Show-Stopping Street Rods at the 2019 Route 66 Mother Road Festival

Vintage cars of all makes and models have been traveling to Springfield, Illinois, in September for the past 18 years. The event is the Route 66 Mother Road Festival, and it is the place to see and be seen for street rods, hotrods, various customs, and their owners.

The festival atmosphere was well in evidence as historical displays, significant display vehicles, and the pin-up girl contest provided something for all fans of the Mother Road.

The show is a weekend-long party created by the opportunity to pay homage to the Route 66 highway of years past. Since the highly traveled vintage road passed directly through Springfield, Illinois, it is the perfect locale for one of the numerous tribute festivals.
Not just a car show, it memorializes all that is Route 66 with tents filled with memorabilia, a pin-up girl competition, cruising, lots of music, and everything hot rod.

Kevin Flondor’s ’32 Ford Coupe started as two different project cars, which he combined into one beautiful hot rod. “I wanted to do something simple, so we painted it matte olive green, and did the patina finish with airbrushing,” Kevin says. “I love the old steel wheels we have on it. It’s just a fun car to drive, and we go out in it as much as possible.”

This show has continued to increase in numbers of cars and spectators every year. Car owners travel from across the country for the happening that commemorates this portion of the old Route 66.

Beginning in 2001 in the downtown area of Springfield, the event was sold to new promoters a couple of years later and moved to the nearby grounds of the Illinois State Fair.

The mass of staging lanes waiting for the Friday evening cruise was impressive. Even Honest Abe could not resist hopping into some of the street rods over the weekend.

It didn’t take long for the show to burst the seams on the fairgrounds. The event has since been transferred back to the streets of downtown Springfield, once again. A reported 25,000 visitors attend the festival each year, and thousands of cars are on display.

“My wife Janet and I have made this one of our stops on Route 66 every year,” Arthur Reyes tells us. “We have traveled what is left of the Route 66 highway many times, but this show is a focus point of the history that we love to attend.”

A cruise for charity kicks off the Bonnier Events festival on Friday night. Well over 2,000 vehicles were lined up in the parking lots on the east side of Springfield by sunset. An Abe Lincoln actor led the parade in a convertible, along with a police escort, as they filled the town’s main corridors and ultimately headed through the crowds of spectators into downtown.

Kelly Moore of Riverton, Illinois, has been working on his '40 sedan for several years, and it just keeps getting better and better. Doing much of the work himself, Kelly created a one-of-a-kind interior and many one-off-custom billet parts for this head-turner. He attends many shows around the Midwest and typically brings home a lot of trophy hardware for his efforts.

It took more than two hours for all the cars to leave the lot tightly packed together. Participants genuinely embrace the opportunity to dress in clothes from the heyday of Route 66 to show off for the watchers. Plenty of photos were taken as the vehicles passed through the center of the city.

I saw one onlooker looking over the street rods with sharp detail. “I am building my own ’37 Ford Coupe, but wasn’t able to get it done in time for this show,” Oscar Smith says. “It will definitely be a driver for me. I don’t believe in spending time making a trailer queen. I will be cruising in this event next year.”

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On Saturday morning, it didn’t take long for space to be at a premium. Show-goers have their favorite spots and try to be in the same place with their same friends on an annual basis. Several car clubs bring their entire membership with them and park together. Before show judging began, kits of car cleaning and polishing products were highly evident.

Ron Young, Pawnee, Illinois, is the owner of this beautiful 1959 El Camino. He has owned the car for many years but brought it back out to car shows just last year. He’s won multiple awards for the car and is proud of the detail work put into his red Chevy.

“We’re not part of any car clubs,” Bill Defina says. “We feel like we’re part of a group at this show because we always park in the same spot, and we know the guys who park around us over the years.”

Downtown Springfield is full of Lincoln-based history and attractions. The cars on display were allowed to bring them over to a specific corner by the historic Old Illinois State Capital to use as a backdrop for photos of their custom cars. Visitors to downtown can enjoy the history of Route 66 in the vendor marketplace. Everything from souvenirs, historical displays, and performance vendors are all on display in the blocks of exhibits.

Once Jim Oenken of Mason City, Illinois, got started with his ’57 Chevy, he couldn’t stop. “When I bought the car, I was told it was pristine,” Jim says. “I found out there was a lot of Bondo in there, so we put in all-new sheetmetal." Jim assembled the '57 with an LS engine, Art Morrison frame, Vintage Air, Wilwood brakes, and an all-new interior. His efforts paid off, as it was one of the most foot-traffic-stopping classics of the event.

A popular competition at the Mother Road Festival is the pin-up girl contest. The girls who enter aren’t just dressing up for the judging; several of them embrace the pin-up lifestyle and are well-rehearsed with their alter egos.

Miss Aurora Borealis was the Mother Road overall contest champion, with Miss Ruby Steele earning the Miss Route 66 (first runner-up) title. Miss Molly Mayhem was also honored as Miss Route 55 (second runner-up.)

Just finished in early spring this year, Dennis Meiser’s 1939 Packard is an absolute stunner. Dennis, from Cuba, Missouri, did what it took to bring this beauty back to life after a rough project beginning. The deep leather interior is as gorgeous as the outside and continues into the trunk compartment. Show judges recognized the car with First place in one of the Street Rod categories as well as Best Interior honors.

Just for fun and bragging rights during the festival, the burnout contest brings a crowd over to watch the dedicated burnout cars and trucks. The smell of burning rubber filled downtown in mid-afternoon as the competition got underway. The winner was Billy Reese, a local from Springfield, in his 1988 Chevy S-10. Runner-up was Jimmy Dixon of Pana, Illinois, driving his 1975 Chevy Pickup.

It was an enjoyable walk down memory lane talking with the entrants about their cars. The competition was stiff, and the choices were tough for our Rod Authority team to select only five picks. After viewing the throngs of custom cars in the event, we shot our favorite cars and made many new hot rod friends along the way.

About the author

Todd Silvey

Todd has been a hardcore drag racing journalist since 1987. He is constantly on both sides of the guardwall from racing photography and editorship to drag racing cars of every shape and class.
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