The Street Machine Nationals Is A Vacation In Horsepowerville

Undoubtedly, a lot has changed in the car show world over the years. The events, the cars, and even the attendees have evolved since the first car shows were created decades ago. What began as cruising around to show off your ride (and check out other people’s rides) has, in modern times, morphed into a lawn chair affair with little or no movement once the show has started. Thankfully, various venues have realized enthusiasts’ desire to enjoy their rides once they arrive at the event. One such venue is the Street Machine Nationals, a long-standing show that caters to the horsepower-hungry.

You'll find all makes and models at the Street Machine Nationals, and Chevrolet products were well represented.

I grew up reading about the Street Machine Nationals and remember being awestruck by the creativity and talent that was shown by the quality of cars in attendance. The cars I voraciously read about in numerous magazines helped formulate what I felt a cool car should look, sound, and run like.

Cruising is encouraged at the Street Machine Nationals, with a specified "Cruise Route" that wound its way through the heart of the event. It was great to hear and see these beasts in action.

There are two Street Machine Nationals events held each year — the first one, in June, is held in Du Quoin, Illinois. The second, and the one we attended, is held in Saint Paul, Minnesota in July. This was my first time attending one of these events and I jumped at the chance to cover this year’s happenings. Leading up to the event, I was unsure of what to expect.

Every means of customizing a car was within eyesight. If you prefer trucks, big-block cars, street freaks, or those low customs, there was plenty of high-quality hardware for viewing.

I was amazed at how much the venue has to offer. After walking through miles and miles of street rods, hot rods, muscle cars, and late-model muscle, it was confirmed to me why good walking shoes are a must. The Minnesota State Fairgrounds in Saint Paul is the second largest in the nation. But beyond being the biggest, the tree-lined streets and numerous park benches of the facility give attendees excellent opportunities to get out of the sun and do some car-watching.

Street Machines Of Every Style

There is no way to cover all of the thousands of cars in attendance. There were plenty of Chevelles, Novas, Bel Airs, and SS variants to keep any Bowtie enthusiast happy. There were also enough Big Three entrants, as well as a giant helping of orphan makes and models clearly proving that no one should feel left out at this event.

We spent some time talking with Marty Northrup about his 1968 Chevelle. It has a 468 cubic-inch engine with a half-dozen Hilborn EFI stacks poking through the hood. The body has been shaved of any handles and features a custom interior. Except for the interior work, Marty built the entire car and drives it as much as the Minnesota weather will allow.

Likewise, the build-out of the cars was as varied as humanly possible. There were the blown, pro street cars that have been a staple of the Street Machine Nationals for decades, as well as street rods and muscle cars that made those vintage body styles so cool. There were also modern builds that were more pro touring, along with others that were daily-driven street machines.

Super-sanitary small-blocks, boosted late-model engines, and vintage W-block engines were interspersed between the requisite blower motors throughout the show. The Street Machine Nationals keeps the cruising vibe alive but also welcomes newer cars and technologies.

Many Chevy Hardcore readers will remember when cruising was the thing to do before it was deemed too dangerous and shut down by many municipalities. The Street Machine Nationals carries on that tradition, though, through the official “Cruise Route” that weaves its way throughout the majority of the fairgrounds.

There were numerous big-tire beasts loping their way around the show as their owners smiled from ear to ear. Many other enthusiasts made laps, their rides upgraded with air conditioning or still sporting their factory-installed units. While burnouts and racing are definitely frowned upon, it was great to see these cars in action, proving their cooling systems’ mettle through traffic. If you felt the need to shred some rubber, you could sign up for the burnout competition sponsored by Continental Tire.

The Automotive Passion Thrives In The Midwest

Noting the cars in attendance, it was easy to see that the passion for hot rodding is alive and well in the Midwest. This year’s attendance set the bar for this venue with over 4,500 cars seeking a spot along the tree-lined streets and parking areas throughout the fairgrounds. Official participant numbers were not currently available, but attendance was reportedly up twenty percent over last year, which caught gate attendants by surprise on Saturday. More gates were opened up to allow several other entrance points into the facility on Sunday, thereby alleviating the lines getting into the fairgrounds. Parking is clearly at a premium, and many enthusiasts secured their spots early by reserving a spot for themselves and their friends. The small additional fee to reserve their spot was a small price to pay to enjoy the event with all their friends.

tubbed Chevy OBS truck

After the rains had passed, attendees donned chamois or towels and lovingly wiped down their rides back to perfection.

You can plan as much as you want for the event, but you’ll never be able to control the weather. A couple of rain storms rolled through on both Friday and Saturday, but once the liquid sunshine was history, many enthusiasts who rode out the storms simply wiped down their cars and continued with the party! Their persistence was repaid with slightly cooler temps and less chance of dust fouling their highly polished rides.

The Street Machine Nationals: A Feast For Your Eyes And Ears

If you like people- and car-watching, there was plenty to feast your eyes on, but the Street Machine Nationals offers so much more if you’re more active. There was fun to be had — with and without your car — such as the QA1 autocross, the Carvici DYNO Challenge for those wanting to document their car’s horsepower, or submitting your ride in Loud Donkeys’ Show-N-Shine judging on Saturday. Many attendees flocked to the dyno area at noon on Saturday to watch the high-horsepower cars put on a feast for the eyes and ears. Four-digit horsepower numbers flowed from the rollers with ease, and viewers enjoyed the sights and smells of these powerhouses on display.

Photo gallery


If you were looking for a more fuel-efficient means of enjoying the event, you could spend Friday, Saturday, and Sunday walking around the grounds, looking at the cars in attendance. And, of course, since this is the Midwest, a requisite Cornhole tournament was scheduled for Saturday, sponsored by Loud Donkeys.

Time Capsule C2 Corvette

1967 Corvette Street Machine

Thomas Hart’s 1967 Corvette is one of five Chevrolets he owns. He purchased the car in 1971 and has no intention of selling it or restoring it. Thomas informed us the original 427 car was painted by Minnesota’s own, House of Kolor’s Jon Kozmoski. We asked him how many Street Machine Nationals his C2 time capsule has attended and he said he lost count many years ago, but did confess its annual migration began “back when I was young!”  The car still sports all the era-specific touches from when it was first completed. He’s rebuilt the suspension and installed a TREMEC five-speed transmission so he can enjoy driving it more.

As our weekend in Horsepowerville wound down all too quickly, we couldn’t help but think about next year’s event. We’re already making plans for another round of high-octane fun. Check out the Street Machine Nationals website to sign up for all the entertainment at next year’s Street Machine Nationals event in Du Quoin, Illinois, or Saint Paul, Minnesota. You’ll be glad you did!

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About the author

Andy Bolig

Andy has been intrigued by mechanical things all of his life and enjoys tinkering with cars of all makes and ages. Finding value in style points, he can appreciate cars of all power and performance levels. Andy is an avid railfan and gets his “high” by flying radio-controlled model airplanes when time permits. He keeps his feet firmly grounded by working on his two street rods and his supercharged C4 Corvette. Whether planes, trains, motorcycles, or automobiles, Andy has immersed himself in a world driven by internal combustion.
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