Having attended hundreds of car shows over the years, I’ve become accustomed to the sounds, smells and sights of the typical cruise and show n’ shine; loud speakers blaring an endless loop of Beach Boys and Johnny Cash hits, the sweet scent of kettle corn and the endless row of glimmering chrome and candied pearls sparkling in the sun. Yup, pretty standard stuff.

This year’s first-annual Goodguys Del Mar Fall Nationals was anything but standard stuff.

Street rods, hot rods and classic American muscle were all in fine form – as to be expected. Heck, there were a couple of folks still thinking that displaying faux drive-in window trays with plastic hamburgers, waxy French fries and faux milkshakes will get them photographed (here’s a hint: it won’t).

Despite the knickknacks and usual car show fare, what intrigued me was the sheer number of station wagons, rat rods, lowriders and gassers that filled the rows. Standing high on re-packed leaf springs or laying low on air bag suspension, the ranks were far more diverse in style and theme than any Goodguys event I had attended in quite some time.

The engines of a hot rod are just as artistically built and massaged as any other part of the car. Unique induction systems are key to getting people to stop and stare. Trust us, it's what drew us over.

More Than Just a Parking Lot of Wallflowers

Upon first arrival, the air crackled with the sound of high-revving V8s howling at full throttle closely punctuated by the ferocious protests of squealing tires. The same sound that drew me closer beckoned to hundreds of other spectators like a siren’s song.

The recent marriage of weekend-long autocrossing and the Goodguys show schedule has been a boon to the event promoter.

Looking to capitalize even more, Goodguys opted to plant the autocross course in the dead center of the show grounds, making it almost unavoidable to miss.

Behind rows of concrete barriers and chain link fence, a careening labyrinth of orange cones outlined a twisting path that funneled participants through short straightaways and hairpin turns.

The usual suspects lined the three-row-deep lot of autocrossers, including Bret Voelkel of RideTech, Mary Pozzi with her wicked second-gen split-bumper Camaro, and John Hotchkis of Hotchkis Sport Suspension and his Top Banana Yellow ’70 E-Max Challenger T/A.

The Goodguys Autocross welcomes big time players like RideTech, Hotchkis, Detroit Speed, Spectre Performance and Billet Specialties. Those wanting to let it all hang out with the big dogs were more than welcome to take out on the track, but most simply couldn't keep up with the likes of Mary Pozzi.

Back in the day, drag racers used to complain that it took 'cubic dollars' to be competitive. With machines like this super clean '69 Camaro, it's starting to look like autocrossing is quickly following suit.

The usual suspects lined the three-row-deep lot of autocrossers, including Bret Voelkel of RideTech, Mary Pozzi with her wicked second-gen split-bumper Camaro, and John Hotchkis of Hotchkis Sport Suspension and his Top Banana Yellow ’70 E-Max Challenger T/A.

Camaros of several generations, a handful of pre-’34 roadsters, some Mopars and a surprise selection of classic trucks all fought it out on the track.

In fact, it was the presence of so many classic trucks that impressed all who crowded the fence lining the course. Their wide wheelbase and lightweight tails allowed them to navigate the pinched turns with veritable ease, much more than the larger classics.

In discussing the showdown with Hotchkis racer, Dan Weishaar – the pilot behind the B5 Blue ’68 Road Runner that seems to show up everywhere – explained, “Right now, fast is anything under 56 seconds. Mary (Pozzi) pulled a 52-second pass out of nowhere the day before, so she’s the one to beat.”

Weishaar’s words to more prophetic than presently understood. Despite a strong showing from some prepped pickups and other refined wheelmen and women, Pozzi took the overall against Mike Hickman and his C10 for a close 2nd.

Mr. Hotchkis, who was presented with an American flag flown over the Cobra Attach Helicopter base in Afghanistan by Captain Wise, successfully maneuvered E-Max to a 4th place overall.

