DAYTONA BEACH — Everywhere you looked on Saturday in the massive infield at Daytona International Speedway there was gleaming chrome, custom paint jobs and period-authentic parts, an armada of vehicular bling on display at the 49th Annual Fall Turkey Run.
“It’s all about the love of cars,” said George McDonald, 57, of Griffin, Georgia, who has been coming to the event for 40 years. McDonald and his son, Mac McDonald, arrived this year with three classic vehicles, including a fire-engine red 1966 427 SS Chevelle.
It’s the latest creation to emerge from his home garage, which he jokingly calls his “cars-pital” in honor of the classic cars that he has restored and “brought back to life” there.
“I love cars; I love fixing them,” he said. “I love giving them new life.”
And he loves the camaraderie of the Fall Turkey Run, the annual four-day event that is expected to attract more than 150,000 likeminded classic-car enthusiasts through its closing day on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
For McDonald, a retired truck company owner, it’s a love that revolves around more than horsepower and custom wheels. It’s about family, his own and the extended one among friends met at the event.
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“I brought my son here when he was two months old,” McDonald said. “It was his first trip. Beyond that, I’ve created so many friendships along the way. Every time I come here it’s like a family reunion.”
More than 5,000 classic cars showcased
On Saturday, that extended family stretched across the infield nearly the length of the Speedway grandstand.
It included the owners of more than 5,000 classic vehicles on display at the event’s car show as well as another 1,500 collectible vehicles showcased for sale or trade in the event’s Car Corral.
In addition, more than 1,500 vendors were selling parts, accessories and every imaginable car-related trinket in the event’s sprawling swap meet.
There, tailpipes, carburetors, shocks and LED taillights shared space with more unlikely items ranging from mancave-appropriate neon signs to antique bicycles and cast-iron frying pans.
Longtime vendors at the event include “The Strap Man,” in a tent stocked with dozens of tables filled with axle straps, tie-down kits, tarps, bungees and other equipment. Based in Minnesota, the family-owned business has been a Turkey Run regular for more than three decades.
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“We do about 30 events every year and this is one of the better ones,” said Netti Johnson, who owns and operates the business with her husband, Dick. “There are always great customers, and we see a lot of our international customers here, too.”
Not far away, craft artists offer everything from jewelry to clothing and all-natural mineral sunscreen. Around another corner, food trucks serve chocolate-dipped bananas, gyros, grilled chicken and sausage, funnel cakes, chocolate-dipped bananas and other treats.
Combined with the rumble of super-charged engines, the faint smell of exhaust fumes and the landscape dotted by dazzling chrome, it’s an orgy for the senses.
Each car tells a story
Along the rows of classic cars, each gleaming fender, each carefully opened hood, each beloved vessel had a story that a devoted owner was eager to tell.
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For Noel Rodriguez, 29, of Hialeah, a lifelong passion for auto restoration was sparked as a teenager working on cars with his dad in the family garage.
“My father and I restored a 1971 Volkswagen Super Beetle when I was 17,” he said. “It was a father-son project, and then I drove that car to school. That’s what solidified me getting into old cars.”
Since then, he has restored more than a dozen vehicles, including the gleaming black 1946 Lincoln Continental Flathead V12 coupe that he and his girlfriend, Taylor Maddox, were busy polishing on Saturday morning soon after their arrival at the Turkey Run.
“It’s pretty great,” he said of the event. “You get to see a ton of different cars that you ordinarily never get to see, and you get to meet a lot of interesting people.”
Nearby, longtime Turkey Run fans Tony and Beth Tilley, of Palm Harbor, were mulling over the potential room to haul their grandchildren in a 1951 Chevy Tin Woody wagon on sale for $45,000.
“This is gorgeous, but there’s no way we’d get it,” Beth said. “Still, you’ve got to plan these things. We like to drive our cars.”
For the Tilleys, the Turkey Run also is about family. More than three dozen relatives and friends stay together in the area to share the Thanksgiving holiday and the car show.
“It’s like a family affair,” Beth said. “It’s our big holiday.”
If you go
WHAT: Fall Turkey Run
WHEN: 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Daytona International Speedway, 1801 W. International Speedway Blvd., Daytona Beach
COST: $15 at the gate. Free for ages 11 and under.