There are car shows, there are events, and there are institutions. The Street Machine Summer Nationals falls into the latter category. Each year the event takes over the Minnesota State Fairgrounds and turns it into an epic an automotive extravaganza, which includes an autocross, a car show, a cruise, a dyno challenge and more.

Somehow we had never made it to this event until 2017, and we have to say we are blown away by the experience. Not only is it massive — Family Events, the company behind the event, estimates that over 7,000 cars and 50,000 people attend over the course of the three days and we don’t have a hard time believing that.

What started a Route 66 road trip vacation to celebrate anniversary of American Graffiti turned into a tradition for Jerry Mike and his 1968 Mustang. So far his car has tallied up over 200,000 miles, been powered by three different engines, and blazed a trail through 37 states. Now he and his wife take at least one big trip in the car every year, which sounds amazing. Currently the car is powered by a ’93 Mustang 5.0-liter wearing JBA Shorty headers which is backed by a T-5 five-speed transmission, so it’s low-maintenance and fun to drive.

For almost three decades, this has been a place for street machine and muscle car guys to gather,” — Doc Riley, Street Machine Nationals

“For almost three decades, this has been a place for street machine and muscle car guys to gather,” Doc Riley, Stage Announcer for the Street Machine Nationals, said. “The Minnesota State Fairgrounds really is just a cool home for this. I have never been able to put my finger on why, but there are just a lot of different areas to it. Everywhere you go there is a different look to it, so the old hands know where to go park.”

Down every street of the fairgrounds we would find another row of cool cars. Since we are used to going to Ford-only shows, the variety much wider. However, it wasn’t just makes in models. It was the style and aesthetic of the cars. It ranged from rat rods to hot hatches and classic to modern muscle cars. Moreover, the cars weren’t all pristine show machines. There was plenty of showy stuff, but there was just as much daily driven iron.

We first ran into Joe Hawkins, a.k.a. Sergeant Hot Wheels, at the QA1 open house and we just loved his story. While serving in the Army he was stationed in Kosovo and saw that the children had few toys. He reached out to toy stores for donations of Hot Wheels cars. He began carrying them and handing them out on his patrols. Upon returning to The States, Joe continued that overture by handing out the toy cars at car shows and even setting up his Hot Wheels tracks alongside his New Edge ’Stang for kits to play with the cars on. His Mustang is upgraded with Flowmaster mufflers, QA1 control arms, 3.73 gears, and more.

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Street Machine Challenge

To have a chance to win, you must place highly in at least two of these categories, as first place earns 30 points, second place earns 20 points, third place earns 10 points, and top horsepower is the tiebreaker. That’s just what happened in the Muscle Car class, where a Ford checked all the right boxes.

According to the Street Machine Challenge, “Brandon Clemens took his 1964 Ford Falcon to a decisive win with 60 points, taking first place in both the autocross and stop box with 32.930 and 2.967 second runs respectively.”

We watched him run in the autocross and the stop/start challenge and he was definitely doing well and we were happy that a Blue Oval machine prevailed in at least one of the Street Machine Challenge classes.

“More guys have realized that the daily driver does have a spot at some car shows,” Doc said. “Now that we have some longevity in the original muscle cars, some guys say, ‘It’s stock. It’s a survivor.’ People can appreciate that because not everyone can afford a mountain of chrome.”

Aside from the static vehicles, there is a steady stream of car cruising around the fairgrounds, while those interested in even more activity could participate in the aforementioned competition as well as the triathlon of events that make up the Street Machine Challenge (see sidebar).

“It’s kind of just morphed into a good-time weekend for everybody. Over the years we have added some driving competitions, and the QA1 autocross has been wildly successful,” Doc said.

“…Probably 10 or 15 years go we wouldn’t have had anybody doing autocross. It was kind of park and show the shine a little bit, but it’s good to see that everything cycles through. Guys like to go out and put their rides through their paces and this is a good place for it,” he added.

If you follow our Facebook page, you might have seen our live video documenting the dyno runs (see above) made by Joel Route’s 2007 Mustang GT, which wears Falken 315 tires on all four corners. His Kenne Bell-blown S197 put down over 470 horsepower at the rear wheels. Joel and his car were competing in the Street Machine Challenge, which pits competitors against one another in three categories — autocross, start/stop challenge, and dyno. Joel narrowly missed the top three on the dyno, which really hurt his chances. However, he was enjoying himself, so that’s what most important.

