Wednesday, May 29, 2019

FROM THE ARCHIVES-- HRPT 2015 - Madison, WI to Gonzalez (Baton Rouge), LA (1478 miles)

June 3-5 Orlando, FL to Madison, WI (1,320 miles)

Finally, after nearly a year, at 6:00 am June 3, it was time to leave again for the Hot Rod Power Tour. Tara and I in the Acadian and my dad in my 2014 Corvette. This is the Corvette's maiden long haul and all I can hope is that it fares better than the Challenger did. My parents made an "In Memoriam" poster that they are proudly displaying on the Vette's dash.

Anyhow, we met my sister for breakfast in Gainesville and continued en route for Nashville, TN. Of Course, we had to eat, so we stopped for a very late lunch at the Marietta Diner. The food is good, and the desserts are works of art. The building is cool and made a great backdrop for a photo of the Acadian.

We made Nashville after 15 hours on the road. It's only 12 or so actual driving hours, but when you have to stop for gas every 2 hours or so, it adds a lot of time.

The next morning, we left bright and early for our next stopover, Bloomington, IL. We all learned something; Illinois is like the Napa Valley of the Midwest. Apparently, there are over 200 wineries and vineyards. Tara found a really nice one called Blue Sky where we stopped for an early lunch (and wine tasting). We pulled into our hotel in Bloomington and discovered that there was a charity "wine, cheese and chocolate" event in the hotel ballroom. Of course, we bought tickets and ate our fill of gourmet cheeses, Italian food and chocolate, not to mention, sampled some more Illinois wine. After all, it was only a three-hour drive to Madison.

After driving through 6 states in two and a half days we reached our destination at 10:30 am. We had enough time to wash both cars before picking my mom up at the airport in Madison. We then ate at Ella's Deli. You couldn't miss this place. It had a huge carousel outside and inside was full of mechanical toys and characters hanging from the ceiling and moving on a pulley system. We always try to avoid chain restaurants on the Tour. Often, we try to find places that have been featured on a Food Network show, like Diners, Drive ins, and Dives. This time, we were a bit early. Turns out, the Food Network was shooting for a future feature. They would not tell us what show, but after confirming it was not Kitchen Nightmares or Restaurant Impossible, we decided to stay for lunch. Our table had a working model train embedded in it and Mighty Mouse flew back and forth over our booth as we ate.

Afterward, we went picked up our registration packets at the Aliant Center and checked into our hotel. We got a prime spot for the Acadian right in front of the Hotel and it got pictured on Hot Rod's website. My dad found a perfect spot for the Corvette. Right between supercharged ones by Magnuson Performance and Lingengfelter. We caught up to the rest of our crew Tim and Lori (1957 Chevrolet "Buck Baker tribute"), Jake (1967 Chevrolet Truck, now sporting a big block 396) and Fred (1955 custom Chevrolet) in the hotel bar. Somehow between there and dinner, Tara managed to get pooped on by a bird-at least it was only a small bird.

Can't wait for all that Day 1 has in store.

June 6 Madison, WI (0 miles)

The first day of Power Tour is always exciting and today was no exception. The weather was nice and cool most of the day. This morning it was in the 50's-- IN JUNE!!! The sun was out, and it warmed to 76. We had no issues getting into the venue and getting parked. It was conveniently located across the street from our hotel. We got parked and ran into Jacob (Pontiac G8) another of our group from Orlando. This is his first Power Tour so, we walked with him to the vendor's midway and main stage to punch our credentials get some of the freebies that come along with being a Long Hauler. We even ran into Hollywood Howard (In his words: "Bright Ass Green" Monte Carlo) Then it was back to checking out the cars.

My dad mentioned that there seemed to be fewer cars than at other Tour stops- then we found out there were another thousand or so cars on the other side of the venue that we couldn't see. Rumor has it there were 5,800 cars. It's hard to describe the spectacle. Every car you can imagine, even a Tucker!!!, and some you probably couldn't (check out the pictures of "Tow Mater"; the 88 door 1957 Chevy; the "upside down" F150 and the GMC truck with the vintage V12 in the pictures) are on display and many are planning to make the full run to Baton Rouge.

