Vinyl seats. No A/C. Manual brakes. Single-line master cylinder. 2-speed automatic. 93 Octane. A LOT of 93 Octane. New friends. Roadside repairs. Those are just a few of many things that I am going to try to cram into this article about Power Tour 2018.
Hot Rod Power Tour 2018 was my first time on the legendary road trip. I made the long haul with my good friend Josh in my 1965 Pontiac GTO. I didn’t track the exact mileage, but I assume my old G.O.A.T. racked up about 1,800 miles. Either way, it did so while turning 3,000 rpm at 70 miles an hour and chugging GALLONS of premium unleaded. I don’t even want to know exactly how many gallons it consumed. I didn’t run into many issues, as my dad had gone over pretty much the whole car while I was away at college during my final semester. I wanted him to wait until I graduated in May, but he wanted to be sure it would be done in time.
It wouldn’t be Power Tour if there weren’t at least minor issues, and I didn’t get through without at least a little hiccup. As I was rolling down Interstate 20 near Talladega, Alabama, my car began making a noise that cannot be described by those who have not heard it. One second, I’m cruising at 65 as calm as ever. The next, I’m hard on the brakes onto the shoulder and reaching for the key to turn the car off and stop whatever catastrophe is occurring. I called my friend Chris who I had been following to see if he could come back and help me take a look at it, which he did. That’s the great thing about Power Tour – hot rodders are everywhere and willing to lend a hand. While Josh and I waited for Chris to come back from about 10 miles down the interstate, four other vehicles stopped to offer assistance, and one even offered to tow me to Atlanta! Anyway, when Chris and my other friend Tim arrived back at my car they had me fire it back up to see if they could figure it out. Chris leaned under the car and popped his head back up quickly after spotting the culprit. The shroud around the flywheel had gotten loose and the flywheel had begun to rip it to shreds. We jacked the car up and fixed the problem by just taking the shroud off.
Enough personal experiences for the moment. There was no limit to what kind of cars you could see rolling down some backroads in the southeast that glorious week in mid-June. Edsel wagons? Yeah. AMC’s? More than you would expect. Modern muscle? By the truckload. Camaros and Chevelles? Of course. Diesel rat rods? Sure. You name it, it was probably there. Even a Ford GT made the long haul.
The coolest part of Power Tour is driving down two-lane roads, many forgotten by everyone but the locals, in a group of hundreds of muscle cars and waving at generations of families sitting on their front yards enjoying the car show rolling past. Inevitably, you will run into a traffic jam where classic cars are backed up for miles. These are usually the result of a town so small they don’t even have a traffic light – just a 4-way stop. Many participants get out and stretch and talk to the others while waiting for the traffic to move up. Others do burnouts in the distance, drawing the attention of “the law” as one friendly, shirtless Alabama local warned us about. I would be lying if I said I enjoyed keeping my eye on the temp gauge constantly sitting in this traffic and traffic at the venue, but that’s part of the adventure. An electric fan is a good investment for anyone on Power Tour. Regardless, I would rather sit in Power Tour traffic surrounded by rumbling V8’s than Priuses (Prii?) and Camrys (-ies?) in rush hour gridlock.
Power Tour began in Bowling Green, Kentucky at Beech Bend Raceway. I felt sorry for anyone who planned to go to the amusement park that day as the line of traffic was backed up for about a mile beyond the entrance when I got there around 9:00 AM, and it was worse than that for most of the day. Rain set in during the afternoon, and some hot rodders headed for the hills when the skies turned dark. I realized it was too late to keep the car dry, so I grabbed a Mountain Dew and hid under the wonderful canopied grandstands at Beech Bend (that could be an article by itself). The rain didn’t last long, nor did it stop someone in a 5th-gen Camaro from hooning the autocross. BGKY isn’t that far from my house, so I stopped by Rally’s (a tradition when visiting Vette City for my family) on the way home and stayed at home for the night.
Day Two began with more rain as I met several other enthusiasts in Lebanon, TN for a caravan to Chattanooga. A few hours across some winding Cumberland Plateau backroads led us to catch up with the tour and stop for lunch at a cool little joint called Yanni’s Grille in Sparta, TN. After lunch, we headed back out into the rain until we reached Chattanooga State Community College, where the traffic jam was horrendous. At least the rain stopped. I later heard a Hot Rod staffer (or at least someone in official attire) saying Chattanooga “sucked, and we knew it was going to suck.” The food at the Brewhaus downtown was delightful.
