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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Cars line Douglas on first day of BlackTop Nationals

BY MIKE BERRY
The Wichita Eagle

Perfect weather set the stage for the opening day of the BlackTop Nationals car show in downtown Wichita, drawing both casual strollers and hard-core gearheads out to enjoy hundreds of cars displayed along Douglas, over the bridge west of Century II into the Delano district.

“It’s about what we expected for Friday,” said Rick Nuckolls, one of the founders of the inaugural event. With no admission charge and the event open to all comers, he said he couldn’t give any hard and fast numbers on attendance. Volunteers manning the registration tables at the Wichita Boathouse said 540 show cars, trucks and cycles had signed up by mid-afternoon.

“That’s wonderful,” said Janet Dennis, one of the volunteers. She said vehicles from Colorado, Texas, Nebraska, and Missouri were on hand and more participants were expected to sign up through today .

“They started rolling in about daylight and they’re not done yet,” said Marvin Ranich, the disc jockey for the show. He was playing classic car music over his sound system.

The rows of metalflake and candy-colored street rods and customs pulled in curious downtown strollers.

“I was actually getting a haircut . . . and I saw all the cars and thought I would have a look,” said Monte Cox. “This is outstanding . . . it’s beautiful. You can’t spend enough time looking at these to get the full appreciation of all the labor and love that went into these vehicles,” he said.

“My daughter lives in the old Holiday Inn. She called me and said, ‘Why don’t we go to the car show?’ ” said Bob O’Dell, who confessed he really wasn’t a “car guy,” but was enjoying the show. Daughter Kayla said she couldn’t pick just one car out of the rows of show vehicles. “I like the looks of all of them,” she said.

Judges were poring over the competing entries, judging everything from top to bottom. “I’m judging wheels, tires, door seals, undercarriages and glass,” said Philip Stover. “There’s some really high-end cars here. It’s nice to have a national competition here in Wichita. They’re always in Kansas City or the bigger cities,” he said.

Not all was smooth sailing, though, as a group of California drifting cars failed to show up for their scheduled performances. Drifting refers to a motorsport where the driver intentionally oversteers, causing

the car to “drift.”

“Not only are they no-shows, they are nowhere to be reached,” said Frank Upton, also a BlackTop Nationals founder. As a result, Upton said the drifting exhibitions were canceled for all three days of the show.

Upton said he expected a jump in spectator traffic after people left work Friday and much larger crowds today and Sunday.

Business at the Old Mill Tasty Shop on East Douglas was about normal for a Friday, said Mary Wright, one of the shop’s owners. “It was pretty much our regulars,” she said. “We think tomorrow will be a good one because this will bring a lot of people downtown. So often we forget how many people in the surrounding towns consider Wichita a destination spot for a fun day,” she said.

Terri Webb, a co-owner of Delano Bar-B-Q, agreed that today should be a bigger business day, despite show cars being parked across the Douglas Street bridge. “This show is a great thing. We’re glad it

came to Wichita,” she said.

Maureen Hofrenning, vice president of Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau, said it was too early to put numbers to the economic impact of the BlackTop Nationals based on first-day turnout.

“We feel confident this sort of event will bring a lot of people downtown . . . it will attract people who wouldn’t necessarily come to Wichita,” she said. Her staff will check with hotels, restaurants and other service businesses and try to come up with figures showing the event’s monetary impact. “It has the potential to be a signature event for Wichita,” Hofrenning said.

This is the first year for the Wichita car show, which organizers hope to make an annual event.

The car count for vehicles consigned for a two-day auction was hovering at about 100 by Friday. Upton said he hoped that at least 150 cars would cross the auction block during the sale.

Folks who want to see the auction action in person can pay $5 each for a ringside seat in Convention Hall at Century II. The auction is also being webcast online at www.blacktopnationals.com from 4 to 7:30 p.m.

Ford, a major sponsor of BlackTop Nationals, had a steady flow of showgoers queuing up for a ride in either a Raptor off-road pickup truck or a high-performance Mustang GT. To qualify, you had to test-drive a couple of new cars around a course first.

“I drove a Focus first and I took it real easy with that one,” said Wayne Korber of Goddard. “Then I drove a Taurus with the paddle shifters and that was a lot of fun. They let you go as fast as you want to . . . I kicked the rear end loose a couple of times. But the ride in the Raptor — that was excellent,” he said.

Steve Ling, Ford’s director of car marketing, was making the rounds, checking on how things were going on opening day of the BlackTop Nationals.

“I’m happy because everybody I’m talking to is happy,” he said. “People have thanked us for taking part in this. This is a big deal for Wichita.

“I think the BlackTop Nationals team has done a good job. It’s all about bringing everything together to celebrate the culture of the car,” Ling said.

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