Tara and I left the venue for a bit to fill the tank and cruise around Madison. But we didn't get far before the smell of burning brakes hit us. We were already heading back to the venue, so we pulled into a spot and realized there was an issue with one of the rear brakes. It was 5:00 p.m. and we must leave for Champaign tomorrow!! Lori reminded us about the GM Motor Medics. I've written about them in previous years' blogs but this is the first time we've had to visit them. They are from GM Performance who work tirelessly to repair participants' cars. If you bring them the parts, they have all the tools you can imagine and will do the labor for free. They had already worked on 40 cars before us and it was only Day 1.

We got the Acadian up in the air removed the wheel and the drum and the brake shoe had completely disintegrated. what? We can't drive the car and we still needed brake shoes. Fortunately, Autozone is one of the vendors on tour and has arranged with the local store to make parts deliveries every thirty minutes. I ran over to their display semi-trailer, ordered as set of brake shoes, and they were delivered to us in 20 minutes. The Motor Medics got everything buttoned back up and we were good to go in about an hour total.

After getting the car fixed up, we headed to Salvatore's Tomato Pie for dinner with a bunch of our friends. The pizza was great. Then it was back to the hotel to enjoy the evening in the parking lot and check out more cars. That's when we met Matt from Milford, MI and his buddies with their modified GMC Sonoma in the air and the transmission lying beside it. They were changing their clutch slave cylinder and throwout bearing in the parking lot (the truck couldn't get to the Medics). Another guy in another truck had his valve covers off and was adjusting an issue in his valvetrain. TOUR ON!!!

Tomorrow we leave bright and early for Champaign, IL

June 7- Madison, WI to Champaign, IL (239 miles)

This morning's weather started the opposite of what we had yesterday. Instead of blue skies and 70-degree temperature, it was cold and rainy. Due to a bicycle event closing the road in front of our hotel, our group of Tim & Lori, my mom and dad, Jake, Jacob, Fred and the guys from Gibson performance in their 900 hp gold/black 2015 Mustang left at 6:30 this morning. Our breakfast stop was a great place in Janesville, WI called the Citrus Cafe. Leave it to Floridians to find a place with fresh squeezed OJ in Wisconsin. The food was great, and we ate more than our fill.

After the brief breakfast detour, we joined back up on the scheduled route and the weather started to clear up, or so we thought. It rained off and on through most of the run. Despite the weather, many people still lined the roads to wave and watch as the Power Tour came through. We went through some quaint towns and through Lake Geneva, where there were some awesome lake houses.

The first half of the route was mostly backroads and a long stretch of 45 mph surface street. The most scenic route was along the Kankakee River. It was also at a sharp right turn that I realized I can drift the Acadian. I went into the turn a little too hot and with the slightly wet road and wet brakes, I managed to do a nice slide around the corner. Of course, It would have been better had I meant to do it. Between the weather and traffic lights, it took 5 hours (including breakfast and 2 gas stops) to go halfway. But, the second half of the route was mainly highway with clear skies, so we made up the second half in short order.

As we approached the venue at Parkland College, we met up with our frequent long-haul buddy Scott in his 1970 Hemi Challenger Convertible. Basically, to quote Jake Blues, "We're putting the band back together."

The venue itself was packed with cars in 5 or 6 segmented parking lots when we arrived, and we were some of the first Long Haulers to get there. The venue was great. It had lots of shade and grassy areas. We grabbed an end spot where the majority of our group could park together. Lori of course used her "schmoozin' and shmearin'" technique and scored an upfront spot near the vendors.

We got clocked in and picked up our second day freebies before grabbing a bite to eat. One thing that never seems to fail is that there are never enough food vendors and the lines can get long. We went with the shortest line- a taco truck. The food was very good, but they couldn't seem to get anyone's orders right. It was a spectacle. Some people got so frustrated that whatever came out the window was "close enough." Somehow, Jacob, my dad and I all got what we ordered. We brought the food back to the cars talked to people and watched the cars roll in. It was even more fun watching them leave. Most everyone did a burnout down the street in both directions. Some of the best smoke came from a Bandit Trans Am with a big blower, slicks and wheelie bars.

