SHOP TALK: I Took Big Red To The Mid Atlantic Indoor Nationals


We set Big Red and our hauler up for all to enjoy. Be sure to watch the time lapse video of the process.


At this point in my writing career, it is no secret that I love drag racing. I built Big Red with the sole intention of racing her and spending quality time with my family at the race track. Due to my obsessive / compulsive and anal attention to detail, not only was she ready for the track, she was also quite the looker from nose to tail. I enjoyed taking her to large outdoor car shows and sharing my passion for cars with everyone who stopped by to take a closer look.


A few years ago, I was invited to attend a series a prestigious indoor car shows hosted by Motorama Productions. One of the gentlemen that operates the company approached me at several different outdoor events and told me I should bring my car to his indoor shows. My initial response was thank you but my car is a race car that I bring to a few outdoor shows to support my friends who run them. I went on to explain to him that there was no way my car was “presentable” enough to attend an indoor show. He assured me that my car was built at a high enough level to attend his shows and kept the invitation open if I ever changed my mind.

This stunning 1963 Corvette was breathtaking from nose to rear. She went on to win the Best Of Show.


When one comes into contact with a custom car I often wonder what they are saying to themselves as they walk around and look it over. Are they admiring the color or the precision of the paint? Are they admiring the interior or the engine? Are they admiring the overall concept and purpose of the build? Or are they simply fans of the make and model? These are all aspects worthy to conjure up internal thoughts and self-talk.

This beautiful Camaro was another top runner at the event.


I tend to begin my journey a bit different when analyzing a custom vehicle. I begin with why? What is the back story? I then analyze the hours of labor needed to bring a vehicle into a state of excellence. Finally, I come to the realization of the sacrifice, hardships, and the hard earned money that it took to see the project come to fruition.


What drives a person to take the plunge and transform a vehicle into a piece of art? Is it validation from peers? Is it a test of one’s skill sets? Is it collecting awards and building an impressive trophy case? Is it bonding with like-minded gearheads? For me it is a pursuit of passion. A passion for excellence, a passion for detail, and a time honored family legacy of working with my hands.

All I could say when I first laid my eyes on this beast was "oh my!"


I will admit that I was a bit anxious attending this event. A few months prior, I attended one of the Motorama Events called Drag Fest. Drag Fest was an amazing experience for me. There was an enormous collection of drag racing history all gathered under one roof. I was a kid in a candy store and left puddles of drool all over that complex. I was honored that Big Red was appreciated by so many. She went on to win The Best Engine award making that weekend extra special for my family.


It does not matter what you pour your passion into. This pickup truck is a complete work of art.


The Mid Atlantic Indoor Nationals was not a drag racing event by any means. I was convinced that my car would simply be a novelty piece that the few drag racers in attendance would appreciate. Motorama had asked me if I would be able to bring in my entire rig to this event. They wanted my trailer, awning, and pit set up just as it would be at a race. Again, I was honored and agreed to bring everything with me on the 2 ½ hour journey to the event. It was really cool driving my truck and trailer into the facility that day. When I unloaded my car and fired it up to move her into place, that 572 cubic inch Merlin never sounded better under the roof in that indoor complex. It was so loud it echoed off the walls and made me feel like I was driving a Top Fuel Funny Car. I was both surprised and happy to notice that a crowd gathered to see what all of the noise was. The next few hours were a blur as my wife and I had to set up our entire pit by ourselves. Once our “camp” was set up, I did a recon patrol to survey the entire indoor facility. It did not take long to realize that there was an abnormal and abundant display of world class vehicles gathered here at The Mid Atlantic Indoor Nationals.

Here's a time lapse video of us setting up our Big Red display.


To make things even better for the gearhead that I am, there was everything from custom bicycles, motorcycles, 4 wheelers, junior dragsters, VWs, European cars, Supercars, exotics, muscle cars, custom trucks, drag cars, and even monster trucks and mud trucks. At that very moment I pondered how in the world are the judges going to fairly judge the diverse variety of custom vehicles under this one roof?

There were 122 custom awards and many cash prizes at the Midatlantic Indoor Nationals. The top cash prize was $2000. I was extremely impressed with this event for it only being 3 years old. I can’t imagine the level of custom vehicles that will gather here in the future.


So being the OCD and analytical guy that I am, I asked the show promoters, Dan Swisher and Andy Goodman, if I could interview the judges and ask them a few questions before they begin the arduous task of judging this event. After speaking with the judges and learning about their backgrounds, I was confident that this group of gentlemen would be able to sort out this gathering of beautiful automobiles and judge them with the respect they deserve.

