The largest hot rod road trip in the world rolls through the Southeast June 9-15, and it's making a stop in Chattanooga.
Classic hot rods will travel more than 1,300 miles, stopping in seven cities over seven days, for the 24th annual HOT ROD Power Tour, which draws about 3,800 "long-haulers" — those making the entire trip — along with around 2,000 local and regional cars joining at each stop.
When: June 10
Where: Chattanooga State Community College
People can come for free as a spectator, or pay a fee to join the tour for as many stops as they want. Register for the tour at hotrod.com/events. For more information, follow HOT ROD Power Tour at hotrod.com.
The route's starting point is determined by the previous year's tour, picking up where it left off and traveling along two-lane roads whenever possible. The goal is to see small-town America from the seat of a vintage car, says Phillip Thomas, senior staff editor at HOT ROD Magazine, which organizes the event. The tour also exposes the hot rod culture to different types of people and a new generation.
The caravan sometimes causes traffic jams as it passes through small towns, where residents often set up lawn chairs to sit back and enjoy the procession. "For the kids watching, it might be the moment they get into cars," says HOT ROD Network Editor Jacob Davis. The sounds and smells put off by the classic cars create a complete sensory experience, says Thomas. "It's a step back 30-40 years," he adds.
Hot rods are generally defined as old, classic cars with engines modified for speed, but the HOT ROD Power Tour keeps the designation loose, welcoming all makes and models of hot rods, street rods, custom trucks, muscle cars and performance machines of every vintage and nameplate — "as long as you are enjoying it and doing something to make it better," Davis says.
While there's something appealing about seeing 5,000-6,000 old cars in one spot, it's seeing them put to use that sets the Power Tour apart, says Thomas. "I never liked the look-but-don't-touch mentality," he says. "I like the camaraderie, that people are actually enjoying their car on a road trip and making memories in an old hot rod."
He loves the stories behind the cars as much as the vehicles themselves. One man had a car he was working on fall and crush his skull, nearly killing him. The Power Tour gave him a goal to rebuild his life, says Thomas, who also knows of one group of long-haulers who've been doing the tour for 15 years since college. They often organize charity events to benefit a buddy with MS, Thomas says.
The tour also serves as a "bridge-builder" between people of different backgrounds and cultures, says Davis. "It breaks down all those walls. People don't care about anything except 'What did you do with your car?' You'll never find anything else like it," he says.
Since the tour is the only time many have driven their car all year, breakdowns are inevitable. But they're also opportunities to experience the sense of family on the tour as everyone stops to offer help or throw you a spare tire from their trunk.
The Scenic City is the tour's second stop after it kicks off in Bowling Green, Kentucky this year. The tour will be at Chattanooga State Community College June 10 from noon to 7 p.m.
There will be more to do than just stand around and check out the scene. Each stop also features a drag strip and autocross course (a timed competition in which drivers navigate a defined course one at a time), along with a midway of mobile display rigs from more than 50 performance manufacturers and aftermarket specialists.