August 23, 2014

Vintage cars have stories to tell at BlackTop Nationals

Restored cars, pickups and motorcycles are on display for the annual BlackTop Nationals in downtown Wichita through Sunday.

It wasn’t a day to hang out on sizzling blacktop. Unless, of course, you were looking at cool cars while tunes by the likes of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons played in the background.

That’s what a throng of people were doing Saturday in steamy downtown Wichita at the weekend’s BlackTop Nationals, an annual display of restored classic cars, motorcycles and pickups that continues through Sunday.

They stared in amazement and gently touched the vehicles that lined Douglas near Century II or filled Kennedy Plaza and the parking lot south of the library.

The restored vehicles had stories to tell.

Like the 1951 Chevy pickup that once was used by the city of Wichita for hauling trash. Or the 1964 Falcon Sprint that had its interior eaten by live-in rats.

Inside air-conditioned Century II, a collection of high-end restorations and race cars awaited inspection.

As 1950s and ’60s – and a “little bit of country,” disc jockey Marvin Ranich said – music played to set the mood, Rodney and Patty Madson were checking out the cars with hoods wide open.

The couple had driven from their home in Galena in southeast Kansas because “we just like looking at older cars,” he said.

But they haven’t bought one. Yet.

“Still dreaming,” she said.

They were taking the outside tour during the morning – before temperatures hit the 90s on the way to 100 – and waiting for later to see the cool cars inside cool Century II.

Rick Mast, of Derby, found a spot to park his 1961 white Corvette convertible on the south side of Douglas, grabbing some lingering shade from the Century Plaza building.

He and his twin brother, Russ, have restored seven or eight Corvettes, but this one was special.

They had never had a white ’61 Corvette until purchasing this one a few months after their mother died in 2011.

“I always thought this car was a tribute to her,” Rick Mast said. “She said the ’61 Corvette was the best car and white was the best color.”

She drew that conclusion after riding in one when she was young, he said.

“You know, she’s right,” Rick Mast said as he looked at the gleaming car with a dark green hard top and tires with very wide white walls.

Mast doesn’t drive the car much.

“We take it out to car shows,” he said, “and once in a while to the Dairy Queen. You get lots of looks.”

Now in its fifth year, the BlackTop Nationals is expected to draw close to 170,000 lookers before the event’s three-day run ends Sunday at 4 p.m., organizers said.

On the Kennedy Plaza, they could see a couple of restored pickups and motorcycles by Creeped Out Customs. While most of the vehicles are shiny, these are painted a dull black.

“A dark shade of black,” owner Mark Robinson said with a laugh.

The color was selected out his love of “The Munsters,” a mid-1960s sitcom that featured friendly monsters.

“My niche is old school,” he said.

One of the pickups is a 1951 Chevy, which he pulled out of a pasture near Valley Center a few years ago.

“Cows liked to rub against it,” Robinson said, “so there was a lot of body damage.”

His pre-restoration pictures of the pickup show a city trash-hauling decal on it. He bought it for $500 and spent $6,000 to fix it up, replacing literally everything but the cab.

John Saindon’s ’64 Falcon Sprint also had a rough past.

Now the Derby resident lovingly calls the red car “Flames” for its colorful flame and scallop strips along its sides.

But he said it was in “poor, poor shape” when he got it about 17 years ago in Leon.

While sitting for 20 years, the car’s engine was rusted out. Rats had turned the interior into a few meals. Saindon paid $1,000 because it was a rare Sprint edition of the Falcon.

He said he’s spent about $15,000 restoring the car.

“I did all the work myself,” he said. “But if I had to pay someone else to do it, it would’ve cost $60,000 to $70,000.”

The car has paid him back by winning three national titles.

Saidon began working on cars when he was 14. Now he’s 50.

“The same passion is still there,” he said. “It’s a lifetime hobby.”

Sam Hale, of Wichita, sat under a pop-up canopy on Douglas by his 1970 Camaro “waiting for the air conditioning to come on.”

He purchased the car in 1996 in Rose Hill to “answer a mid-life crisis.”

“I had a Camaro in college,” he said, “then I sold it when I got married. I had to have another one.”

Some get their cars because others don’t know how to drive it.

Bruce Howlett sat near two of his red Ford Mustangs on display along Douglas, including a 1996, five-speed model.

“The owner of a car company bought it for his wife,” Howlett said, “but she didn’t know how to use a clutch. She burned it up.”

Not all the displays were about restored vehicles.

In the parking lot south of the library, a mangled Kansas Highway Patrol cruiser sits with its battle wounds.

The trooper was parked on the side of the Kansas Turnpike in March while he conducted an inspection of a semi. His cruiser was was smashed by an inattentive driver, according to the KHP.

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rickplumlee.

BlackTop Nationals

What: Classic car, pickup and motorcycle event in downtown Wichita.

Where: Most events, retail and food vendors housed at Century II Hall and Kennedy Plaza (exterior of Century II), 225 W. Douglas.

When: Event started Friday and concludes Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Cost: $5 admission for entry to activities inside Century II. No charge for events outside of Century II. Admission is good for all weekend.

Information: For full schedule of events, go to blacktopnationals.com.

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