"The difference between men and boys is the price of their toys."I've always thought Mae West said that, but a search through the 'net provides no known author -- only lots of examples of those expensive toys some men crave: $75,000 watches, $10,000 digital cameras, a gold-plated AK-47, boats...-- Author unknown
And, of course, high-performance cars!
Which reminds me, the hot rods are coming! Upwards of 4,500 of them will take over Downtown this Sunday, blocking streets, taking up all the parking, their owners filling all the hotels, restaurants and stores for miles around. And, more importantly, giving all us guys something to drool over and dream about...
The Hot Rod Magazine Power Tour visited here two years ago on a rainy day not much suited to them or us. (As I write this, the long-range weather forecast is "chance of thunderstorms" on Saturday, so we can only keep our fingers crossed.)
Weather aside, it seems an inauspicious time for car enthusiasts to polish up the objects of their affection and take them for a seven-day, seven-city road trip. Gas prices are climbing past the $3 a gallon mark, Chrysler and GM are both in bankruptcy -- what the hell were they thinking? But it turns out, according to Jerry Pitt, publisher of Hot Rod magazine (and of Car Craft and Hot Rod Deluxe) that this miserable economy hasn't hurt the hot rodders ... or even those who cater to them, journalists like himself.
"This is the worst downturn ever," Pitt said over a beer during an advance visit. "But this is the magazine's best year ever. It depends on your perception of reality." We talked a bit about the troubles newspapers are having and he noted, "Affinity media don't have the same problems." Hot Rod's circulation is a hefty 675,000. Pitt earned his chops early: his father owned a body shop and was a hot rodder after the war. "I knew at a young age I wanted to work at a hot rod magazine," he said.
"People have a love affair with their cars," he says. The down economy helps in one way: car prices are reduced, so more guys can acquire that car they've always wanted ... and, of course, soup it up! When Hot Rod magazine was started, in 1948, "hot-rodding," "hop-ups," "hopping up engines" were all derogatory terms, he said, all synonyms for causing trouble. "Owners made performance cars out of vehicles Henry Ford never would have."
But today, a hot-rodder is "anybody who has pride in their car and has made it their own. Owners are very enthusiastic." Verrry enthusiastic ... as in shipping their cars over from South Africa, or Australia just to join the week-long Power Tour, which begins Saturday in Madison -- the final stop of last year's tour -- and ends in Bristol, TN, with a reception on Saturday, June 13, just for the "Long Haulers" who participate in the entire tour.
But the best day will be this Sunday, when the hot rods are here. And not just for us: Hot Rod's website says this: "From Madison, we'll make the short trip over to Racine simply because we felt this was among the best venues of all time, despite the rain in 2007."
And what's so special about Racine, you ask? Well, you'd have to visit some of the other stops on the tour, where the cars are relegated to "a lot of dusty fairgrounds and large parking lots," according to Jessica Hubley, who's helping market the tour. "We don't get embraced by many towns."
Embraced they will be in Racine. The 4,500 cars, and about 10,000 drivers and their passengers, will have all of Downtown to enjoy Sunday: Blocked off for the hot-rodders' exclusive use are Pershing Drive, Main Street from Third to Seventh, and a good hunk of the cross streets (see map; click to enlarge). There will be 40-50 vendors set up on the grass at Gateway College, and a free concert by the Last Call Trio at Festival Park (open to everyone, including us) from noon to 4 p.m.
Dave Blank of the Racine County Convention and Visitors Bureau confirmed that the RCCVB paid $35,000 to ensure that the tour stopped here; money that will be spent many times over at local hotels, retailers, restaurants and gas stations. In '07, even with the rain, the tour brought more than $1.3 million into the local economy, according to Blank.
This is the 15th Hot Rod Magazine Power Tour, its stated aim being to provide "a traveling celebration of power, performance, styling and all things automotive." The GM Performance Division is expected to display some special cars, including a Pontiac G8 GXP four-door, 425 HP screamer, as well as a Cadillac CTS-V. (The cars are driven on the tour by GM employees who won a lottery allowing them to participate -- on their own vacation time.)
Some 65,000 spectators are expected to view the touring hot rods at the seven stops on the tour. And there is something special for everyone, including a chance to win a 2010 Camaro SS Indy Pace Car, worth $33,000. Entry forms for the car sweepstakes -- no purchase necessary, yada yada -- will be at this website from June 6 to June 12. Second prize is a 350 HP engine from GM's Performance Division.
Local car enthusiasts who wish to show their car for the day can do so at any of the tour's stops, for $25, which provides a vehicle decal and credentials for the driver and one passenger. To pre-register, call 1-877-413-6515 or visit www.hotrod.com.