by Jon Mikelonis
A few years ago my wife and I relocated from the San Francisco
Bay Area to Sparks, Nevada for more affordable living and
a better environment for raising family. If you are not familiar
with Sparks, its virtually part of Reno. While the area was
never high on my "favorite places to live" list,
it has proven to be a great area with superb benefits like
close proximity to Lake Tahoe and a more connected and neighborly
community feel. In my modest working-class neighborhood, I
actually know the owners of the five homes in my cul-de-sac.
There's no doubt, Sparks is a great place to bring up children.
From the perspective of an automotive
enthusiast, there are two additional benefits to living in
Northern Nevada. First off, Summit Racing Equipment's Western
Distribution Center is 5 miles from my house which nearly
eliminates project downtime. Secondly, each year over a half
million people come to Northern Nevada for the 9-day celebration
of 50's and 60's American Hot Rod Culture called Hot
August Nights, also known as HAN. While many locals escape
town during the event, I look forward to it and am sure to
Hot August Nights 2006
drew 5,500 pre-1973 Domestic and European cars from
36 states and deposited more than 240 million dollars
into the local community. Here, spectators are shown
walking Sparks' Victorian Square on Saturday August
Cars are Stars & Rock n' Roll
Hot August Nights 2006 took place this year between July 29th
and August 6th. The event drew 5,500 cars from 36 states and
deposited more than 240 million dollars into the local community.
On top of the 5,500 pre-1973 Domestic and European classics
formally registered for the event, almost 2,000 were on a
waiting list and another 5,000 collectible hot rods and musclecars
crashed the event. This year, 800,000 people were reported
to have attended HAN. There's no doubt, this thing is huge.
Promotional materials for Hot August Nights claim that "Cars
are the Stars and Rock n' Roll Rules" during the
entire week. Having walked the event for the past three years
I can say that this claim is a fact. Never before have I seen
average spectators react so fanatically for the 50', 60's,
and a few early 70's American cars cruising the main strips
of Reno's Virginia Street and Sparks' Victorian Square. I
mean, it's understandable for a Ford musclecar goon like myself
to get excited. However, when a harmless cruise turns into
a burnout contest on public streets because a large group
of wild-eyed spectators are applying a heavy dose of peer
pressure, then fanaticism has reached a new level.
Spectators at HAN have
a deep admiration for what are commonly referred to
as the "good old days". Many car owners go
further than restoration, the drive-in mockup here connects
the car with a culture that has been replaced with drive-thrus
and cars with much less personality
The most interesting part of the spectator enthusiasm at
HAN is that unlike you and I, most of those attending are
not hobbyists with a "nuts and bolts" connection
to cars. Their perspective is obviously less mechanical and
more emotional. The energy expelled by those packed three
deep to watch 50's and 60's cars during "controlled cruise"
are fueled with a deep admiration for what are commonly referred
to as the "good old days". Whether they lived it,
dreamed it, or just pieced it together through film and media
bites, 50's and 60's American cars and culture when contrasted
to today's homogenized freeway filler, serves to get a lot
of people excited. The Hot August Nights organizers have done
a fine job making sure their event has a strong appeal to
emotion by defining the "entertainment". At HAN,
the entertainment is predominantly the combined effect created
by so many perfect examples of classic American automobiles.
While music and special events, like "Prom Night",
intertwine Hot August Nights, it's really the cars that capture
most people's hearts and minds.
All generational groups
following the Baby
can best associate with what Hot August
Nights has re-created through films like American
A movie which regardless of its age is
still cool among today's teenagers and 20-somethings.
A Baby Boomer's Dream Come True
HAN is a relatively tame and very respectable tribute.
The event is primarily geared for Baby
Boomers, defined as anybody born during the post WWII
years of economic prosperity (1946 to 1964). In addition to
actual Baby Boomers, HAN also attracts a percentage of Generation
X'ers (Baby Boomer offspring like me) and younger admirers
from more recent but less defined generations (Generation
Y and The MTV Generation). All generational groups following
the Baby Boomers can best associate with what Hot August Nights
attempts to re-create through films like American
Graffiti. A movie which regardless of its age and the
unavoidable redefinition of what is cool, still is cool according
to today's teenagers and 20-somethings. No matter what a teenager
defines as "exciting" today, the stimulation brought
on by your own set of wheels, a hot summer night, and the
mystery of who's going to be there, are immune to generational
While HAN accepts applications
for domestic and European vehicles with a model year
of 1972 and older, the event is heavily focused on the
50's era. Here a 1957 Bel Air inside one of Saturday's
HAN Show N' Shines is juxtaposed to a Gran Torino unable
to enter the event due to its 1973 vintage.
HAN accepts applications for American and European vehicles
with a model year of 1972 and older, the event is heavily
biased as a celebration of soda pop, dooh-whop, and poodle
skirts. In other words, as a Ford enthusiast you'll fit in
much better at HAN with a 1957 Fairlane than a 1972 Mach 1.
