Tim Nesmith had the farthest to drive of all six competitors. Tim saw the invitation in the April '03 ROD & CUSTOM-it requested owners to submit a photo of their vehicle for possible participation in R&C's annual check 'em out, ride 'em hard, beat 'em up, have a ball shoot-out-so he sent in a photo of his homebuilt, small-block-powered, indigo blue '41 Chevy coupe. When Tim was informed that R&C readers had voted his Chevy as one of the six final participants in our crazy performance showdown, he started prepping for the 2,000-mile trip from Hartselle, Alabama, to Burbank, California (starting point of the third annual ROD & CUSTOM Asphalt Ego-Rama).

The excitement started to fade in the middle of the night near the Oklahoma/Arkansas border, as Tim and passenger Jeff Parker pushed the coupe, out of gas, down the highway toward the nearest town. A handful of Southern Samaritans helped him get gassed up and back on the road. Things were looking up again.

The cars and drivers that would duke it out in this competition congregated in the hotel parking lot in Burbank on day one of the week-long road trip. Norm and Terry Cowdrey (later to be joined by their son Dan) with their dark blue '56 Nomad, Larry and Gloria Metz in the orange '32 cabriolet, and Don Dillard and "Rotten" Rodney Bauman with Don's suede brown '30 A coupe were all Southern California folks and didn't have far to travel. Rex and Deby Marshall drove their red metalflake '55 Chevy from Salt Lake City, and Fred and Shirley Douglas brought their black '48 Olds convertible from eastern Kansas, accompanied by bodyman Roger Ward. And you've already met Tim and Jeff.

We kicked off the week with a visit to Barris Kustom in North Hollywood. George and striper Tom "Itchy" Otis treated us to a guided tour of the shop. The shop is like the Smithsonian of famous Hollywood rides. Grand National Roadster Show trophies clutter the shelves, and photos of the hundreds of stars who have been customers cover the walls. Barris seemed to enjoy checking out the Ego-Rama rides as much as we enjoyed soaking up the historic hot rods on display at his shop.

At the Tuesday morning drivers' meeting, we explained the Ego-Rama agenda. In addition to cruising across the Southwest, visiting points of interest, we would be conducting a competition in nine categories: Acceleration (10 percent), Braking (10 percent), Cornering (10 percent), Gas Mileage (5 percent), People's Choice (15 percent), Engineering (15 percent), Ride & Drive (15 percent), Budget (10 percent), and Style Points (10 percent). The first four categories would be determined by objective testing. The People's Choice category would be based on spectator voting at the Goodguys Southwestern Nats at the end of the week. In the Engineering category, the R&C judging staff (Jim Rizzo, Dan Kahn, Damon Lee, and I) would evaluate craftsmanship, imagination, and technical excellence. R&D was based on overall ride quality and practicality of each vehicle. Budget (anti-big bucks) awarded lower-dollar buildups, and Style Points awarded the sportsmanship of the participants.

A short freeway ride took us into Los Angeles. Destination: the Petersen Automotive Museum, where museum curator and car builder Pete Eastwood took us down into the basement. This huge area, closed to the general public, is where the museum stores recent acquisitions, vehicles rotating into or out of the galleries upstairs, and Robert Petersen's private collection of rods and exotic cars.

We got to Hot Rods & Custom Stuff in Escondido late for dinner. Shop owners Randy and Peaches Clark and the staff showed us their facility, including their impressive new body shop. Dalton's Roadhouse Catering put on a feast that couldn't be beat. In addition to our gang, the Clarks invited a number of customers and their rides, including the M-80 Chevy, R&C cover car and the '01 Ridler Award winner.