A carnival atmosphere prevailed on Veterans Boulevard Wednesday night as hundreds of people walked downtown to greet participants in the Hemmings Motor News Great Race.
Vintage cars, pickup trucks, jeeps and souped-up hot rods drove along the boulevard while the spectators, who lined up on deck chairs on both sides of the street, applauded and took photos.
As the drivers parked next to the street, people swarmed out of the vehicles to snap more pictures and ask questions about the 2,300-mile event.
Kathy Harper of Jefferson, Texas said she wasn’t surprised by the enthusiastic turnout.
“It happens every day at lunch and dinner,” said Harper, who raced the 1965 Mercury Comet as the 102 vehicles still in the race paraded down the boulevard. “It’s like Veterans Day and July 4th. It’s very American. “
Owensboro was the 10th stop for the racers.
On Sunday, the classics left the Alamo Plaza in San Antonio, Texas on their meandering route to the finish on Sunday in Greenville, South Carolina.
The historic vehicle race began in 1983 and focused on endurance and accuracy rather than high speed. The winning team will take home $ 150,000.
Before heading to Owensboro, the racers stopped for lunch in Paducah and headed east to Elizabethtown and Lexington tomorrow.
“This is a big deal,” said Angela Woosley as she and her husband Ken Woosley stood in the shade to watch the racing drivers go by. “I think it’s great that Owensboro came.”
“I had a ’54 Chevrolet truck like the green one that just drove by,” said Ken Woosley. “Mine was a lot rougher than that.”
Tony Campbell, a support team member on the Oil Changers team, answered questions about the race while standing in the company’s 1941 Ford pickup truck. As with other racing sports, drivers have corporate sponsors and crews ready to make repairs if a vehicle breaks down on the road.
“Everyone has a crew of mechanics – unless you are that good and have everything in the vehicle,” said Campbell.
Many of the parts on the vehicles are vintage, Campbell said.
While preparing for the race, Campbell said he will not be overhauling the vehicle with a set of new parts.
“You don’t put anything new in the car before you leave,” said Campbell.
Instead, drivers are using parts they already know are reliable, Campbell said.
“They want everything to be sorted out,” said Campbell.
Driver Eric Frankenberger, president of California-based Oil Changers, said he was dragged into the event by the company’s founder a few years ago.
“He made us do it and we had an absolutely great time,” said Frankenberger. He later said, “The best thing for me is to see the little children” when the vehicles roll into town.
“Your eyes are the size of silver dollars,” said Frankenberger.
William and Sarijane Moorman had a spot on a wall near the Lazy Dayz Playground.
William Moorman said he was impressed and wanted to know more.
“That’s what I’m trying to find out: how can you get in there?” He said.
“I had a ’69 Lincoln Continental suicide door and I let it escape,” said William Moorman.
He added that he was looking for another classic car to fix.
“I’m looking for one now,” said William Moorman.
“This is his idea of a good time working on a car,” said Sarijane Moorman. “I’m just looking at them.”
Lena Lednick, who had family members in the running, said she was impressed with the downtown turnout on Wednesday.
“This is a beautiful city and everyone has been great to us,” said Lednick.
People love classic cars, said Lednick.
“Everyone comes and says, ‘My grandmother had one,'” said Lednick. “It reminds you of your parents or your grandfather or your school days in the 50s.”