For 18 years, the Route 66 Mother Road Festival has celebrated specialty cars, fun, and the nostalgia of the historical landmark road. Held annually during late September (September 27-29 this year) in downtown Springfield, Illinois, this year’s car show packed the place, filling the streets of downtown with block after block of beautiful vehicles.
Participants traveled from across the country to spend the weekend parked just off the old Route 66. In addition to the car show, the Bonnier Events promoters serve up an evening car cruise, vendors, live music, a burnout challenge, and Miss Mother Road pin-up girl contest.
The car show began in 2001 in downtown Springfield, moving to the Illinois State Fairgrounds a couple of years later. When it popped the seams on the acreage at that location, promoters once again moved it back to downtown where it has stayed until the current day. Over 25,000 spectators are reported to enjoy the spectacle each year and this year saw capacity crowds on the streets and sidewalks while enjoying the beautiful fall weather.
Friday night’s cruise encompassed over 2,000 vehicles parading from the east side of Springfield into the streets of downtown led by a police escort. The cars started rolling out of the staging area at 7:00 pm and were still moving out of the lot over two hours later. Spectators lined the sidewalks along the way, cheering their favorite iconic vintage vehicles and taking plenty of pictures. The participants get into the spirit of Route 66, dressing in ’50s and ’60s styles and tossing candy to the kids.
One interesting observation I made is that despite all makes and models of cars intermixed among the festival, the Ford enthusiasts seem to congregate with one another, as did every other brand-specific admirer.
“These cars bring back so many good memories, especially when talking to fellow Ford fans,” Joe Hanraddy, one of the local spectators says. “I drove a ’57 Ford in high school; that was the best car I ever owned. I had so much fun cruising the main streets of town in mine. These cars sure do bring those days back.”
As the sun rose on Saturday morning, attendees were already picking their spots and moving into the blocked off downtown area. It didn’t take long for space to be at a premium with all makes and models from every year on display. Cars continued to roll into the streets throughout the morning and early afternoon.
Camp chairs were placed on the downtown sidewalks with neighbors becoming quick friends, talking about their cars and the modifications made to them. Bottles of window cleaner, aluminum polish, and tire shine were being used in abundance as the car enthusiasts prepared to be judged.
“This is a great show for meeting up with my friends year after year,” Jon Shannright says. “We park as close to the same spot as possible, so they know where to find us. And we meet a lot of new people every year too. We’ve made a lot of good friends we see all over the country at different shows.”
The historical downtown provides a picturesque background for the cars and their owners. Visitors to the show also experience a plethora of Lincoln sights and memorabilia, along with the nostalgia of the old Route 66 highway. Vendors provided a bounty of souvenirs for the show-goers, and a performance marketplace also offered attraction to the restoration fans.
As the day passed, the streets grew more and more crowded. Spectators got up close to look at the cars and admire them. It was unusually noticeable to witness parents holding their children close in respect to the cars on display.
“I like the cars with lots of unique little features,” Todd Anderson, from Peoria, Illinois says. “This year, I have noticed many cars with unique shifters and really cool shifter handles, kind of a trend.”
Anderson’s son, Dylan, chimed in, “These cars are cool and I want to build one for me to have when I grow up. I just can’t decide which one is best.” The six-year-old was attending his first big event with his dad. Todd said it was a lot of fun to watch his son look at the cars with fresh eyes.
“I remember going to car shows with my own Dad,” Todd added. “I want my son to know about these vintage vehicles and appreciate them the way I do. And, if he wants to build a car when he’s old enough, I’ll be there helping him out every minute.”
Quickly becoming a favorite pageant at the festival, the Miss Mother Road contest attracted several ladies who live the pin-up lifestyle. Miss Aurora Borealis was the Mother Road Champion, with Miss Ruby Steele taking home the Miss Route 66 (first runner-up) title. Miss Molly Mayhem was the third winner of the weekend as Miss Route 55 (second runner-up.)
Around 3:00 pm on Saturday, the smoke began to roll out from Washington Street as the burnout contest got underway. Spectators quickly gathered to cheer for their favorites. It didn’t take long for the smell of burnt rubber to overtake the area. The winner was a local, Billy Reese, with his 1988 Chevy S-10. Jimmy Dixon, Pana, Illinois, was the runner-up in his 1975 pick-up truck.
With so many cars on display, it was tough to pick our featured favorites. After much walking, looking, and with a lot of careful consideration and conversation with the participants, we determined the top five Fords at the event. No matter if you are into Ford in general or a specific model or even production year, there was a good chance there was something for you to take-in at this annual tribute to the mother road.