Once the crowd thinned a little, we took the Acadian on a driving tour through the parking lots to try and see more cars. We saw a purple 1970 Charger that someone converted into a Daytona, I'm not sure why they would do it, but it was kinda cool. We also saw a barn find AAR 'Cuda. It's amazing how many classic hot rods and muscle cars are on the Tour. We passed a row of Chevelles from 65 through 72 and even saw a 75 Road Runner (not a good year). Of course, there is also plenty of modern muscle. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of 2014-2015 Corvettes (in my unbiased opinion, it is one of the best cars to drive). There were also lots of new Mustangs, Camaros, and Challengers, including several Hellcats.

Finally, we had dinner at Houlihan's in the Ihotel at the University of Illinois. While it seems counter to the "no chain restaurant rule", this particular Houlihan's is different from others. Plus, Tara has apparently been jonesing for another of their peach Long Island Ice Teas since we were there three years ago. Another perk was that they took a reservation for 14. The food and drinks were good, as was the company. We were even joined by Elana Scherr, a writer for Hot Rod (she did a ride-along with Scott a few years ago when his car was featured). Vic Edelbrock and his family were also at the restaurant and Tara met the whole crew as she was walking back to our table. They have similar tastes because they were also at the pizza place we ate at in Madison.

While we ate and drank, the weather got even worse and poured while we were eating. Many of the iPhone's got flood warning alerts. Amazingly, it stopped raining just long enough for us to get to the cars and back to the hotel. On the way, I missed a fork in the road and ended up driving through a puddle deep enough to worry an Amphicar. The Acadian sailed on through and we made it back to the hotel right before the really hard stuff started.

Tomorrow we hit the road for St. Louis, MO.

June 8- Champaign, IL to St. Louis, MO (190 miles)

Last night's torrential downpour let up, but it was still wet and drizzly at 6:30 when we went down for breakfast. Fortunately for everyone in our group, our windows all worked. Apparently, there was a car in the lot with windows that didn't. I can't imagine how uncomfortable a ride that will be. Ron, Dennis and Rory from Gibson Performance Exhaust and Scott and his daughter, Cody met us at the hotel. Then, it was onto St. Louis and sunnier skies. Today's route took us through farm country, but first we had to work our way out of Champaign and its infinite traffic lights that seemed timed to break up our group of cars.

We all were able to regroup and fill up at a gas station before leaving civilization. One of my favorite sights on the Power Tour are the gas stations packed with show cars. I tried to get a good picture of all of our cars, plus a red GTO, Ford GT and even a Panoz something-or-other.

We wended our way along some huge cornfields and, in case anyone was worried, there does not appear to be any shortage of corn this year. We passed a small town that had a "Chevrolet Hall of Fame" museum. Even though the museum was supposed to be closed on Mondays, Lori called, and I think the phone was routed to the curator's house. She may or may not have woken him up. He was willing to open the museum for us, but by the time we had called, we were already well past it. So we were stuck with more corn. Since the scenery was nothing to write home (or a blog) about, Tara tested her skills taking pictures using the Acadian's side the rearview mirror.

When it came time to plan a lunch stop, our reliance on Yelp failed. It turns out, Staunton, IL does not have many Yelpers or foodies. Subway got 4 stars. Ever the resourceful one, Lori called city hall and asked them where we should go. We were directed to R & B's. The food was great, and the portions were huge.

By the time we finished lunch, the sun was shining, and the forecast was clear. Scott and Cody, Tara and I, and my parents decided to backtrack to a self-service car wash to clean the mud and grime off our cars. We weren't the only ones with the same idea. It should come as no surprise to anyone, that a mean sounding Chevy wagon with Florida plates knew Tara.

