Rat Rod Rumble: Old School Flag Drags & Plenty of Rust

If you have ever taken a drive through eastern Tennessee in mid-Spring, then you know how beautiful the scenery is. The rolling hills down winding roads leading into the Great Smoky Mountains, the fresh mountain air with just a hint of mash cooking in the copper pots, and of course we can’t forget about the sights and sounds of the rusty rats running the track just north of Knoxville.

Nestled around a few practically one lane roads and in the hills of  northern Knox County, Tennessee sits the unique track of Knoxville Drag Strip. It is located about 15 miles north of downtown Knoxville and is a little old drag strip that bares a whole lot of character and  history. This was also the location of the 8th Annual Rat Rod Rumble.

Hosted by the Bullet Boys Car Club, the Rat Rod Rumble was started eight years ago basically to settle a friendly dispute between buddies who were in a few other eastern Tennessee car clubs. As most of us hot rodders know, everyone thinks they have the coolest or fastest car. So Dan Cain, President of the Bullet Boys, did what anyone of us has wanted to do… He rented a drag strip for the afternoon.

“We put an advertisement out to ask who had the baddest club with the baddest cars, and we told them to show up at the track. That first year there was two inches of rain, but 45-50 cars showed up anyway”, Dan told us. And they have been growing in numbers ever since. Even with a venue change this year they were still able to bring in more than 250 cars and racers.

There was plenty of rust and patina for everyone to have a little. It only builds character.

You have to agree when you see some of these rats, you can't help smiling at the humorous creativity it takes to pull these things together.

 Old School Drags

Remember back when two cars would line up, there would be that hot lady with bandannas to get the race started and you would just run your car in hopes to be the one to cross the line first? This is the way to race; run what you brung, old school flag drags. This no nonsense way of racing is the only way the Rat Rod Rumble rolls.

It doesn’t matter if you were in a high revving gasser or your thrown together bucket of bolts, everyone here was having the best of times running down the track. Sure there were a few bills being thrown around in friendly bets to see who could get to the other side first, but who doesn’t like some good nudging to get the excitement level up.

Some of the best races of the day were between old jalopies that you wouldn’t think would stay together while hitting it hard, with cars that were built with speed and power in mind. Most had traditional drive trains or even the original engine that had been in the cars for many decades. No matter what your poison was, there was no shortage of hair raising excitement.

This was a heads up, run what you brung and hope you can get across the line first, kind of race.

It didn't matter what you had, it was just a lot of fun pushin your car to the limits.

The Junkyard

While we are sure someone will get offended by the term ‘junkyard’ – it is said with the highest form of respect and reverence on our end. It is also known that there are a few of you out there that still haven’t grasped the term ‘rat rod’ quite yet. However, most will definitely agree that when looking closely and knowing what you’re looking for, these things take deep thought and sheer imagination to create such rolling works of historic art.

One thing is for certain here at this show, there were more rats in every shape, form and fashion than we have seen in a long time. Even though we absolutely love rat rods and all things traditional, if we knew there was going to be this much rust we might have felt more safe if we were up to date on our tetanus shots.

All joking aside, this was one of the best gatherings of Flatheads, Model A’s, coupes and early sedans we have seen in years. Many of these cars haven’t been painted for decades, which to us, brings out the character and reminds us that they have been rescued from a junkyard or permanent death and are now resurrected and enjoyed. These cars were destined to rot away and be given back to the earth, but yet they keep fighting on.

The people here we as friendly as they come. There was no shortage of folks asking if we needed a cold brew and ready to tell you stories about life in the mountains.

For those of you who get excited at all the treasures buried in the swap meet areas, there was plenty here.

These cars are built to drive and have fun with. Most of the owners don’t care if you lean against them and set your cold drink on the hood. “This car was built to run. I have driven this car everywhere since I finished it. I don’t care if you sit on it, but just don’t scratch the paint,” Ron Sturgis jokingly told us. He is the proud owner of an insane 1940, 1 Ton Express Truck with a 304-inch Stroker Flathead protruding from the engine compartment.

Now don’t get us wrong, they will still let you in the gate if your car doesn’t have any rust. In fact there were plenty of beautifully built traditional hot rods, such as a sleek, period correct 1951 Chevy and even a picture perfect Corvair. The trucks were also very cool, and some cruisin’ with hooligans in the back taking in the scenery added to the come as you are vibe.

 The Hooligans

All day long we talked to people from all over mountain country. They were some of the coolest people we’ve met, and more than happy to pass along a cold brew and sit down and have a chat. The day we were there it was hotter than the devil, but that didn’t stop anyone from having the best time possible. Many of these folks have known each other from years past and the new faces were welcomed alongside family.

The years of bringing their rods to this show has created tight bonds and lots of stories. Stacey from Ashville, NC told us, “We have been coming to this particular show for three years now. Two years ago my husband, Derrick, proposed to me right on the drag strip. That was at the old track, but I love this year at the new place.” She and her husband are part of the Bootleggers Car Club who drove through the mountains in his bad ass 1964 Ford Falcon Gasser to attend this year’s event.

Another thing we noticed were the people ranged from all ages, kids to great grandparents. “This is one of my favorite shows of the year. We hang out all day and they let us camp here at night. We bring our families and friends and just have a great time,” Eric Beeler from Cattywampus Car Club told us. It was great to see moms and dads bringing their kids out to have fun and hang out, instead of leaving them at home in front of the video game babysitters.

These rats came in every shape, color and style. It's about adding your own personal touches that make it unique, after all who wants to be like everyone else.

The unique sounds of Cutthroat Shamrock kept the place jumpin' late into the night.

As the sun went down, the flame throwers started to heat up. All around the grounds campfires could be seen with groups of people sitting around sharing stories with each other about the day. Then echoing through the hills came the sounds of Cutthroat Shamrock. This band has to be one of the coolest sounding bands we have heard in a long time. With a mix of what they call an Irish Hillbilly Punk sound, they kept the crowds going late into the night.

When it was all over we were definitely glad we made the trip. We met some very cool hot rodders, saw some gnarly cars, watched some heads up racing, and heard some great hillbilly music. What more could we ask for in a one day trip?

One thing is certain, these good ol’ boys sure know how to have a good time. We definitely won’t miss next year!

About the author

Robert Mills

Growing up with his parents owning a photography studio, it was only natural for Robert Mills to pick up a camera and begin capturing the world around him and after spending time watching his uncle run his front-engine dragster down the quarter Robert started getting the hot rod fever. He is a self proclaimed "Traditional Rockabilly Rebel" and enjoys combining his two passions in life to help share not only the cool kustoms he comes across, but also the people who bring the kulture to life.
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