Summer in Wichita ushers in the Car Show Capital

Tom McCreary of Wichita preps his 1970 Ford Mach I for show at the BlackTop Nationals in August. (2014)
Tom McCreary of Wichita preps his 1970 Ford Mach I for show at the BlackTop Nationals in August. (2014) File photo

On just about every spring or summer weekend, the Air Capital of the World becomes the Car Show Capital.

Businesses, churches, charitable causes, clubs and informal groups of car buddies host annual shows and weekly gatherings in parking lots across the Wichita region to show off antique, classic, custom and newer cars. Big annual shows like the gathering at Lake Afton and the Automobilia production in downtown Wichita have been drawing thousands of people for years.

The number of shows has skyrocketed. There are so many, people have to consult show calendars. Even some of the smallest shows have their own Facebook page.

A popular gathering at Central and West Street on Friday nights is a prime example of the phenomenon. It started small eight years ago, said Ron Wagoner, the main organizer. He approached the parking lot owner for permission.

That first evening, 30 cars gathered, then about 100 the next week, “and it just grew from there, just word of mouth,” Wagoner said.

On a recent night with “super-nice weather,” he counted 300 cars at one time or another. A typical number is 150 to 175.

The gathering is free, begins around 5 to 5:30 p.m. and ends at 10 every Friday night usually between April and October. Some people stay five minutes, others five hours. Some come early to get the same parking spot and hang out with friends.

Car people “are super wonderful people. I just want to give them a fun and safe place to go,” Wagoner said. All age groups, men and women, attend.

“To me, we have to get these kids involved, or this will go away,” he said of the vintage-car culture.

The Central and West gathering was easier to oversee when it was only 30 cars, but for the most part people are respectful, Wagoner said. Sometimes he has to ask people to keep their cars out of the fire lanes or not to spin their tires.

“One thing I told them when I started this show was, ‘I’m not your mother; I’m not picking up your trash.’ Never had trouble, knock on wood, either. Never had to call 911 for anything,” said Wagoner, 55, whose regular job is working for a manufacturing company as a tablesaw operator and in maintenance.

His “pride and joy” is a 1969 Chevelle SS, blue with a black vinyl top, that he bought in 1981.

“I get in it and drive it,” he said. He’s traveled in it to shows in Missouri and Iowa.

The big parking lot gathering benefits restaurants and grocery stores near Central and West, where many of the car fans eat and shop, he said.

A charitable example

Other car shows are once a year and charge exhibitors an entry fee to raise money for charities.

This year, Carl Varner is the main organizer for the Third Annual Children’s Miracle Network Car Show, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 18, at the Pride Ag Resources Ace Hardware store, 5204 N. Maize Road.

“It’s all about the kids,” said Varner, who manages the Ace store. He’s worked there 25 years.

Last year’s show, which drew 105 cars, raised almost $4,000 for Children’s Miracle Network, he said. There is a $15 entry fee for people showing cars.

“There’s a ton of people who love cars,” Varner said of the car-show attraction. He has a 1966 Mustang.

There is a lot more work than someone might realize in staging a show, he said. You need a PA system, T-shirts, awards and fliers to publicize the event so people will turn out.

“But it’s worth it,” he said.

At the end of the first show, a man with tears in his eyes came up and told Varner that the Miracle Network had helped his family. He handed over $100 as a donation.

“He was giving back money to the cause,” Varner said.

A longtime gathering

The weekly Spangles Classic Car Show at Seneca and Pawnee is one of the veterans. It began Aug. 9, 2001, and many of the same people are still showing up, said organizer Tammy Purviance.

The show is advertised as being from 5 to 10 p.m. every Saturday, but some people start gathering around 3:30. Many of the participants gather year round, even when the weather doesn’t invite them to bring their classic cars out, Purviance said.

The cars that people drive and park outside the Spangles restaurant, where she works as general manager, range from a 1955 Chevy to a 1960s Nova to Model T hot rods, ’60s Corvettes, cars with rumble seats and brand-new Mustangs. To some, it might look like the lineup from “American Graffiti.” The gathering varies from 25 to 70 cars.

“I’ve always, since I’ve been young, been into cars,” said Purviance, who is almost 56. “I used to drive Douglas when I was young.

“Car show people, in my opinion, are just the nicest people you know,” she said. “We get our chairs out and just enjoy each other. … They sit out here, and they polish the cars out in the parking lot. They’re very proud of their cars, and they want to show them.”

The cars also attract customers – “people come to check out” the fancy paint jobs and classic body lines, she said.

The cars also fit with Spangles’ 1950s theme, she added.

New east-side option

One east-side gathering, called the Sunday Cruise-In at NuWay, is just getting started. It began with the idea that while there are a number of car gatherings out west, there should be more on the east side, said Diane Spunaugle, one of the organizers. Her son, 27-year-old Brian Spunaugle, came up with the idea and approached NuWay.

The cars line up along Woodlawn in the parking lot fronting the NuWay at Central and Woodlawn. The first show, during cold weather on April 26, drew only seven cars, but the next Sunday, 12 cars showed up. The show is from 2 to 8 p.m. every Sunday depending on the weather. Spunaugle said her family is trying to publicize the gathering through fliers and on a Facebook page.

“We’re a Mustang family,” she said. She also has a 1978 Buick Regal.

“Just any kind of car” is welcome, as are motorcycles, she said.

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

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