We arrived at Gateway Motorsports Park. Traffic control for all these venues so far has been great and we were able to cruise right in. Inside the venue, was a bit more disorganized. When we realized they were going to park us a mile from the stage and drag strip, we passed up that space and worked our way out to better parking right near the vendors and the drag strip where everything was going on. To get there, we had to go a quarter lap on the oval which made for some good pictures.

We got parked and punched in and collected our freebies. Then Jacob and I decided to take some fun runs down the dragstrip and Tara got premium parking and shade in front of the Gibson trailer.

As I was going into the staging lanes, I made a girl named Ashley's day by saying "yes" when she ran up to my car and asked if she could ride with me down the strip. She made me call Tara and make sure it was OK. Tara laughed her head off an came and took pictures. (Tara went with me on the second run. This was the first time I have ever been on a dragstrip and I got lined up against a AMG turbo V8 Mercedes that Ashley told me had been running 11's in the quarter mile. I hadn't even unloaded the trunk. My only goal that first run was not to red light and embarrass myself. The AMG was a full second and a half faster than me, but I finished with a 12.961 at 112.17 mph. My second pass (this time with Tara in the car) was against a bare steel Chevrolet pickup with a radical sounding motor. I shaved a quarter second off my time and hit 112.91 mph. VICTORY!!! The truck ran 13.856. 

I was going to take my dad on a run, but they shut down the track for the burnout contest. We didn't see the contest, but Hollywood Howard from Sanford texted Tara afterward to say he blew up the rear end in his car. The winner was a turbo LS powered S10 that blew his tire in dramatic fashion. Here is a link to video: I'm still looking for video or pics of Howard. Good thing the prize for winning is a new set of tires.

We left the venue and checked into the hotel. The Drury Plaza across from the Arch. We stayed here three years ago during the Detroit to Dallas Power Tour. The hotel is great and has a free happy hour with food. It also has the parking garage from hell- you have to make a sharp left at the entrance, then a sharp right to go up a 45-degree ramp with a snap right turn at the top. I can't imagine driving up it with manual transmission (at least not without hill assist). We decided to make it an early night since the route to Memphis is one of the longer runs. Here are some pictures, including a custom Turbo 4-cylinder Nova built by GM Performance which they unveiled on the Power Tour.

June 9- St. Louis, MO to Memphis, TN (311 miles)

Today was the longest run of the Power Tour, but also the most scenic. And, we had perfect weather to boot. Finally, blue skies and sun for the whole day!! We left earlier than usual, but due to a bad address, our rendezvous with the Gibson Performance crew was delayed a bit. But, sitting in a gas station in Cahokia, Illinois along the Power Tour route isn't too bad because awesome car after awesome car cruised on by. Once our group was gathered, we turned right out of the gas station. Almost immediately, things got interesting.

Suddenly, blue and red lights began flashing. My dad and Ron Gibson, both driving flashy, powerful cars both began the "don't be me, don't be me" mantra. It wasn't them though, it was Jacob, in the inconspicuous 4 door G8. It seems he turned out of the gas station and accelerated a little too aggressively and his car slid a little sideways as he was changing gears. The officer was cool though. He told Jacob he didn't need to see his license, warned him to save that type of driving for the track, asked a few questions about the car, which he said he loved the car, and told Jacob to "like him on Facebook." So, whoever and wherever that Cahokia PD officer is, WE LIKE YOU!!!

The first town we came through after Cahokia was Red Bud. It was a small town, but they love their cars. I'm pretty sure the Mayor declared our transit through town a holiday. Everyone was on the side of the road taking pictures, waving and there were a number of banners welcoming the HRPT to Red Bud. There was also a scenic classic gas station full of Red Bud's local Hot Rods and down the way, "Mr. Chevy" had his '57 Chevy gasser atop his matching '57 Chevy Truck hauler.

We also went through Chester, which it turns out is the home of Popeye. There are statues and murals of Popeye characters all over the town. It was like a scavenger hunt trying to take pictures of them. It also was a major crossroads for coal hauling semi-trucks. At one particular stop sign, it was Hot Rod vs. Semi. We had the numbers, but they had the size and, every so often one would muscle its way into our line of cars. Fortunately, they turned off at a barge dock a few miles down the road. Then it was clear riding along the Mississippi River and Shawnee National Forest. Most of the way we had a 427 powered '69 Camaro behind us. The car was badass and sounded awesome.