Goodguys Autocross Results

Hot Rod Class – Jim Sheridan, Julian, CA; 1933 Ford Roadster 52.815
Street Machine Class – Mary Pozzi, Salinas, CA; 1972 Chevy Camaro 50.274
Truck Class – Scott Call & Rob McKeown, Castaic, CA; 1967 Ford F-100 51.192
Vendor Class – Bret Voekel, Jasper, IN; 1967 Camaro 53.065

Spinout! This RideTech-built '67 Camaro was a lightweight contender that really put many in their place. Unfortunately, the power-to-weight ratio took a little getting used to.

powerTV took out its 'BluePrint Chevelle' for a trial run. Refrigerator white and rolling some pretty stock suspension, the A-Body fared as good as any big block street pounder might be expected to do...not very well.

Wild Woodies Make Waves

Each Goodguys event has a specific showcase highlighting one particular year, make or model of classic. This time around, the venerable “Surf Woodie” was put up on special exhibit, presented by “San Diego Woodies” out of San Diego, California. The San Diego Woodies club brought in over 40 classic woody wagons for display, along with live surf rock and live surfboard shaping demonstrations during Friday and Saturday.

The exhibit hall was packed with these oaken oldies, showing the evolution of the wood-paneled station wagon, from its earliest Model A years to the mid-1950s, when the all-wooden panels and doors were replaced with veneer paneling due to longevity and safety concerns.

Albeit popular for their look, the woody wagons were terribly unsafe in crashes, providing heavily reduced protection from impact, the wood paneling often exploding in a miasma of razor-sharp splinters.

The woodies on display though, weren’t a cautionary tale of impact safety, but a gentle reminder of the days when American automobiles were artfully crafted by hand, and meant to be praised for their beauty as well as their usefulness. A striation of differently-themed woodies were on parade, be them meticulously restored timepieces, resto-modded surf wagons replete with vintage window decals and sporting balsa wood longboards on the roof rack, or heavily-stylized street rods.

Back before impact regulations and crash testing, woody wagons were a stylish and lightweight alternative to the bland family wagons that clogged the highways of 1940 and 1950's America.

We love the old school simplicity of a pot metal and plastic emblem.

Shine ‘Em Up

When explaining what I had planned for the weekend, my non-car lover friends thought the idea of milling up and down endless rows of parked cars sounded like a horrible waste of a weekend. These people simply don’t get it. It’s not like I’m trudging around a Costco parking lot; I’m walking the halls of a rolling art museum, stopping and studying each example like a meticulous art critic…not to judge, but to admire.

Hot rods are extensions of the owner. The level of detail of customization, the small cues, the little nuances, the finer points that distinguish this particular machine from any other on the planet. No two hot rods are alike in that manner.

While there may appear to be limitless ’57 Chevrolet Bel Airs or ’32 Deuce coupes, the wizened eye will note that no two are identical. That, in and of itself, is noteworthy.

The Show n’ Shine reached past the borders of the single main parking lot and stretched down the main drag and up to the outermost walls of each show hall.

The Goodguys events always know how to pack ‘em in, and this first-ever Fall Nationals didn’t fall short of that reputation. Yet, unlike so many car shows that we are accustomed to, the concours restorations were in the minority.

Even when it came to the rarer muscle cars, the numbers-matching machines typically brandished owner-optioned aftermarket wheels and tires, if not a pair of Flowmaster mufflers or Cherry Bomb glasspacks. The more radical mods included a wild “one-of-none” ’70 Pontiac GTO “Judge” station wagon that was so authentic-looking that it could’ve fooled John DeLorean himself.

The devil is definitely in the details with this with candy red '51 Merc sled. The differences between a 'rod and a 'rat are definitely distancing day by day.

Be it at the front or running along the quarters, chrome is a lost art on today's cars. What ever happened to auto jewelry? Seriously, Detroit. Where's the chrome?

Everybody’s a Winner

While “participation trophies” and “spirit awards” have all but ruined today’s little leagues and elementary school sporting events, the Goodguys events host much more than the expect “Best of Show” and “Top Flight” awards.

This year, the Del Mar Fall Nats welcomed the Wounded Warriors of San Diego who presented the holiday “Toys For Tots” toy drive. Sponsored by the US Marine Corp., attendees were welcomed to bring an unwrapped new toy for those kids less fortunate during these economic times.

