A deluge of classic cars and motorcycles are descending on downtown this weekend as the BlackTop Nationals returns to Wichita. Now in its fifth year, the show has become a summertime staple, with an expanding roster of new activities. For Robin Spurrier, it’s an occasion to show off his 1955 Ford Thunderbird while having fun with family and friends.
“I’ve been a participant every year,” said Spurrier, of Wichita. “I think it’s a wonderful event, and there’s lots of things to do at it. Ford brings a lot of neat cars and engines down from the national. People can see all types of custom cars and hot rods. They have sports cars down there, too. Anything that has to do with vehicles, it’s there.”
Jim Petty, BlackTop Nationals executive director, predicted that the event will draw more than 170,000 people and likely attract visitors from over 20 states.
“More people in Wichita are getting behind it, because they see what a wonderful event it is for the city – and a very family-friendly event to attend,” he said.
The BlackTop Nationals, which is sponsored by Ford, will be largely centered in and around the Century II Expo Hall and its adjacent Kennedy Plaza this Friday through Sunday. It’s free to view the cars set up outside along Douglas and in the Expo Hall parking lot, but there is a $5 entry fee that covers admission for the entire weekend for the vehicles and activities inside Century II. Those activities include the Million $ Car Display, which showcases several dozen rare and expensive cars, trucks and motorcycles; and Gasoline Alley, which features nine decades of race cars and related memorabilia.
The festivities officially kick off Friday at 3 p.m. with an opening ceremony at Kennedy Plaza that will include flyovers by antique planes, a tribute to veterans and the Tornado Alley Young Marines posting the colors.
Petty said that several new events will augment the weekend experience.
“As far as making this more family-friendly, we are bringing in for the first time an event called the Kansas Electro Rally,” Petty said. “This is high school kids from across the state of Kansas that have designed, built, and will race electric cars. I have been to one rally myself in the past, and I was so excited to see the commitment from these kids, and it sure gives you faith about the next generation coming up – they’re pretty sharp kids.”
The Electro Car Rally will be Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the parking lot at First and Waco.
Another new offering is the Average Joe Rally, where the winner isn’t the fastest, but rather the most average – literally. Petty said that anyone who is 21 or over with a properly licensed and insured vehicle of any type can take part. Participants will register and drive from the BlackTop Nationals office at Douglas and Water in Wichita to the Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane and track their time. Each day, the times will be averaged and the driver closest to the average will receive a trophy and a $400 gift certificate to the casino. There is no assigned route and the event is a rally, not a race.
There will also be a notable special guest during the weekend. On Saturday, NASCAR veteran Ray Evernham will be available for autographs and photos from 9 to 10:30 a.m. inside Century II, and he also will do a Q&A from 10:30 to 11 a.m. in the Mary Jane Teall Theater. Sneak previews from his show “AmeriCarna,” a car-culture television show he hosts on the Velocity Channel, will follow and be repeated at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Petty said that one of the most fun experiences of the weekend is having the chance to actually drive or ride in some of the cars themselves. Participants taking part in the Ride and Drive event, which will be in the parking lot across from the Wichita Boathouse, 515 S. Wichita, can drive newer Ford models in an enclosed course or ride along in a Mustang with a professional driver for a more revved-up, tire-shredding experience.
“It’s what I call a knee-knocker ride,” Petty said. “Your knees are just knocking on the console on one turn and slamming against the door panel on the other turn.”
Some of the proceeds from the BlackTop Nationals will benefit two charities: Kansas Honor Flight, whose mission is to fly the remaining Kansas World War II veterans to the War Memorial in Washington, D.C., and McPherson College’s Automotive Restoration Technology Program, which is a four-year accredited program.
If you go
What: A classic car and motorcycle event in downtown Wichita, with ride-in shows, activities and live entertainment.
Where: Most events, retail and food vendors housed at Century II Expo Hall & Kennedy Plaza (the exterior of Century II), 225 W. Douglas. See event’s website for other location details.
When: noon-9 p.m. Friday (registration starts at 10 a.m.); 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday (registration starts at 7 a.m.); 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday
How Much: Most outside events are free. $5 admission fee for the entire weekend covers entry to activities inside Century II. Opening night reception tickets are $25 each.
Information: For a full schedule of events, visit www.blacktopnationals.com
Street closings: For a list of street closings, visit www.blacktopnationals.com/street-closures.html