At one point, when the road in front cleared up and we were able to get some speed, Ron Gibson came over the radio and reported he was happy to finally shift into 6th gear. I pointed out that Tara and I were doing 70+ mph and still in 2nd gear.  We grabbed a quick lunch at Chubby's BBQ in Caruthersville, MO. Go Yelp! The food was delicious. My dad thought the brisket was too fatty, but I loved it.

The rest of the route ran us 60 miles down Route 51 which was a 4 lane road full of traffic lights. I was over it after 20 miles and more than happy to turn off when we got to our hotel. Since the Comp Cams cruise on Beale Street was limited to 100 cars and we could only get passes for the classic cars we left the Corvette at the hotel (which was a brand new Hampton Inn that was a bazillion times nicer than the shithole where we stayed 2 years ago). My mom smartly decided stay at the hotel.

My dad, Tara and I jumped in the Acadian and headed on to the day's destination, Memphis International Raceway. At first, they wanted to park us in the back 40. I tried to get closer parking by the track and told the guy we were with Gibson and our VIP passes were at their trailer. He didn't bite. So, I went past him about 10 feet and was able to make a U-turn and sneak past him. I parked the Acadian next to what can only be described as Hot-Rod-a-Saurus (pictures below- for scale my dad is 6'1"). It was built on a Chevy 2500 chassis that was stretched 2 feet in each direction. The body was custom made from steel that was formed using an English wheel. It took 5 years for the owner to build it and it weighs 9,000 pounds. A Cummins engine drives the 4-wheel drive behemoth down the road.

It was brutally hot, and we clocked in, purchased our daily "participant" shirts and got our freebies as fast as possible before hiding under the Gibson tent until it was time to line up for our police escorted ride to Beale Street. I know it must seem like I am shamelessly plugging these guys, but they have been awesome and a fun group to run with. They are really laid back and are enjoying the drive with us.

Finally, after sweating off 10 pounds in the heat, it was time to make our police escorted drive to Beale Street in downtown Memphis. Tara decided she would drive. It's an unnatural thing to blow through red light after red light and there were a few times when the light turned yellow in front of Tara and she let off the throttle out of habit. After a bit of a mix-up (the police took us the wrong way onto Beale, we got parked. First stop was Wet Willie's for some super cold frozen alcoholic beverages. Then off to dinner at Pig on Beale. I'd never been to a BBQ place with a bouncer before today. Once we finished eating, we enjoyed the music and relatively cool night on Beale and talked to tons of people about the car and the experience of long hauling. Many people recognized us (mainly Tara and the car) from previous years. Check out the pictures below.

As an aside, Hollywood Howard let us know he got his car fixed and he "finally made the big time." His car and burnout were pictured on Hot Rod's Instagram. Tara went and watched the world record simultaneous burnout to see whether Howard was participating or had learned his lesson on doing prolonged burnouts a thousand miles from home. Looks like he did. Tour On Howard!!!
June 10- Memphis, TN to Hoover, AL (270 miles)

After an hour delay getting out of Memphis due to construction, we met up with the Gibson Performance Exhaust guys and hit the route. We had to do some synchronized driving to get all 7 cars out of the gas station. Jacob pulled out and blocked traffic so we could all turn and keep in line. Once we were on the route, it took us through rural road in Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama before a final 60-mile highway run to Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.

On one of the Mississippi back roads we saw some police lights and a bright red second generation Corvette off the road in a ditch after a blind curve going down a dip. We all began speculating -did he go too fast?, did his brakes or steering fail? The actual answer is "only in Mississippi..." The guy following behind the Vette posted the explanation and a picture of the culprit. [that photo is included below]. A local stopped his truck in the road to pick up a roadkill squirrel for dinner. When the Vette came around the curve, he had nowhere to go but right- into the ditch.

