While the 31st annual Hot Rod Super Nationals were off to a rainy start, the weather did not dampen the spirits of the stalwart car enthusiasts attending the event’s kickoff.
The car show, presented by Rose Seitz and Lee Hartman at Canfield Fairgrounds, gives spectators and aficionados the opportunity to appreciate a fleet of hot rods and muscle cars. Each day’s festivities culminate in a cruise at 5:30 p.m. to the Hot Rod Super Nationals after-party at Southern Park Mall in Boardman.
Last year, the event attracted more than 40,000 spectators and 2,000 cars. As a result of the unfavorable weather — a damp and breezy 70 degrees — the site featured almost as many food vendors as cars at noon Friday.
Still, Seitz hoped that over the weekend the number of cars will surpass last year’s amount. “We are hoping for 4,000 cars this year,” she said.
Bob Howell and Ronald Bird of Wintersville are enjoying their second Supernats. The close friends trailered their cars to the event. Howell brought his 1951 Triumph Mayflower, and Bird brought his 1941 Willys.
Unfortunately, they did not expect to be able to take part in Friday’s hot rod cruise. “Neither of us have windshield wipers,” Howell noted.
Representatives of the Mahoning County Corvette Club were better equipped to handle the wet weather. Bruce Brungard and Bill Blatchford of Austintown sat under a tent next to their 2015 and 2016 scarlet Corvettes.
Blatchford lamented that the rain kept people inside on Friday afternoon. “[Your car] does not shrink when it dries!” he quipped.
Brungard enjoys seeing the outlandish modifications people make to their automobiles. “The craziest thing I have seen here was a 1960 VW bus renovated with a Dodge engine in the middle of the passenger seat,” he said.
One of the most eye-catching vehicles Friday was the periwinkle color of John Kelly’s 1948 Chevy. Kelly of Wadsworth loaded his car with supplies and drove to the fairgrounds, where he and his wife are camping during the car show.
“We like to cruise and picnic. I retired three years ago. Even though the gas mileage is not great, we drive everywhere,” he said.
In addition to attracting car enthusiasts from all over Ohio, the hot rod extravaganza boasts attendees from throughout the nation. Gino Kennedy, for example, trekked from Fort Myers, Fla., to showcase his roofless brown 1928 Ford Model A.
Dennis Ballentine of Newton Falls brought his son Ron and grandson Caleb, in town from Colorado Springs, Colo., to the fairgrounds. Ballentine has attended the event since its inception and passed on his passion for cars to two generations.
Caleb, 10, remarked, “It is my favorite thing to do with [my dad].”
This year, the Hot Rod Super Nationals attracted a celebrity presence to the weekend festivities. Lou Santiago, who hosts the TV show “Car Fix” on Velocity, drove his 1992 S10 eight hours to attend the Supernats.
Despite having never attended the event, Santiago is clearly at home. “I am not a TV guy playing a car guy. I am a car guy playing a TV guy,” he said.
Car shows give him the opportunity to connect with fans, but more importantly, to talk to car enthusiasts and troubleshoot issues they face when fixing their automobiles.
“At these kinds of things, I might sign four or five autographs, but I talk to about 100 people,” he said.
From celebrity appearances to events geared toward children, the architects of this event have planned something for everyone. The desire to do so stems from personal passions for automobiles.
Seitz has attended the event since it was first held in Berea. Though she does not work on cars, love of cars clearly runs in her family. “I’ve been around cars my entire life,” she notes.
“I’m hoping to bring the Supernats back to their former glory,” Seitz said. She and Hartman spent the entire year planning this event.