Sunday, July 24, 2016

Full Immersion: Car Craft Summer Nationals 2016

For years when I was in high school and college, I read Car Craft magazine.  I loved the tech articles, the event coverage, and the awesome car features.  I still dream of one day having a car cool enough to be in a magazine.  I even watched the backgrounds of pictures and videos from Power Tour and last year's Car Craft Summer Nationals to see if my car was hiding anywhere.  One of the events I read about every year in the magazine was the Car Craft Summer Nationals, basically a three day weekend of car show and cruise with vendors, prizes, and usually an autocross course.  This fun was usually held at the Minnesota state fairgrounds, and while I was in high school, the four hour drive and hotels and everything else was simply too much for me to afford, but I said someday I'd be there.  Eventually, I moved to Wisconsin and even though I had more income, I still couldn't swing it and the now six hour drive.  Then, last year, I heard the best news I could've imagined; not only was Power Tour starting in my backyard, Summer Nats was moving to the WI state fair park!

One from last year
Badges of honor on the Vic
I was ecstatic that I finally could go, even though I moved out of Milwaukee a couple of years ago.  I stayed at my brother's house and shot so many pictures and raced autocross and met the Roadkill guys and met John McGann (chief editor of Car Craft and fellow Crown Vic lover), and I even got to see a picture of my car on the Car Craft website ON THE AUTOCROSS!  It was a great weekend, and I was so happy.  That had to happen again...

Straight from the Car Craft website last summer!
Guess what happened last weekend.  Car Craft Summer Nationals 2016!  (You're good at this guessing thing.)  I got out of work for both my jobs and came down to do it again.  This year they had even added more cool stuff!  Along with the show, the vendors, the autocross, the burnout contests, the dyno challenge, Real Street Eliminator competition, Miss Car Craft, Midnight Drags, car cruise, prizes, and everything else I can't even remember, they added a drifting exhibition that was a pretty cool addition from last year.  As usual, Summer Nats was cool and eclectic with something that was bound to appeal to everyone.

Patina wagon with rims and custom interior.  Dreams...
Dude cruisin' an old mini bike. 
Half-rat ramp truck on bags
Driving around a picnic table with a cooler mounted to it.
Last year, I just tried to see all the cars and booths and eventually got distracted by my first ever attempt at autocross.  That was cool, and I saw some sweet cars (which you can see here), but this year I had a plan: autocross all day Friday, see cars with friends on Saturday, watch drag racing, more autocross and some cars on Sunday.  This plan worked fairly well, but there were a few glitches that weren't especially in my favor... but then some that really were!

FC-Hot Rod
Friday, I got going late.  I wanted to be down there early, but I wound up sleeping in and getting there around noon.  Not the greatest, but I figured this was my autocross day, so no real biggy.  I got my wristband and car sticker and headed into the show. I did the cruise lap to see what was going on and where everything was this year, and then I went into the infield to race.

This Gremlin was killer, and I'm pretty sure it had the top time.
I saw some familiar cars from last year along with some new ones and some updates on some previous contenders.  After a while, I saw the guys from Roadkill pull in with their Mazdarati and take a crack at the course.  I asked Finnegan if they were going mini-truck vs mini-truck with the Ranger kid from last year.  Just after their run, I turned around just in time to see the Ranger pulling in, complete with its freshly swapped 5.0L and T5.  Last I heard, the Ranger won.  Eric had just wrapped up the swap shortly before Summer Nats, and I had just swapped a posi into my car the night before they opened the autocross.  Both of us had completely embraced the Roadkill way of life.  We just need to buy a race car from a junkyard now.

This was a stock 2.5L I4 and wimpy 5-speed last year. 
New favorite Ranger shot.
Makin' it happen
After a glorious day on the autocross, my friend came down in his '86 Camaro with a V6 and a 5-speed, and we met up for dinner and a cruise through town.  We had a wonderful, and fairly inexpensive meal at one of my favorite bars on Hwy 100, Club Paragon.  (I really wish I would've found out about this place while I still lived down in Milwaukee.  It's a log cabin atmosphere with good drinks, fun stuff to do, amazing food, and several TVs.  If you ever get a chance to go there, do it.  Seriously.)  After we ate, his girlfriend had to do a little shopping, which Brad and I made interesting.  The West Allis Kohl's will never let us come back.  Big loss.

Watch for it in the Real Street Eliminator coverage in Car Craft magazine.
Finally, we got to cruise Hwy 100, the only cruise area I've ever heard of in Milwaukee.  Normally, it's a lot of Ricers, but with the show in town, it was a really solid mix of rice and muscle and even some fancy exotics.  We were driving along, and of all people, Jodee pointed out the large concentration of muscle cars at Oscar's Frozen Custard (another great place to eat) while Brad was pointing out to me that we should get custard.  We turned and went back to find the classic custard stand surrounded by about twenty classic cars.  The best part was, as time went on, the cars rotated stock, and about every fifteen minutes a handful would leave, and another handful would pull in.  It was pretty awesome, and well worth the late night seeing it all and taking pictures.