Traffic jams started early on Day Three and I was ready to make up some time once I got to Gadsden, AL, so I hopped on I-59 South and took the interstate all the way to the Hoover Met. Of course I ran into traffic on the interstate too. Thankfully my car decided to wait until the next day to have its issues, as there were not many long haulers on the interstate between Chattanooga and B-Ham. Entrance to the venue in Hoover was much smoother than Chattanooga, and I was thankful for it. After watching a storm skirt by a few miles away, I left for the hotel. Supper at Logan’s Roadhouse next to the hotel and hanging out with my friend Jared, a Subaru enthusiast, in the hotel parking lot ended the day.
We were eastbound and down on Day Four of HRPT, rolling out of Hoover, Alabama and headed for Atlanta (well, Hampton), Georgia. Day Four was undoubtedly the most eventful day of Power Tour. See above for the first part of that. Soon after fixing the issue, I stopped by Talladega Super Speedway along with many others on the tour for a photo-op in front of their iconic sign. From there, it was issue-free to Atlanta Motor Speedway. Parking on the infield was a unique experience, and two laps around the insane banking was quite possibly the best $10 I’ve ever spent. If you don’t respect NASCAR drivers because “all they do is make left turns”, I recommend you find a way to take some laps on a high-banked track like Atlanta. Your mind will be changed, unless you’re just that hardcore. Remember; faster is safer on banked tracks. It was Georgia, so I knew there had to be a Zaxby’s nearby for dinner.
The transit on Day Five was by far the longest, as it was nearly 300 miles from the Atlanta area to Darlington, SC. The only things I really remember from the drive were eating a Subway sandwich while driving down the interstate, then waiting for in line for 40 minutes once we got to the Lady in Black. We were able to park on the infield again, but no track laps were allowed in Darlington. That could be a good thing considering the track’s reputation for striping up passenger side body panels. Supper was at a cool local place in Florence called Red Bone Alley, a restaurant inside what appeared to be an old mall that was set up like a downtown Charleston neighborhood.
Driving to Raleigh from Darlington on Day Six was a welcome change from the interstate driving the previous day. The drive was mostly farmland with a few picturesque, small, southern towns along the way. The venue in Raleigh was PNC arena, home of the Carolina Hurricanes and NC State Wolfpack basketball. We spent plenty of time at the venue since we arrived early, and saw a lot of the long haulers. Our friend Tim, mentioned earlier as the other person who rescued me from the side of I-20, had transmission heating issues and made a hotel parking lot transmission cooler upgrade. I headed downtown after the show and had some killer Carolina-style BBQ at a place called The Pit. It was upscale for a barbecue joint, and even offered complimentary valet parking. I passed on that and opted for the $5 parking lot next door in order to keep my manual-brake-equipped car out of the hands of unassuming valets. I’m sure some could handle it with no problems, but the thought of someone blowing a stop sign because they weren’t ready for the poor braking didn’t sit well with me.
The final day of Power Tour took us to Zmax Dragway in Concord, NC (suburb of Charlotte). The route went right past Petty Enterprises, so a stop at the King’s house was in order. It was incredible to see some of Richard and Lee Petty’s actual race cars as well as some of the shop’s current projects on display. A little further down the road we stopped for a quick visit to the American Classic Motorcycle Museum in Asheboro, North Carolina. We also had lunch at the attached diner, then it was back on the road. We made one final stop before we got to Zmax: Dale Earnhardt Incorporated. If you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t know what it was due to the near complete lack of signage. While it wasn’t the most obvious building from the outside, the inside was nicer than I could ever have imagined for something related to racing. From DEI, we went to Zmax Dragway and watched a little bit of drag racing before the long hauler sign distribution site was revealed. Luckily, we made it to the front of the line before they ran out of signs (apparently Hot Rod is mailing one to those who didn’t get one in Concord). After filing out of the parking lot, I was feeling pizza so it was a quick trip from our hotel back to Blaze Pizza.
Coming back from Power Tour was a long, hot drive down I-40 west. After running into three traffic jams before we got to Asheville, I was more than a little agitated. Thankfully, it was smooth sailing (aside from the horn button falling off in my lap) from there back to Nashville, where we ran into another traffic jam. I headed for the nearest off ramp and bid adieu to the interstate and Power Tour 2018. The car, Josh, and I were officially Long Haulers. And sunburnt. And tired. And sweaty. Very sweaty.
Full gallery of photos can be found here.