Operated for the past 38 years by the Charlotte “Hornet’s Nest” chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America, it is an event beyond description of even the most seasoned, grizzled and crotchety of old car collectors.
And the real truth is you don’t need to be interested in cars in order to have a good time.
Billed as the world’s largest automotive extravaganza, the local chapter of the AACA has operated the spring and fall shows as a means of preserving and fostering an interest in classic cars. Truthfully, though, the show includes these and perhaps any other means of eccentric conveyance. Hell, even some of the shopping carts pushed by fairgoers were loaded for bear with wide slick tires on them. Auto-centric surroundings.
These so-called “businessmen” were responsible for modifying street cars so they had the ability to outrun the “Revenuers,” charged by the “guvmint” with making sure there were no illegal (during prohibition times) liquor distilleries operating in the rural regions of Appalachia, including the Carolinas, Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia, and Tennessee.
Using modifications such as removing the rear seats and any unnecessarials from the trunk, drivers were able to haul a week’s worth of “white lightning” from the still house to its customers in need of liquid gratification after a long work week in the mills and factories in the area.
Eventually, the “runners” needed to step things up a bit as the authorities got faster cars. Engines were improved for quicker acceleration, suspension parts stiffened for the increased liquor loads, and eventually reputations and bragging rights as to who was the fastest were made as well.
Now it was time for some “put up or shut up,” so the good ole boys went racing. Race they did and Charlotte was soon known as the epicenter of speed, and moonshining. Although moonshining may be a relic of the past, today virtually all of the contemporary NASCAR team’s race shops are located in the Charlotte area.
The CMS complex occupies more than 2,000 acres of a former U.S. Civil War plantation, and now includes a 1.5-mile quad-oval superspeedway, a four-lane dragstrip, a 2.25-mile road course, a 6/10th mile karting track, a quarter-mile oval, a 4/10th mile dirt oval and a 1/5th mile oval. In other words, it can handle almost every type of popular racing today. Which happens to make it a perfect venue for the twice a year Auto Fair.Parts and personalities
Attracting more than 100,000 attendees over a three-day period, the Auto Fair includes the latest offerings from most of the domestic U.S. auto brands, displays from more than 50 car clubs and more than 10,000 vendors with everything from the smallest grommet to completely built-up Ford Flathead racing engines to seats, fenders, dashboards, and as we saw last year, clear-heeled stripper shoes.
A “car corral” rings the 1.5-mile speedway oval and featured more than 5,500 cars for sale ranging from bone-stock showroom offerings to rat-rods, trucks, contemporary sedans and coupes to late-model resto-mods. Business has become so lively that the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles opens a temporary facility on-site to assist with sales transactions, and of course collection of vehicular sales tax.
Outside the track’s offices, the AACA holds its twice-yearly classic car show with pristine exhibits of heavy metal from eras stretching all the way back to the early 1900s. Examples included such beauties as a 1950 Ford Coupe, a 1957 Cadillac Biarritz Convertible, a 1956 Jaguar XK140 Coupe, a late 1920’s era Mack Model AB truck, Ford Model T and Model A vehicles including some beautiful Woody Wagon examples.
A classic Plymouth pickup truck gathered admirers with its Orange and Black lacquer, while a 1969 Iso Grifo was soothed by a rubdown from its owner. Across Bruton Smith Boulevard, an entire collector’s club of International Scout SUVs, from before we actually called them that, were displayed, where an impromptu swap meet ensued with owners buying and selling new old stock (NOS) parts to properly maintain their vehicles.Go fast and straight
Their fully restored cars never looked better, as displayed alongside the Snake’s old nemesis, “the Mongoose” Plymouth Duster of Tom McEwen.
Also interesting to see was the rather smallish (by today’s standards) race car hauler of Larson’s, who back in the day, was responsible for driving to the track, wrenching the car, racing it down the quarter-mile at speeds near 200 mph, and then back home again.
It’s a far cry from the teams of mechanics, crew chiefs, tons of spare parts and a 53-foot trailer in which to haul it and all the other equipment needed by a modern NHRA team.
Just down the hall were other examples of early Funny Cars including such preludes as the Gas Ronda longnose Mustang, and “43 Jr,” the Hemi-powered Plymouth Barracuda as campaigned by the legendary Stock Car driver Richard Petty on the dragstrip after NASCAR briefly banned the Chrysler Hemi engine from stock car racing.
They were joined by the “Bounty Hunter” Mustang of Connie Kalitta and the “Rambunctious” Dodge Charger of Gene Snow. Outside, on “manufacturer’s row,” newer fans were treated to appearances by current Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett and Funny Car pilot Matt Hagan.It’s not just about the cars
In addition to cars and parts, the CMS Auto Fair is also about the food. Just plan on some heavy dieting in the weeks running up to the event. It is a tradition that the CMS food supplier, Levy Restaurants, debuts an outrageous food item that will guarantee to hit the spot, and potentially act as an anchor to prevent fairgoers from blowing away during the gusty winds seen at this year’s event.
Previous year offerings included the energy-laden, 1,200 calorie Brunchburger (A quarter-pound Cheeseburger, with hashbrown potato patty, more cheese, thick sliced bacon, and a fried egg, nestled between two slices of maple syrup-covered French Toast), or such other delicacies as “Fried Butter” or the “Funnel Baconator.”
For 2016, the track offering came in the form of a “Three Alarm Jalapeno Milk Shake,” featuring hand-dipped Vanilla Bean ice cream, authentic Horchata, and candied jalapeño peppers. Better than it sounds, it was a slurp of sweetness followed by a spicy bite at the very end!Wheeling about
After getting that appetite fix, you are in no condition to continue walking around the Auto Fair. But fear not, as Charlotte Motor Speedway has you covered with their vendor, Scootaround Scooter Rentals.
Essentially a cushy chair on a motorized platform, it was the choice of conveyance for many around the 1.5-mile oval and its infield. It just so happened to be a favorite of attendees to the Hillbilly Swap Meet held outside the track in the Green Field Parking Lot.
Although not old enough to possess a driver’s license, the Auto Fair did its part in attracting the younger set to the automotive world. While we can’t attest to what their parents let them drive back home, there were enough under-agers to guarantee the future of collectible cars and hot rods will be well cared for in years to come. Prior attendees to the Auto Fair who came with their parents are now bringing kids of their own to continue spinning the wheel inside the wheel.