The NSRA Street Rod Nationals is the granddaddy of events that pulls street rodders together from every corner of the U.S. But did you know that a couple of fishing buddies at R&C kick started the whole shebang?
The year was 1970. The average cost of a new home was $26,000. Regular gas was 36 cents a gallon.
Tom Medley and Bud Bryan stayed...
Tom Medley and Bud Bryan stayed at the Peoria Sands, the show's headquarters. At the crack of dawn, the day before the big event, Tex Smith and his late wife, Peggy, motored over to Tom and Bud's digs. To their utter surprise, street rods littered the parking lot. "I woke Tom up," said Tex, "and pulled the curtains of his room open, and, looking out at the parking lot, Tom said, 'Holy ...'" Tex had been the field director with NHRA and Peggy had handled the registration at the drags. Peggy talked to the motel manager, and he had some folding tables they could put up in the motel parking lot. In short order, registration was open. Tom, in turn, had accumulated some catalogs from various West Coast street rod companies, and Louie Senter of Ansen Automotive Engineering had donated some bags that Tom brought along. As the folks registered, they were each given a bag with some catalogs.
I thought it would be fun to revisit Tom "Stroker McGurk" Medley-since I wrote about the beloved Rod & Custom former publisher in the June 2000 issue of R&C-plus learn, firsthand, from Tom how the Nats got started. Trying to get a straight answer out of a gag cartoonist is another matter. Tom's speech is laced with laughter because he is constantly tickling his own funny bone.
Tom got involved with R&C in the late '60s after moving over from Hot Rod magazine. He recognized that street rodders had pulled away from the hardcore hot rod racers who read HRM. Tom saw a need to not only cover street rods in R&C, but promote a national car show as well. "Street rodding is practically a religion," Tom declared, and he had the perfect pulpit to spread the gospel: Rod & Custom.
"Pete (Petersen) asked me if I wanted to take over R&C when I was advertising manager of Hot Rod," Tom began. "He asked me, if I did, which way I wanted to go editorially. I said, no drag racing-that's for Car Craft. Let Hot Rod do the competition stuff; we're going to the street ... street rod stuff. None of those guys had much faith in the street rods. Pete left me alone to do what I wanted to do.
"We didn't get entirely away from racing," continued Tom. "We still went to Bonneville, covered stuff like the '70 Baja 500 (where rodders like Ray Brock, Ak Miller, and Mickey Thompson competed). Guys who are interested in cars are interested in anything with wheels. We manufactured the Street Rod Nationals. When I had R&C, I had the perfect platform that other publications didn't have. We had a way to the source-street rodders every month.
"(LeRoi) 'Tex' (Smith) and I used to talk all the time about trying to get a street rod nationals going. We picked out a bunch of guys who were in this car club called the Slo-Pokes in Peoria, Illinois. The reason we picked Peoria was it was almost the center of the population of the U.S.
"I had to go back to Peoria a couple of times to talk to the mayor and the city council to let them know we weren't a bunch of greasy fingered motorcycle guys. We told them we didn't know how many people would attend.
"We couldn't get an OK from the 7th floor (Petersen Publishing upper management), but we were already into this thing so we went ahead and did it. We had to scrape together some money so we could get on with it." Through the cooperation of Gary Magner of the Minnesota Street Rod Association, which jointly hosted the event, the run to "Big P Nats" began to take shape.
Forest Lemmons of Timberline...
Forest Lemmons of Timberline Farms gave his consent for Tom to use his hayfield for the event. "We used a hay wagon for the trophy presentation," Tom said, "and we had the longest extension cord in life so we could have a microphone."
Jim Babbs' It-T-Bits, with...
Jim Babbs' It-T-Bits, with 80 sneering horses, got around the tight slalom course like a sports car with the top time of the event. Maybe because Jim probably wore, rather than drove, the Subaru-powered C-cab. Second went to Bob Burton in his VW-powered '23 T. Who said there's no substitute for cubic inches?
Ken Grimes and his buddy Bill...
Ken Grimes and his buddy Bill Achberger decided they were going to Peoria as soon as Ken read about it in R&C. The pair made the trip in Bill's channeled Model A coupe (which he still owns).
This '32 roadster, called...
This '32 roadster, called Mister B, had to be at the top of the game in the early '70s.