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Street Rodder Road Tour 2011 / The Lokar Midnight Tour from Knoxville to Kalamazoo

By March 14, 2012Uncategorized

Lokar Performance Products is one of the most recognized and familiar names in our hobby. Lokar’s history with the Road Tour goes back to our beginning, as Skip was the first person to travel with me across country back in 1996. Skip liked that blue ’34 Road Tour coupe so much that he bought it for Debbie from the person who won the car at the end of the inaugural 1996 season; She has put many miles on her “Blue Skunk” coupe since then and drove it on a tour with us in 2006.

Lokar is the only manufacturer to have their product used on every Road Tour vehicle since the beginning of the program 16 years ago. That is some real Road Tour history. Lokar was the perfect choice for a Road Tour that would travel from Knoxville, Tennessee, to the NSRA Nationals North Plus in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The Lokar Midnight Tour started with a bang at their headquarters in Knoxville. Debbie and Skip were on hand to greet 50 Road Tour participants and a number of local street Rodders. Those of you who have had the fun of attending one of the Lokar open houses in the past know that Debbie and Skip can put on a great get-together.

After a good breakfast, the credentials, itineraries, goodie bags, and hats were passed out to all the participants. The folks at Lokar even had a special Midnight Tour T-shirt made for everyone. The Midnight Series is their new line of products that features black powdercoated and anodized shifters, brackets, pedal assemblies, and many other aluminum items in their line. We took a group picture and enjoyed a tour of their huge facility.

By 9:30 a.m. it was time to roll and we headed east on I-40. Monday afternoon we visited Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. All 50 Road Tourians loaded onto a bus for a one-hour look at the entire facility. One of the highlights was a stop at owner Bruton Smith’s personal suite high above the track. We also got a chance to climb the high banks of the track itself and make a pass down the dragstrip at the Bristol Motor Speedway. It was a great first day on the road.

After spending Monday evening in Beckley, West Virginia, and visiting the artisan and crafts shops at Tamarack and the New River Gorge Bridge, it was time to continue north.

By noon on Tuesday we arrived in Canton, Ohio. Being only one hour from my hometown of Youngstown, my brother, Jack, brought our mother, Barb, to Canton for the afternoon. We had a great tour of the Canton Automobile Museum. The highlight was the interesting stories and anecdotes told by the museum Director Char Laurzenheiser about many of the items on display. It was definitely more than just classic automobiles. After being on the Road Tour for the previous two weeks it was time for my wife, Mary Ann, to head back to our home in Youngstown. It is always great to have her along on the tours. Her help is truly appreciated. After two interesting hours at the museum it was time to continue on the road to Kalamazoo.

Gearstar is well known for their high-performance automatic transmissions and have been the official transmission supplier to the Road Tour for a number of years. After our visit to their Akron facility we now know that they should also be known for their great parties. Owner Zack Farah and the Gearstar team were ready when our 28 vehicles rolled into the driveway. They had enough barbecue and fixings to feed a small army, and it was delicious. After dinner we got a tour and the techs at Gearstar answered any and all questions that they were asked. Thanks to everyone at Gearstar for a great evening.

Wednesday morning the Lokar Midnight Tour group made a stop at Flaming River’s headquarters in Berea, Ohio, just west of Cleveland. President and CEO Janette Ladina greeted us as 30 Street rods pulled into the facilities. Flaming River has been a major sponsor of the Road Tour program for many years. Their steering components have been an important part of our tour vehicle each season. The coffee was ready. Jeanette’s sister-in-law Christine Buzaleski’s homemade cookies were piled high and as good as I had remembered from previous visits. After some brief introductions, we headed into the huge production facilities. Vice President Ron Doan and sales manager Brett Doan divided us into two large groups and gave us a behind-the-scenes in-depth look at what goes into Flaming River products. They are proud to manufacture their products in the United States and use the latest technology to ensure quality and reliability. It was once again a great Road Tour morning with our friends at Flaming River.

We sent a rainy Wednesday evening in Battle Creek, Michigan, but on Thursday morning the sun was up and shining brightly for our drivers’ meeting. Our destination for Thursday morning was the Gilmore Auto Museum located in Hickory Corners, Michigan. The 90-acre rural farm setting is about 20 minutes northeast of Kalamazoo. We have visited many fantastic auto museums on the Road Tours over the years and the Gilmore ranks right there at or near the top of the list. The manicured lawns of the farm and the right restored oversized barns were stunning in themselves, but the vehicles inside were breathtaking. Be sure to go to our website (www.streetrodder.com) and check out the videos we shot while we were there. It is a must-see stop if you are anywhere in the central Michigan area. It is home to the national Franklin Club, the Cadillac-LaSalle Club, the Classic Car Club of America, and an amazing Tucker exhibit. Plans are in the works for the construction of the Model A Ford Museum. While the classics are well represented, there are also displays if vintage race cars and motorcycles. The Gilmore Museum is an amazing place to visit. After some lunch at the vintage diner on the grounds it was time to get to the “Zoo”, as in Kalamazoo, and the NSRA Street Rod Nationals North Plus.