To take it one step further, if you've got a 1984 SVO or a
1979 Fairmont and intend to crash the event, you better plan
on keeping it on the perimeter streets and frontage roads.
And no, there's no special accommodations made if your running
slicks and a 460 in the Fairmont or wearing a bomber jacket
while driving your Fox Body. Steering clear of the main event
would be in your best interest since your car would only be
contributing to the dilution of the 50's and 60's flashback
that HAN organizers have worked so hard to reconstruct for
these 9 days of August each year.
In some sort of cruel
attempt to reach out to the 70's subset represented
by the 1970, 1971, and 1972 models years permitted by
the organizers, the Village People were booked.
Hot August Nights Musical Entertainment
If anything is an indication of the generational focus
of HAN, it's the
This year, just like every other year, the artists selected
were a mixture of 50's and 60's original and tribute bands
like Little Anthony and the Imperials, The Temptations Review,
Papa Clutch and the Shifters, Lonnie and the Lugnuts, Johnny
Slick and the Cheaters, and Lil' Elmo and the Cosmos. Bands
who's names and styles are perfectly suited for a 1957 Chevrolet
Bel-Air equipped with the infamous fuzzy dice.
So what about the musical appeal for the balance of late
60's and early 70's street machine owners attending the event?
Well, there's not much. The guy who graduated high school
in 1977 and modified a 1970 Plymouth Satellite is going to
have to settle for Papa
Clutch and Shifters but something tells me he'd rather
hear Boston or an
equivalent cover band. And what about me? I graduated high
school in 1989 and my first car was a very appropriate Hot
August Nights entry, a 1960 Oldsmobile Super 88 which was
known to throw down some Run
DMC now and then intermixed with Eddie
Money, who still tours by the way.
For 2006, HAN organizers reached out to the 70's crowd by
booking two thunderous rock n' roll bands from that era. The
Village People and America. The 50's and 60's cover band Ronny
and Classics also supported more contemporary tastes by breaking
rank and cranking out Hootie and the Blowfish tunes amongst
"Blueberry Hill", "Crying", "Don't
Be Cruel", "Earth Angel", "For Your Love",
and "Great Balls of Fire". You see where I'm going?
Hot August Nights
2007 - 70's
Get Dazed and Confused at Hot August Nights 2007. You
lived it in the 70's and now it's back. Late 60's and
early 70's American muscle machines are paired with
the pulse pounding classic rock sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd
and the Steve Miller Band. (hypothetical)
Where Will HAN Go From Here?
All right, it's no time to bash on an event that for all
purposes is very appealing for a 30-something Ford musclecar
enthusiast. From a marketing perspective, the organizers deserve
applause for clearly defining what Hot August Nights is
and what it is not. I can't expect the whole thing
to be tailored to a disconnected Gen-X'er who happens to be
into musclecars, but I do have a pearl of wisdom on how Hot
August Nights can maintain its forward momentum 5 years from
now, all without diluting the essence of a hot August night.
Its important to realize that if Hot August Nights does not
evolve with those who have the energy to participate, it will
one day fade away. While HAN still has a lot of life in it's
current format, organizers cannot expect that Baby Boomers
passing their memories and cars down to younger generations
will keep the energy up. Today's 20, 30, and early 40-somethings
will want to associate with the music and cars they drove
or dreamed of in high school. See the associated 70's (above
right) and 80's (below left) storyboards.
Hot August Nights
2007 - 80's
Get turbocharged at Hot August Nights 2007. You lived
it or maybe just dreamed it in the 80's, now chase those
memories back down with the modern sounds of Men at
Work and the big guitar blasts of Def Leppard. Intercoolers,
integrated bumpers, and the best examples of futuristic
domestic automotive design are back in pristine form.
The most brilliant part of Hot August Nights is the name
itself. It's timeless and despite the current emphasis on
the 50's, the name suits every generation and everyone who
enjoyed cars they owned or dreamed of, summertime, and their
youth. Most can agree the event should always be a tribute
to American car culture of decades gone by and give or take
a few years, it takes about 20 for a car to become nostalgic.
With that said, how about a "soft introduction"
of cars and music from 1973-1986? By "soft introduction"
I mean, select a specific area where these cars can be shown
in the Reno/Sparks metro area. It's not important that they
are intermingled with the 50's and 60's classics. Sign a few
more "hard hitting" recent classic rock and 80's
bands. There are plenty still touring like The
Greg Rollie Band, Journey,
Steve Miller Band, and Lynyrd
Finally, it might help for HAN organizers to put themselves
in the shoes of a guy who graduated high school in 1976 and
drove a 1969 Mach 1. Since most high schoolers back then dove
cars at least 7 years old, book a few bands he might have
listened to in '76. Don't worry, loosening the reigns on Hot
August Nights doesn't mean compromising the tradition of cool
American cars and Rock n' Roll.