Crown Point hosts hot rod Power Tour
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent June 11, 2014 9:42PM
Randy Heide of Morrison, IL showing his 1970 Plymouth RoadRunner SuperBird, 1 of only 3 made with the package selected on this car in Crown Point on June 11, 2014. | Jim Karczewski/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 13, 2014 6:03AM
CROWN POINT — There’s one thing that most hot-rod enthusiasts like to do more than show their vehicles — drive them.
More than 4,500 did just that Wednesday when the 20th annual Hot Rod Magazine Power Tour made what could be a once-in-a-lifetime stop at the Lake County Fairgrounds.
The event was one of seven along the roughly 1,500-mile, seven-day, seven-state trek that began at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina and concludes at the Chula Vista Resort in the Wisconsin Dells.
A steady stream of hot rods made their way through Crown Point to the fairgrounds and filled almost every spot of vacant land once there.
“We’re just hot rodders having fun,” Les Battershell, of Tulsa, Okla., said while walking around the fairgrounds visiting with fellow drivers.
Battershell is a “long hauler,” driving his 1970 Chevrolet SWB (Short Wide Bed) truck from the start of the tour to the finish.
Participants have the option of running the full tour or picking up part of it as it nears their home state. The ride is something that Jessica Kirchner, spokeswoman for the Power Tour, said most hot-rod guys dream of doing.
“If you’re a hot-rod guy, a car show guy, you know a guy who has done the tour,” Kirchner said.
The tour was started 20 years ago by a group of the magazine’s writers and project car mechanics who wanted to take their hot rods on the road. The following year, the magazine officially got involved and opened up the road trip to readers.
It continues to grow each year. Along with the more than 4,500 cars that participate, more than 75,000 spectators line the streets as the tour passes through its cities.
Speros Batistatos, president and chief executive of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the event filled up hotels in Lake and Porter counties and had a significant impact on other local businesses as well.
“This is one of those highly visible pieces of business that tells people what tourism is all about,” he said.
More than 50 of the nation’s automotive and aftermarket parts manufacturers participate in the tour and exhibit at the various stops. Josh Rhodus, of Portage, and Konnor Hamilton, of Lake Station, were at the Lucas Oil Products booth, having their personal cars tested for horsepower.
Rhodus had his wife’s 2008 Ford Mustang GT up on the machine.
“I just wanted to see what kind of horsepower it puts down,” he said.
Hamilton was testing his 2005 Chevrolet Corvette C6. His family owns Hamilton Machine Performance Engine in Lake Station, and he said the tour is just what the area needed for its hot-rod fans.
“We need something like this to get people from all over to share their passion for hot rods,” he said.
Tom Pettit, of Columbus, Ohio, and his friend, Brian Wood, of Springfield, Ohio, were taking part in the Power Tour for the first time, checking out their fellow drivers’ cars and the exhibits.
“We’re virgins,” Wood said, adding that they’ve known about the event for years and decided it was finally time to hit the road. Pettit is driving a 1997 Chevrolet Z28 Camero while Wood has a 2008 Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500.
“It’s a bucket list item,” Wood said of participating in the tour.
“It’s been a lot of fun. It’s nice to meet all the car people. Everybody is so friendly,” Pettit said.
Second-time participant and first-time driver Randy Heidi, of Morrison, Ill., said he could not pass up the opportunity to drive this year because the tour was passing so close to his home. Heidi drives a rare 1970 Plymouth Road Runner with almost every option available original to the car. He has had the car since 1973.
“It is probably one of the most highly optioned ‘Super Birds’ out there,” he said.
He takes the car to shows but said he prefers the chance to get it out on the road.
“I love to get this thing out there and let the public experience just how special this car is,” Heidi said.