We then got stuck in a 20-minute traffic jam due to 3 traffic lights in Amory, AL. It was brutally hot again and we had to shut off the AC because the Acadian's temperature began to climb from idling so long. I can't imagine what it was like when the bulk of the Power Tour cars began to roll through. Often a single 4-way stop sign or short turn arrow can cause an hour-long jam. Once we were clear of that mess, we made our lunch stop at the Happy Days Cafe in Sulligent, AL. It was in an old row of shops a block off the main road and facing the railroad tracks. I can only assume the building was there before the road. Other than a lighted "Open" sign above the door, there was no way you would know from the outside that the place wasn't out of business. Inside, it was a different story. The place was full of locals. We had our choice of a cafeteria style set up or ordering grill items from the counter. The food was decent. I played it safe and had 2 grilled cheese sandwiches and fries.

We got back on the route and it was smooth sailing until Tara got her left and right confused. Our group and a whole line of Power Tour cars just following behind us had to make a left turn from a middle straight-ahead lane. We made the move so quickly and there were so many of us that the regular cars in the actual turn lane couldn't go. But this is Power Tour and sacrifices have to be made. We hit our final snarl at a left side gas station (we usually try and only use ones on the right side of the road and this one proved the reason for the rule. It was a big Flying J station, but there was only one way in and one way out. Between car trying to turn left into the station and trying to turn left out of it, not to mention cross traffic, it was a total cluster. Someone finally held up traffic and let a bunch of cars out before making their own turn.

Up until today, it was relatively smooth getting into the venues. Today, they unnecessarily shut the main parking lot claiming "it was full." They diverted us into a lot that was not really part of the show. To say the least, we were not happy. It was made worse by the fact that the entire stadium parking lot was dark blacktop. It was roasting. Fortunately, we borrowed a set of VIP vendor

credentials from some "friends" and were going to use them to get past the barricade with the cars. We ended up not needing them though. By the time we exited parking lot purgatory and circled back, they had reopened the main lot and let us right in. Yet another Power Tour rule- "Perseverance pays when parking." We parked in the first row near a grass berm with a shade tree. It was at least 30 degrees cooler. Jacob and I wasted no time getting clocked in and getting our freebies and buying our daily shirts so we could get back to the shade trees.

Even with the heat, there were thousands of cars, some of which were only around for the day. Lots of Mopars showed up, including a Superbird and a pro-touring early 60's Dart with a Magnuson supercharger. Those Darts are some of the ugliest cars to come out of Detroit, but this one was an exception. The color, wheels, stance, and custom work really made it look sweet.

Finally, we couldn't take any more sub-Saharan temperatures and left for the hotel. Tara, Jacob, Dwight (53 Lincoln Capri- though he's driving a rental Mustang to preserve marital harmony) and I had an early dinner at a Japanese steakhouse by the hotel before calling it a day.

June 11- Hoover, AL to Gulfport, MS (299 miles)

Today's route was probably one of the prettiest so far. It started out highway, but we exited onto a two-lane road that paralleled it. It had some small winding patches and was shaded by trees on either side. There were also some cool looking bayou/swamp areas on the side of the road in one patch.

A few hours into the drive while trying to plan a lunch stop, Tara and I were startled completely out of our minds when an oncoming train blew its horn and barreled head on past us on tracks hidden by the woods. It was so fast and loud I thought for sure that a semi-truck I somehow didn't see was about to smash us to bits.

Once our heart rates went down to normal, we rejoined the radio discussion about where to stop. The group decided on lunch at Charlie's Catfish House. It took us a bit to get there because we missed one of the turns on the route. When we stopped to get our bearings, a local guy offered to escort us back to the route.

The Catfish House was frozen in time. The "menu" was on the wall and consisted of 6 options. The Gibson crew, this time with Summer Gibson in tow, are from California and were at a bit of a loss about what to order. They settled on either fried shrimp or a burger. Tara went for the catfish and was not expecting whole fried fish- tails and fins included. I had to fillet them for her. Overall, the food was pretty good. The hushpuppies, coleslaw and fries were served family style.

