A souped-up version of the annual Blue Suede Cruise car show blasted through Summit Motorsports Park over the weekend amidst gasoline fumes and the maddening roar of unbridled horsepower.
Car enthusiasts from 15 states and Canada admired a showcase of 1,700 vintage automobiles and watched 250 more participate in nitro funny car drag racing.
The seventh edition of the event doubled in size because of the park's newly-formed alliance with the Good Guys Road and Custom Association. A three-day crowd totaling more than 40,000 drag-racing fans was anticipated.
Visitors also got the chance to chow down on food vendor specialties, view exhibitor displays and browse through a swap meet.
Good Guys spokesperson John Drummond said the San Francisco organization was able to jump-start the festivities this year with more racing and an enhanced car show.
"We want to turn it into the nation's largest hot-rod event," he said.
The pre-1973 vintage cars on display have character lacking in the designs of cars manufactured today, Drummond said.
"They harken back to the good old days," he explained. "You've got cars that are really well-built and run great, and people can identify with them because they're vintage."
Following a six-year run, park owner Bill Bader Jr. planned last year to take his street rod show off the annual schedule. His idea to replace it with drag racing was jump-started with the Good Guy partnership.
"This was not our expertise," Bader said. "It was not what it could be. Now this event has the potential in short order to become one of our three big events of the year. Drag-racing is the fastest-growing sport in the U.S."
Bader said the appeal of drag-racing is simply watching "a cool-looking car that goes fast. When a car travels 1,320 feet in 4 seconds at over 330 miles per hour, that's impressive."
He said people who thrill to vintage car drag racing are reliving their childhoods.
"America has always had a love for the automobile. When you put it in a setting like this, it's pretty cool. Hopefully, this will continue for the next 100 years."
2008 Hot Rod Nationals winner John Dunn, a drag racer since he was 16, qualified Sunday for first road finals. He said screeching down the track in his 1969 Chevy Nova gives him enormous satisfaction and a heady adrenaline rush. The experience also gives him pause to pray before each race.
"With cars this fast you don't know what's going to happen. It's the suspense. It's the thunder and the fire out of the pipes and the noise," Dunn said.
He enjoys the Summit track more than others.
"More often than not, we're not racing the guy in the other lane. Our true competitor is the track -- how much horsepower we can give it," he said.
Drag racing fan Bill Matthews of Strongsville summed up the experience succinctly.
"I love this kind of racing because it's mainly amateurs," he said. "You can get up close and personal with the drivers. You can't do that with NASCAR. If you like the sport of racing, you can't get any closer than this."