The Midatlantic Indoor Nationals was well staffed with world class judges. Beginning with the co-show Promotor Dan Swisher or as everyone calls him "Swish" He is the man with the tan pants and hand on his face. Dan toured the national circuit and had the #1 car in the country for many years. Dan's outgoing personality and passion for automobiles makes him an extremely lovable guy. On his left, moving clockwise is Ken Faust, a car builder and lifelong enthusiast. Standing directly across from Swish is Dennis Kohr. Dennis is a pro builder who owns a resto shop that focuses on Mopar muscle in Myerstown, PA. Finishing off the judges panel is Terry Zerbe another lifelong restoration enthusiast.


To go along with the diverse gathering of custom vehicles at the Mid Atlantic Indoor Nationals was a diverse gathering of custom vehicle owners. As with all we encounter in life, sometimes we come across people who are “holier than the rest of us.” To balance the yin and yang out there were also those who enjoy talking about their cars and sharing their passion with strangers. I met with people from both camps that weekend and chuckled at the insecurities of those who presumed that they and their car were too good to talk with other people. Those like me, who not only hand built every aspect of their vehicle, by and large seemed to enjoy sharing their passion with anyone willing to ask a question or offer a compliment. Much to my surprise there were a few vehicles that were indeed holier than most, yet the owners were filled with passion and enjoyed the camaraderie of another gearhead.

Who does not love a Shelby Mustang, yet alone one with over 960 cubic inches of madness. I look forward to seeing this beast on the no prep racing circuit in the future.


I particularly enjoyed spending time with my wife (on my turf) and catching up with old friends from around the country. We even spent time with my cousin and his wife who traveled to be with us at the event. As with all car shows there is always an opportunity to meet new friends and this show did not disappoint. I was blessed to meet so many fellow gearheads who stopped by to visit us and check out Big Red up close.

One of the highlights of my weekend was seeing some of my old friends and their beautiful cars. I wrote a feature for RPM Magazine on Jef Fern's incredible 1970 Camaro. This car has redefined the very meaning of Pro Street and continues to set the bar at the highest level. He had the article framed and in my eyes was the reason he won Best Street Machine. Sorry Jef - Love ya!


I’m a drag racer that has a cool car. I know the drag racing community and feel out of place in the show car world. My fellow drag racers will do anything to help another racer in need which is just another reason why I love the gearhead community so much. I am pleased to announce that this same camaraderie and helping spirit also lives inside the walls of the show car world. Allow me to explain.


I was invited by the promoters to not only show my car, but our entire hauler/canopy as well. Despite the extra work, we were happy to oblige and set our rig up just like it would be at a drag race. The only problem with this plan is it left our truck attached to the hauler with no way of getting it out of that packed facility. I am an easy guy “at times” and told my wife we could Uber to/from the event, hotel, and restaurants. When the word of us being stranded got out, the couple showing their beautiful Corvette next to us, not only offered to drive us to the hotel, but invited us to dinner with them as well. Prior to this gracious invitation we had never had the pleasure of meeting them before. We thoroughly enjoyed our time with them and look forward to seeing them in the future.

Yes, this is a ZO6. The owner wanted to make it a convertible as well. This was the car of the gracious couple that gave us a ride to the hotel and dinner on that first night. Much love and respect to them.


I treated this event as if I was judging it myself. I took notes on all of the vehicles that I considered standouts and tried hard to categorize them and labored over how they would be rewarded. During the awards ceremony I was thoroughly invested in each trophy that was awarded. I was also happy to see that for the most part, I was in agreement.

Another fine example of the types of cars I enjoy.


Our car went on to win the Best Engine award. This to me was better than winning the Best of Show. I not only labored over every part / seal / gasket that went inside our Merlin big block, I also labored over machining tolerances, torque specs, and dyno testing. The OCD / anal gearhead in me made sure that she looked like a piece of jewelry and that every fastener under the hood matched.

I was honored to win the Best Engine award at this prestigious indoor event.


I highly recommend anyone looking to step up their outdoor car show schedule and test their handy work at an indoor event to attend any of the Motorama events. Visit www.motoramaproductions.com for a complete listing. Most of the people I met with that have stunning vehicles attend all of them. It is no wonder why. Dan, Andy and the Motorama team emanate passion and family in all that they do. This spirit of family somehow convinced this old school drag racer to join their family and attend a few myself.


Before I sign off, I feel the need to encourage everyone that reads this to become a little more open minded. All of us have our own personality and taste. I am Italian and dislike tomatoes. As a gearhead I prefer high horsepower, big tire race car type of vehicles. But I am not too holy to respect and appreciate the custom bicycle or the Volkswagon surf vehicle just as much. If someone put the time, sacrifice, heart, soul, passion and money into whatever they built, well in my eyes they deserve just as much respect as you feel you deserve from your project. The “holier than thou” mentality has no place amongst our passionate gearhead driven community. This is just my two cents from an old car guy who has a serious tool addiction and suffers from OCD too much to leave a bolt “unclocked” from the rest even if the torque wrench said it was perfect.


Until next time...

Keep Wrenching,

JT

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