After stuffing our faces, it was back on the route to Centennial Park in Gulfport, MS. Traffic into the venue was getting bad, so Tara used the phone GPS and a little local knowledge from her time Cruisin' the Coast to get us around the back way. From what we heard, just going around the block like we did may have saved us an hour.

The venue setting was great. It was a park with several abandoned buildings and lots of shade trees. Apparently, it was built in 1916 solely to celebrate Mississippi's centennial, but WWI broke out. The property was given to the VA and after Katrina, the VA gave it back to the City. It has been sold to Holiday Inn to build a resort, but so far, nothing’s been done. We clocked in and then had some beers and watched the never-ending stream of cars roll by. There were some good looking cars. A '73 Super Duty Trans Am, tons of Camaros and Chevelles and the Power Tour staple: suped up station wagons.

Jacob, Tara and I ate dinner at Shady's in Biloxi. Tara and I had been there before and recalled it being a good Cajun place. Either our memories were false, or this place has gone downhill. It was very disappointing, and the menu had little that was Cajun. The name says it all. In hindsight, we should have braved the long wait and eaten at one of the places overlooking the Gulf.

I'm doing this post early because we are in Biloxi and going to play some blackjack. Hopefully I can get back the money I left here when my Challenger snapped it's timing chain on the way home from the 2012 Power Tour.

June 12- Gulfport, MS to Gonzales, LA (169 miles)

Today was the last and shortest driving leg of the Tour. This was fortunate since last night was a late night in the casino. A few members Tara, Jacob, my parents and I decided to sleep in a little. Lori and the rest of the crew, including the Gibson folks who decided to drive their badass C/10 pickup as well as the Mustang were an hour ahead of us.

The route took us out of Biloxi/Gulfport along the Gulf of Mexico on Beach Boulevard before turning inland. We passed through Kiln, MS- the home of Brett Favre. The driving directions recommended in capital letters "ENJOY THE CITY OF PICAYUNE, MS." The town had arranged for what looked to be a big deal event in the park for the Power Tour cars. There was a stage and some local vendors setting up in the historic downtown area. But someone failed to communicate with the Police who were directing traffic. They must have been told to keep traffic moving, but not where to send it. They directed us right past the downtown area and out the other side of town. I began to wonder if the driving directions now included sarcasm. We turned around and headed back to the route. On our way back into town, the police officer told us he was directed to send us a different way (through downtown). We did a quick lap of the area and rejoined the Power Tour route.

The middle part of the route was not exciting. There was lots of local traffic (regular boring cars) and it began to rain. Then, Jacob told us he needed to pull over because his "check engine" light came on. We pulled into a parking area and he grabbed his scanner and read the code. It was for a faulty O2 sensor- no issue- Tour On!!

We had initially planned to skip lunch and eat at the venue. But, as traffic got worse in one spot and the day got later, we knew a lunch stop was in order. Lori told us they ate at Paul's Cafe in Ponchatoula, LA and it was great. We decided to follow suit. Ponchatoula had a cool old downtown area and Paul's Cafe was in a corner storefront. We got a table up front where we could see the Power Tour cars come through town and ordered lunch. The food was authentic Louisiana cooking and incredibly reasonably priced- an entree with dessert was $5.35. One oddity were the restrooms. I think the more correct term is water closet. They were so narrow and small; you literally did not have room to turn around.

One of Ponchatoula's big crops is strawberries and every place in town sold daquiris among other strawberry goods. Tara bought 2 bottles of strawberry wine and Jacob an I each bought a bottle of "Strawberry Lightning", a strawberry infused whiskey.

After leaving Ponchatoula, we ran into the Gibson C/10 being loaded on a flatbed. We found out they had been having issues all day- fuel pump overheated, there was an issue with a belt. But the final straw was when the teeth on the flywheel broke off. WELCOME TO THE POWER TOUR!!! As a result of the issues with the truck, we were now only a few minutes behind Lori, Jake and Fred.