It was perfect weather for the event and the street rods really turned out for the popular end of the summer season run. The construction on the new building was just wrapping up at the fairgrounds and it really adds a new dimension to the facility. By Sunday afternoon the Lokar Midnight Tour came to a close. It had been a great week on the road. For additional pictures and videos of the tour go to our website www.streetrodder.com. While you’re there, be sure to look over the 2012 AMSOIL/STREET RODDER Road Tour schedule. We have some fun tours and surprises planned. Call the Road Tour hotline for all the latest news and updates. We hope you can join us on the road in 2012.

Lokar Performance Products has been a major supporter and sponsor of the Road Tour program since 1996, and their products have been part of every Road Tour vehicle since the beginning.
Owner Debbie Walls greeted us on Monday morning at Lokar’s headquarters, located just west of Knoxville, TN. Debbie enjoys welcoming visitors to their facility and always rolls out the red carpet.
There were 30-plus rods registered for the Lokar Midnight Tour. As word got around Knoxville that we were kicking off our tour to Kalamazoo from Lokar on Monday morning many local rodders showed up to give us a great send-off.
It’s always exciting on the first morning of any Road Tour. On the Lokar Midnight Tour over half of the participants were veterans of previous tours who decided to come back for more fun on the road.
After breakfast sandwiches, we were given a tour of the Lokar facilities. The leading manufacturer of brackets and cables in our hobby, Lokar’s new Midnight series of aluminum products features a satin black powdercoated finish.
Our next stop was at Bristol Motor Speedway. This is the view from the starting line at the dragstrip. Our tour bus driver made a pass but the aerodynamics of the vehicle kept the e.t.’s to a minimum.
This is the view from track owners Bruton Smith’s personal sky box. Looking down from this vantage point the facility seems more like a football stadium than a race course.
We were able to go down into the infield area for a closer look. The steep banking on the track became very evident when some Road Tourians attempted to climb to the top between turns one and two.
After a few hot laps around the track in the tour bus we took advantage of the opportunity to take a group portrait in victory lane.
We spent Monday evening in Beckley, WV. Some visited the New River Gorge Bridge and others stopped at the beautiful Tamarack facility in Beckley. This state-supported undertaking features the work of the fantastic artisans and craftsmen who live in West Virginia.
From West Virginia we headed north into Ohio. While the Canton Car Museum looks small from the outside, its looks are deceiving. Inside was a fantastic, wide-range collection of classic autos and automobilia, vintage furniture, and historical items relating to the town that’s also home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
After our visit in Canton it was a short drive to Akron and Gearstar Performance Transmissions where owner Zack Farah invited us in to see what goes into the building of a Gearstar transmission, Gearstar has been the official Road Tour transmission supplier for a number of years.
Wednesday morning we visited Flaming River Products west of Cleveland in Berea, OH. Flaming River has been the official Road Tour steering component supplier for over a decade.
We Were greeted by Flaming River owner and President Jeanette Ladina. Ladina gave us a tour, which included a behind-the-scenes look at their manufacturing facility.
We were treated to a fantastic barbecue dinner at Gearstar; many thanks to Zack Farah and the entire team at Gearstar for making our visit both educational and enjoyable.
The folks at Flaming River always go out of their way to show us what’s involved in manufacturing one of their many steering components products. They’re another company in our hobby that can proudly say their products are made in the United States.
We stayed in Battle Creek, MI, on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning visited the Gilmore Museum located about 25 miles north of Kalamazoo. We were joined by other rodders who were also in the area to attend the NSRA Nationals North.
Besides the beautifully restored barns filled with vehicles, this vintage Shell gas station makes a great place to photograph visitors’ vehicles. The hot yellow flames of the Road Tour ’55 are a perfect match to the famous Shell Oil colors.
Also on the Gilmore Museum grounds is a fully functioning diner that was open for business during our visit. Many of the Road Tourians enjoyed a quick sandwich and soda at the restored lunch counter.
The barns and buildings on the grounds of the Gilmore museum held many treasures. The collections on display range from classic autos from the ’20s and ‘30s to an exhibit that featured vintage race cards from early years of NASCAR.
If you look close you will see that this is not trick photography. This is an award-winning 1/24th scale model of our own Road Tour ’55 that Chas Cochran built over the summer and brought to the Gilmore Museum for us to see.
By Friday afternoon the grounds at the NSRA Street Rod Nationals North Plus were covered with participants. The weather was great all weekend and it capped off a fantastic week on the Lokar Midnight Road Tour.