Car Show Winners

Best Ford: Ray Maruska’s 1969 Mustang

Best Ford Truck: Chuck Olson’s 1964 Ford F100

Best Ford Street Rod: Harvey Probst’s 1937 Ford

No matter what automotive activities you are into, the Street Machine Summer Nationals has something to offer. And, it sounds like next year might offer even more.

“There will be more of the same, which is part of the charm of this place, but we may try to look at some more driving performance-type events and try to expand that way,” Doc added.

If you missed this year’s event you’ll have to wait till next July to hit St. Paul, however, the next Street Machine Nationals event takes place in Springfield, Missouri, on September 23 and you can learn more about it here.

Your scribe is a rock ’n roller, so sighting Alice Cooper’s former 1969 Shelby GT350, now owned by Paul and Sue Amman, was a definite highlight of the show. It is one of only 152 Hertz rental Shelbys built in that model year. The couple still has all the documentation showing that the shock rocker owned the car before it hit the auction block at Barrett-Jackson. Currently the car has just over 64,000 miles on the clock, so it is as timeless as Alice himself.

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We might not be card-carrying Mustang II fans, like Ford’s John Clor, but we have to appreciate at clean deuce when we see one. Kelly Roberts made the trip down from Wisconsin in his 1976 Mustang II. Besides being bright and clean, it is powered by an aluminum-headed 302 small-block boosted by a Weiand 174 Roots blower fed by a Holley 750-cfm carb.

Jim Koopman represented the Blue Oval well in the burnout contest. His 1963 wagon took top honors in Friday’s contest, and he also placed second on Saturday and third on Sunday.

The Lincolns of Distinction club brought out quite a crew of Lincoln Mark VIIIs. These luxury machines were a blast to drive thanks to the Four-Valve 4.6-liter engine underhood. That engine made them ripe for modification and this one shows that Mustang mods work well on Lincolns too. It features a Terminator lower valance and ’96-’98 Cobra intake boosted by a supercharger.

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Mike Patnode’s 1969 Torino Cobra was sitting still at the show, but it has plenty of quarter-mile passes under its beltline. The 428 Cobra Jet-powered machine was a Top 10 car at the Minnesota Dragway. Joe also frequently competed in the Fun Ford Weekend during its heyday.

Coyote swaps are all the rage these days, but when the engine first hit the streets, making the swap wasn’t quite as easy as today. Matt Overbeek was an early adopter of this swap and he had to figure out all the pitfalls, including having some custom headers built to make it all work in his 1994 Mustang GT. The result is a modern engine that looks right at home in his smoothed engine bay.

Classic cars are great, but they are so much cooler when people drive them. Wood Morley’s 1968 Mustang should be the poster child for driving great cars. He has owned the car for 40 years and it is his daily driver in the summer.

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Another of the Lincolns of Distinction bunch, Mike Martin’s Mark VIII features a clean Coyote swap backed by a Tremec TR-6060 six-speed manual. He turned to Jeremi Lutostanski to perform the swap. He notched the K-member, developed custom brackets, and created a custom exhaust. Everything works, and Mike doesn’t hesitate to drive the car. He has driven the car as far as Los Angeles.

On the manufacturer’s midway there were all sort of displays from collector car insurance to T-shirts. We are drawn to the parts, and companies like BMR Suspension and Rocket Racing wheels were on hand showing off their latest wares.

This is one clean New Edge. Kellina Quigley drives the 1999 Mustang GT, which wears a Kenne Bell supercharger atop an aluminum Two-Valve 4.6-liter filled with Manley forged goodies. The 330-horsepower GT also handles thanks to H&R springs and a Panhard bar.

If you love Fox Mustangs, be sure to check out the story listing our Top 5 Foxes at the event. This car didn’t quite make the list, but it certainly could have. Back in the day, a GT with a single-turbo and GT-40 intake would have been one of the meanest on the street and it still looks pretty stout today.

Photo gallery

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