It started raining again so, we left Rory with the tow truck and continued on to Gonzales. The route took us down the best stretch of road of the whole Tour. It followed a river and was full of twists and slight banked turns. I really wished I had the Corvette rather than the Acadian to carve the corners.

The venue for today was the Lamar Dixon expo center. It consisted of a paved parking lot, a large grassy area where the stage and exhibitors were, as well as many large covered livestock pavilions. We immediately made for the shade of one of the pavilions. It was a good thing too. The rain turned the grassy area into a swamp and more rain was coming. We hurried to get clocked in and back to the cars. Boy did the rain come. It was preceded by strong wind which blew sand from the pavilions

everywhere. We went from swamp, to desert sandstorm, to pouring rain in the span of a few minutes. However, because of the covered pavilions, we could still enjoy the show, We broke out the strawberry wine and Lightning and waited out the rain. While walking around, I noticed a 50's Cadillac with twin spark plug flamethrowers in each exhaust tip and "FYR MKR" for a license plate. When he went to leave, I asked him if he would use the throwers. Unfortunately, the flamethower fuel tanks were empty. Hopefully, we catch him tomorrow.
All of the restaurants near the hotel were packed, so we went to "The Cabin" restaurant which was one exit up the freeway. It had 4.5 stars on Yelp. It was made up of several 140-180 year old buildings. We ran into our friends Bruce and Harry and the rest of the Bangshift Forum folks and tagged along on their guided tour of the property from the Chef. I'm certain our waiter thought we bailed on him.

After dinner, we spent some time in the parking lot which was packed with show cars. We swapped Power Tour stories from this trip and years past. Then some people started doing burnouts on a side street right in front of our hotel. It had been going on for nearly 2 hours and is music to my ears.

Tomorrow is the Long Hauler ceremony and then the long drive home. I can't believe how fast this week has gone by.

June 13- Long Hauler Ceremony and trip home (708 miles)

As I woke up Saturday, June 13, I couldn't believe we had been on the road for 10 days. It seemed like we had just left Florida. I wasn't ready for the Tour to end. I certainly wasn't looking forward to the drive home along the most boring road in the USA: I-10.
Fortunately, before the drive home, we had the Long Hauler Ceremony. It's not much of a ceremony and more of a farewell to all the Long Haulers. There were 2,042 Long Haul vehicles this year!! We all gathered at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center where Clarence an Jeff, the MC's on stage for the entire Tour entertained the crowd one last time. Jeff is new to the Tour this year, but Clarence has been a staple for far more than the 5 years we have been Long Hauling. What they do is amazing. They put on what is essentially a 7 hour improv stage show every day regardless of weather, crowd size or venue. I watched them play to a crowd of 4 people and about 20 empty tailgate chairs during the heat of the afternoon in Gulfport. It must be grueling, but they clearly enjoy it. Even after the show ends, they are "on" at the hotel. They talk and greet everyone. Every year we run into Clarence somewhere along the way and he tells Tara how much he loves stumping the magazine guys who "know everything" with the Acadian.

The drive home was far better than when we left Dallas three years ago. First, my car didn't destroy its motor. Score one for the Chevrolet guys who built it! Second, we didn't have to drive home in a hurricane. Seriously, the weather 3 years ago was the worst I ever drove through. New Power Tour rule- when the pool deck chairs fly past the windows, don't drive home.

What never ceases to amaze me is how quickly 2,000 cars scatter to the winds after the Tour. After spending a week surrounded by Power Tour cars, it seems odd not to see any on the road. We saw a few cars here and there and nothing after New Orleans. Chet in his blue C7 caught up to us around the Florida line and ran with us for a while until we stopped for a gas stop.
After eleven hours on the road and some deft detouring around Mobile, AL traffic by Tara and Jacob, we made it to my house at 11:30 last night.

Only 357 days until next year's Power Tour. I'm pretty sure it will start in Baton Rouge and hope it will work back toward Virginia or somewhere in the Carolinas. Lori and Scott already have their Baton Rouge hotel rooms booked.

No comments:

Post a Comment