.
On Wednesday the weather was back to gorgeous as I traveled across Arkansas to Memphis, Tennessee, and then south through Alabama. Wednesday night was spent about 20 miles north of the Florida border in Alabama. Just one short day to go.
Early Thursday morning I rolled into Florida at sunup. It lived up to its nickname as the Sunshine State. At 2 p.m. in the after-noon I pulled the PPG bright yellow roadster onto the grounds of the Florida State Fairgrounds. It was the finish line of not only the Iron Man Run, but also of the 2004 PPG/Street Rodder Road Tour. It had been a wild 3,000-mile blast from Sacramento, and an unbelievable 24,900-mile, summer-long journey across the country to all of the NSRA events.
This has been an incredible and memorable tour. There was excitement, good and bad weather, and long, long days. The one thing that remained constant was the fantastic street rod that the crew at Hot Rods & Custom Stuff had assembled for us. My hat goes off to each of our craftsmen and suppliers on this year's roadster. It was without a doubt one of the best Road Tour cars ever.
It has been a long and winding Road Tour for the past nine years, covering 225,000 miles crisscrossing this beautiful country. As you read this, the 2005 Road Tour car is being assembled. It's our tenth year of touring and there are many surprises in store. We are working very hard to get all 10 Road Tour cars to the Nationals in Louisville for a special display.
Stay tuned to STREET RODDER and www.streetrodderweb.com. The best of the Road Tour is yet to come