Hot Rod tour: 'Around every corner, it's something different'
CHAMPAIGN — A little rain Monday didn't quell the party-like atmosphere that rolled into town with the Hot Rod Power Tour.
The tour, which stopped at the University of Illinois Assembly Hall on Monday afternoon, brought cars of all makes and models and their owners from all over the United States to Champaign for a day and a night.
Hot Rod Magazine puts on the tour, which started Saturday at the General Motors Milford Proving Ground in Michigan and will make seven stops in a seven-day road trip heading to Arlington, Texas.
Jessica Hubley, who does media relations for the tour, said she expected 3,000 cars in Champaign for the tour, which saw its most-ever cars Sunday in Muskegon, Mich.
Monday's route sent drivers through downtown Danville before they arrived at the Assembly Hall.
There they stopped while local drivers, just joining in for the day, pulled in as well.
Organizers try to send cars down state highways, rather than interstates, and put together packages for drivers to book seven hotel rooms in seven cities in a variety of price ranges.
One such driver was Ryan "Rabbott" Abbott, who brought the car he built to look like a P-40 Warhawk, a World War II plane.
A crowd formed immediately around his car (it happens whenever he takes it to a car show, he said) and he took the opportunity to show off its hydraulic landing gear (he can elevate all four tires) and let kids sit in the driver's seat.
He built it using blueprints from an original P-40, but modified those. He likes that it's different, even from other custom cars.
Father and son duo Paul Wayman and Mike Wayman are from the Kansas City area, and Paul Wayman has been driving the entire tour for the last 16 years.
He's always driven his 1978 Camaro, which he bought new in December 1977. He's on his fifth engine and the car has about 350,000 miles on it.
His son, Mike, started joining him five years ago and they drive together, along with a cooler and plenty of road snacks.
"If we get bored, we just drive faster," Mike Wayman said.
They like meeting new people and seeing the same friends every year on the tour.
"It's something that's just really fun to do," Paul Wayman said.
Family is also an important draw for Heath Martin of Salina, Kan., who arranged leave from serving in Kuwait to join the tour in Champaign. He's a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army and he's been planning on joining the tour for about a year.
He drove with his father, brother and uncle, each in their own cars. They first did the tour in 2008, Martin said, and he enjoys spending his time with other car lovers.
It takes awhile to adjust to driving again, Martin said, because he doesn't do much of that in Kuwait.
"After eight or nine hours, it was, 'Oh, I remember how to do this,'" Martin said.
Hot Rod Magazine publisher Jerry Pitt said the route is determined by where the tour starts and ends, and by what towns are open to having thousands of car enthusiasts visit. The tour started 18 years ago when several magazine staffers decided they needed to take a road trip and invited some friends. Since then, it's grown to include special events like a trip to the proving grounds and fun runs at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill. The tour also features celebrities in the hot rod industry and a look at cars from sponsor Chevrolet Performance, which aren't available at your neighborhood dealer.
According to Cory Hatfield of the Champaign County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Power Tour is expected to have a $1.3 million economic impact on the Champaign-Urbana area.
Pitt said the event is a way for car people to come together in a full sensory experience, and the key to its fun is flexibility. Some people drive the whole tour, some join halfway through and some bring their cars for a day.
"Around every corner, it's something different," Pitt said.
And it attracts a certain kind of car lover, Hubley said, one who isn't afraid to get his or her hot rod off the trailer and drive.
"It's all about ... getting out there and driving your car and celebrating the open road," Hubley said.