Bakersfield is a crazy town.
The ninth largest city in California, it’s a world leader in agriculture and oil production. It’s a town in flux as well.
I’ve visited this hot, gritty hamlet for the last three years and each time, massive unfinished freeway and infrastructure improvements were underway, barely able to keep up with the growth and roaring traffic. It seems to be never ending.
In many ways this area is still the Wild West, and a drive through town confirms this hunch. “Report Human Trafficking to the FBI” reads a billboard in an otherwise innocuous, residential neighborhood. “Opioid Deaths Reduced 6.3% Since Legalization of Marijuana” cites another. I stopped counting how many criminal and injury lawyer billboards, because they barked from every corner and byway in English and Spanish. The only thing missing was Gunsmoke’s Miss Kitty and a saloon…
While not a scion of Bakersfield, this gruff, central California town speaks to me as if I were one it’s own. It emmantes a rough-edged frequency that is fascinating to someone who was born in the now unrecognizable city of Seattle, Washington.
The 2019 NSRA 43rd Western Street Rod Nationals is the siren that lures me to the oil-lapped shores of Bakersfield each year.
With up to 2000 hot rods and custom cars descending on the city, the Kern County Fairgrounds are the perfect canvas to showcase candy-coated, metal-flake masterpieces.
The Fairgrounds originated in 1916, and moved to its current location in 1952. It consists of 160 acres, 4 large exhibit buildings, auction barn, sheep and swine show rings, grandstand arena, north arena, horse stalls, outdoor theater and a large well-groomed outdoor display area.
The grounds are maintained all year long with blooming flowers and various large trees and shrubs. The parking lots surrounding the grounds can accommodate 7,000 vehicles. Recreational vehicle camping along with shower facilities are available as well.
The sweet, sticky smell of cotton candy, boiling hot dogs, horse dung and hay are likely indelible here, and with one whiff, I’m are transported back to a slower, simpler time.
I streamed many live video feeds to Rod Authority Facebook during the show and I think they are a vivid way to relay the charm of this signature NSRA show. With no further ado, walk through the show with me over a three day period last weekend.
On Saturday we hit the ground early and staked our claim at the entrance to the grounds. Saturday is the most crowded day, and we like to grab video of the cars rolling in.
Seeing the cars in motion and hearing the sweet sonnet of their baritone exhaust is a perennial treat. It was absolutely gorgeous morning too. That proved to be a brief respite because by noon, temperatures soared to around 95 degrees.
We stumbled on one the coolest 1935 Ford we’ve seen in along time. Chopped by Gene Winfield and built by the Cali-based Silva family, this brandywine, five-window Coupe with Caddy sombreros was breathtaking in person. With nary a stripe or skull in sight, it was pure, voluptuous perfection.
Check out the video for walkaround with owners. Be sure and revel in reciting of the National Anthem in the middle of this video too, as it was poignant moment.
We love ratty rat rods. We stopped and talked with the guys from D.O.A. Customs. Their fearless leader Carl took us on a tour of the club’s cars and it was a good fun. Most were originally “field” jalopies liberated from the sepia flats of Bakersfield. The D.O.A. guys were really cool and like most car owners here, friendly and eager to share war stories about their cars.
Sunday was a quieter day and little cooler. It was easy to navigate and we got a chance to look around the edges. We got to hear the National Anthem again, this time by a gal with some great pipes. In this segment we take you through the swap meet area as well and look a very cool 1958 Impala.
And before you know it, the 2019 NSRA 43rd Western Street Rod Nationals was drawing down. I caught the procession of the cars loading out on video and another Spring car show was in the books.
Lastly, we wanted to thank NSRA head honcho Jim Rowlett for the hospitality. Jim is a minister as well, and he delivered a moving sermon on Sunday morning. The words he spoke were wise and have stayed with me since.
He told us that when times are hard, “Endeavor to persevere…” It was a powerful notion and this anecdote resonated with me tremendously. Thanks for that, Jim Rowlett.
With that, I left Bakersfield back in the dusty mist, and headed off to my next adventure. I’ll have to wait a year until the aforementioned hot rod siren plays her sweet, irresistible song again, luring me back to Kern County.
Next up, NSRA Knoxville is this weekend. Go here for more details.