A limited swap meet field also had goods and wares available for purchase. While there were slim pickings for most of the higher-end hot rodders, we did find some serious deals on classic C2 Corvette parts and a pretty decent deal on a driver 318-powered ’68 Plymouth Satellite. This, combined with plenty of vendors being on hand to display and promote their products, there was no shortage of good stuff.

In fact, we watched a short parade of cool classics line up in front of the RideTech booth to have their cars weighted and measured for a new suspension system. A throaty ’70 Dodge Charger – touting a aluminum-headed 440 stroker – idled up the blocks and was digitally dialed in, using RideTech’s computers. The engineers there measured the Mopar for a set of their double-adjustable shocks.

Goodguys/Street Rod Headquarters 2012 Truck of the Year-Early Finalist
Frank & Mary Lawrence, Bakersfield, CA 1948 Chevrolet P/U

Goodguys/Detroit Speed 2012 Muscle Machine of the Year Finalist
Cris Gonzales, Oxnard, CA 1969 Chevy Camaro

Goodguys/Hemming’s 2012 Muscle Car of the Year Finalist
Sean Kelly, Carlsbad, CA; 1969 Chevy Camaro

Goodguys Builder’s Choice Awards
Mario Asturias, Lake Forest, CA; 1940 Ford
John Ray, Jamul, CA; 1951 Ford
Michael Arcaro, Palm Springs, CA; 1967 Chevy
Jeff Johnson, Encinitas, CA; 1941 Plymouth
Jeff Chandler, Rancho Santa Fe, CA; 1932 Ford
George Blundel, Carlsbad, CA; 1969 Chevy
Tom & Bridget Kink, Laguna Hills, CA; 1946 Cadillac
Stuart Blumer, Cardif, CA; 1937 Ford
Jeff Hess, Woodland Hills, CA; 1965 Chevy
Randy Ito, Mission Viejo, CA; 1955 Chevy

Goodguys Pick
Rocky Brown, Leucadia, CA; 1967 Chevy Nova

Goodguys/Jet Hot Young Guys Pick
Austin Gray, San Diego, CA; 1965 Mustang

Goodguys Staff Pick
Dave Cook, Yorba Linda, CA; 1955 Chevy

Wonderful Woody
Barry Penn, Carlsbad, CA; 1950 Ford

Goodguys Gazette Pick
Phil Reed, Whittier, CA; 1927 Ford

Goodyear “Ya Gotta Drive ‘EM” Pick
Steve Disch, Lakewood, CO; 1964 Pontiac GTO

This wicked 'rat abounds in subtle touches that truly make this machine a piece of hands-on art.

Not all rats are junk 'rods cobbled together from a myriad of different vehicles. This used part dealer parades this Rust-o-leum Red mid-year C2 'Vette to shows all over Southern California.

All Weekend Long

The hardest part of the Fall Nationals was choosing which day to attend, that or how many days to spend at the show – because heaven knows you can’t get it all in in one day. Friday and Saturday welcomed in thousands of classic American machines while Sunday flew the gates open to any make and model automobile sporting an American-made powerplant – including DeTomaso Panteras and Chrysler-powered Lancers.

The Super Sunday Get-Together event included several passes around the autocross course, special Sunday awards, and inclusion in Goodguys’ nation-wide magazine. Plenty of late-model Mustangs, a few LS-powered rods and a bunch of latter-day muscle machines took advantage of the new classes and jumped into the fun.

The end result was a weekend that allowed me a chance to walk off some of the tens of thousands of calories I devoured at Thanksgiving, all the while enjoying the fine company of fellow car lovers, auto makers and performance enthusiasts who came out in full force to bring the Summer season to a close and welcome the chill of winter.

With only a few weeks left in the year, it would be only a short time away before Goodguys kicked off the 2012 season with a ton more fun!

A rat Cad? Believe it. This left-alone '59 Cadillac abounded in original patina and unmolested interior pieces.

If you can't own the real thing, there were plenty of opportunities to pick up a miniature of your dream car.