I love this one in the shadows 

We were about to leave when this one pulled up.  Lucky I noticed it.
Not great lighting over where he parked though.
I need to get sidetracked here and tell you a story.  Brad had never been to Summer Nationals, and I'm pretty sure he only knew about them because of me talking about going to them.  He went online to sign up as a participant, and from what he told me, nowhere on the site did it say it was free to autocross.  So what does he do with his grove-fresh, just finally running, stock 3.1-swapped '86 Firebird?  He enters the Real Street Eliminator competition.  Really, when you think about it, you could make the case that it's Real Street because it's his summer daily or why doesn't everyone sign up for it because it's a killer deal for autocross, speed stop, and a dyno test, plus you get to skip in line on the autocross.  The best part of it all was that he didn't have off of work Friday, missed the mandatory drivers' meeting, didn't get official until Saturday around 10, couldn't stay all day, and maybe only ran the autocross about seven times that weekend.  I shot a video of him and the built by high schoolers Camaro on the dyno Sunday morning.  It was pretty fun to watch both cars back to back.  I don't know how he did overall, but I do know I had to buy him lunch that day because his car beat all of our expectations in the horsepower department.  Being the lowest guess in the bet, I had to pony up the cash.  His car has 120hp to the wheels, and it did decent and looked like it handled pretty well on the autocross.

Until this weekend, his goal was to build a turbocharged 400 drag car out of this.
After the autocross, he's not so sure.
Did I mention that he Long Hauled last year on Power Tour in his '91 Firebird convertible?
Saturday was the day I wanted to see the cars.  I was going, that day, with my brother, my mom, my mom's friend from grade school who is a mechanic, his two sons, and one of his son's sons.  We walked the show for a bit, but inevitably, we ate, and I autocrossed.  Time ran out too fast, and I had spent too much time racing, watching the racing, and watching the drift exhibition, and eventually, we had a dinner date with the group about a mile away at the one son's house for a cookout.  I didn't get to see as many cars as I'd have liked, but I talked with some cool people, and that was well worth it.

Didn't actually get to talk to them
My car at the cookout.
After the cookout, I headed to Union Grove, WI, to finally see the Car Craft Midnight Drags.  We didn't go last year because we assumed it'd been cancelled due to the tornado that went through.  We were wrong.  This year, I watched about half the qualifying rounds (still running late), and then someone in one of the other races wet the track, so they had to do some extensive cleaning before they could keep racing.  I took that opportunity to walk through the pits looking at all the cool cars and trailer setups and everything.  That was tons of fun.  Seeing everyone thrashing and running to get the cars on the line or fixed before they had to pre-stage again.  You could honestly get hit and seriously injured walking through the pits, if it isn't drag cars driving fast back to their pits or being pushed quickly to their pits without lights, their crew on sometimes lit golf carts could just as easily run you down speeding around the pits.  You really need to have your head on a swivel and keep checking your surroundings while shooting photos.  A lot of pictures I took of passes down the track didn't turn out because they got a bit blurry, but I kept them in the album because it still gives you a bit of a feel for how fast they were moving.  In the semifinals, I found a spot by the fence by the start line where I got some sweet shots along with near the time slip booth (or whatever they call it) on the return road.  The final race of the Summer Nats, I got on video because I knew it'd be good.  The '73 Javelin with a big block and a single turbo qualified with a 7.20 second 1/4 mile at 205 mph, and was lining up to run the final race.  We got to the top of the grand stand to get the best vantage point.  It didn't disappoint with a 7.12 at 207 winning the whole thing.  We made our way back to Milwaukee with a group of classic muscle cars.

Announcer said, "I'd love to tell you folks what's going on, but I can't see!  Round of applause for [Lane 2]."
Sunday was not great for the car show, if I'm honest.  A lot of guys (or should I say girls?) were scared away by early morning rain showers leaving a pretty small group of cars at the show.  Once we got there, we dyno tested Brad's Camaro and headed in to the autocross.  As we left the dyno, John McGann passed us on a golf cart.  I had seen him around half a dozen times over the weekend, but I hadn't gotten to talk to him by that point.  Last year, I caught him on Friday taking pictures, and I flagged him down, said hi, and told him about my car.  He is a fellow Crown Vic enthusiast.  We wound up following him all the way to the autocross.  Brad and I got right in line.  As I rolled closer and closer to the start line, I looked over and saw him sitting, watching the racing.  I ran my camera over to him, and asked the favor of him snapping a few as I went around, and he agreed.  That's right!  I got pictures of me racing my car on the autocross from John freakin' McGann, the guy who runs Car Craft Magazine!  I was pretty ecstatic.  And they look really good.  It also wound up being my best run of the weekend.

Photo Credit: John McGann
Photo Credit: John McGann

Sunday is the shortest day of the show, and once the autocross wound down and we found some lunch and listened to the announcements for the Real Street competition, we decided to head out and make our way home.  In the end, I had a great time once again at Summer Nats, and I hope they stay in Milwaukee for a good, long time.  It's pretty much what I look forward to all year... unless I find money for Power Tour again.  I gave John McGann my business card for photography; maybe he'll read this and like it enough that I can get one of my dream jobs, working in their Detroit office, and then I'd get to go to more events like this.  That'd be really cool...  Until then, you can see all 720-something pictures I shot here.  Enjoy!

Oddball Autocross!
I was amazed watching this.  So slow.  55 seconds 
My car did 32.0, for comparison.
Looks fast, 15 mph.  43 seconds

Cait wait 'til next year...

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