Feature Story

TRAVEL: CRUSIN' THE MAIN DRAG OF RENO

by Bob Hagin

August 15, 1997

So you've got this motorhome that you use a couple of times each summer and you're looking for a place to go in August.

And recently you've been thinking back to your high school days and how much fun it was to hang around Main Street on Friday nights to watch the cruise. Back then, it was a chance to see the friends you hadn't seen for a while, check out what was happening and see what kind of "iron" was rolling past the drive-in. What fun!

Last week I experienced the best of both of those worlds when I went to the Hot August Nights extravaganza in Reno. It's been ongoing for the past 10 years and it's an automotive enthusiast's dream come true. Thousands of owners of street rods, custom cars, classics, fancy pickups, muscle cars and other unusual rolling stock descend on the Reno/Sparks area to see and be seen, check out what's for sale and, in general, be part of the action.

RV'ing to the Hot August Nights is the way to go and you don't even have to drag along a "dingy" unless it's something you want to cruise. Public transportation is quick, cheap and runs often. For instance, if you want to take in the day-long vintage drag races at Stead Airport, a municipal bus can take you there and back practically whenever you want.

During the Hot August Nights weekend, the streets of Sparks are lined with hundreds of cars on display on the wide sidewalks and on the verandas of the casinos. I had to admire the dedication of the owners of the cars who left their prize mounts out in the hot sun all day and stood beside them just to please us onlookers.

As I strolled along the streets reviewing the rows of gleaming cars, I reflected on what a civilized method of enjoying a car show this was. There was no admission fee, no restraining ropes that cordoned off the vehicles on display, no crushing crowds and if we show-goers became overheated or thirsty, we could duck into one of the dozens of air-conditioned casinos that line the streets to cool off, down a refreshing libation or two, listen to some appropriate live music (retro music of the '50s is hot in the clubs there this year), then return to the street to take in another couple of dozen show-quality cars. Some of the casinos are so into the spirit of the '50s and the car culture that they have their own vintage cars on display and one even had booths that are housed in Buick and Cadillac convertibles of the era.

I also took in the three-day swap meet that was held in the parking lot of the stockyard. It contained the usual congregation of amateur, professional and semi-pro peddlers who were selling everything from the floor sweepings from their garages to reproductions of vintage car parts to automotive attire. Tee shirts that proclaimed that the wearer had attended the Hot August Nights festivities and displayed graphics of the buyer's favorite type of vehicle were colorful, cheap, and plentiful.

The swap meet also contained a "Trader's Row" where a shopper could buy cars that ranged from a dozen ready-to-roll, authentically restored '55, '56 and '57 Chevys, to hulks that looked like they had just been extricated from a dilapidated barn. One, a '37 Buick Roadmaster, still had hay and bird droppings decorating its rusty exterior.

For me, the premiere event of the weekend was the Saturday night cruise down Virginia Street in downtown Reno. It's open to anyone who has a motorized vehicle, the entry fee (around $100) and the desire to make a dozen passes down the boulevard before a cheering crowd of several thousand car enthusiasts. Officially, the Chamber of Commerce- sanctioned "parade" started at 7 p.m., but many of the vehicles (especially those with lots of horsepower and outlandish paint jobs) began to roll down the fenced-off street two hours earlier. As the minutes ticked on, the already-assembled throng pressed out into the street, reducing it from four to two very narrow lanes. Egged on by the onlookers, the cruisers began to do power-stands. The technique here is to have the transmission in drive, step lightly on the brake pedal with the left foot to engage the front brakes while stepping on the throttle with the right. This spins the back wheels while the vehicle remains stationary. The resulting smoke and rubber that came off the back wheels pleased the crowd and poured into the nearby casinos. A word of caution here: don't try it at home unless you want to irritate your neighbors.

The sanctioned cruise was no less spectacular. Hundreds of vehicles that ranged from modified lumber trucks to low-rider limousines to street rods to pristine pony cars made pass after slow pass for three hours. Often the passengers were wives who came along for the ride with their middle-aged husbands and they looked very bored. Lots of drivers carried their children or grandchildren along and the kids were obviously not bored. Although my legs began to give out near the end, I stayed until the last car (a '67 Pontiac GTO) passed by.

The Hot August Nights weekend is a memorable occasion for an RV owner, or anyone else for that matter, and worth a drive across the country if necessary. For information, you can call the organizers at 702-356-1956, but you'd better make space reservations now. As I watched the "old hands" drive out on Sunday, they would first stop by the desk to reserve a spot for next year. That's planning ahead.

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