When it comes to iconic automotive events across the country, the Hot Rod Power Tour is probably one of the largest and most well-known. This year’s event marked the 29th annual event and worked its way throughout the Southeast US.
But before we get into this year’s event, let’s go back to where it all started. Back in late 1994, the editors of Hot Rod Magazine wanted to draw attention to several of its events known as the Hot Rod Power Festival Series. They decided that instead of flying to all the various cities where the events were happening, why not drive their hot rods and custom vehicles from city to city?
Being this was before the internet was what it is today, they advertised this trip in the magazines and had no clue if it would be a flop or a massive event. Much to their surprise, on the kickoff date of May 13, 1995, the first leg of the trip left from the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles and had 200 vehicles while supporters stood on the streets cheering them on. Moving to the second annual event in 1996, the traffic jam was so large that it was covered as a news event locally as it left the Petersen Automotive Museum again. The goal for the Power Tour was to give enthusiasts a chance to drive their show vehicles and not just have them sit at a car show.
Fast forward to this year’s event, which started at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on June 12, 2023, for its 29th annual event, the turnout was the largest it has ever been with more than 6,000 participants. While last year’s tour was covered by Street Trucks staff members, this was my first time ever doing the trip. This tour has always been on my bucket list, but it was either too far away for me to make it, it fell the same dates as other plans, or I couldn’t get off work that long and make the trip, so I had never been able to do it—until this year.
I had planned to drive one of my vehicles, but when I found out a group of local friends were making the long haul trip, which hits all five locations along the route for the week-long event, it made more sense for me to hop in and play passenger princess so I could take photos and video for you guys throughout the week instead of holding a steering wheel for the 1,400-mile trip. Don’t worry, there was no iced lattes or cake pops involved, but plenty of energy drinks and gas station junk food were consumed throughout the week.
After the first day checking in and waiting in long lines to get into the racetrack and check out the vendors and tons of custom vehicles, there was some cool “run what you brung” autocross passes. All that was needed was a helmet and a valid driver’s license. There was also plenty of drag races by normal participants down pit row as well, through the event staff closely monitored the passes.
Once back to the hotel, it was like a typical car show hotel with folding chairs, adult beverages, and plenty of car talk. The crazy part is that it wasn’t just one or two hotels, but it was every hotel anywhere near the show venue. Back up to early the next morning, the event promotors had lined out a back road route that, for the most part, kept vehicles off the interstates and running through small town USA where, just like the very first year back in 1995, crowds stood along intersections and in front of businesses, waving and cheering as the rides passed by. With this many vehicles, it was hours of cool vehicles driving through.
Every day of the event was more backroads and small towns. This gave the trip a little more of a close-knit feeling than it would on a big highway. Every gas station had plenty of cool rides filling up and people grabbing snacks. One of the coolest parts to me was all the kids standing in the crowds taking photos and waving. To see the next generation of gearheads’ eyes lighting up when something cool rolled by is what keeps us pushing to bring you (and the next age group of readers) the best magazine we can to keep this hobby of ours going.
The second day of the event was a drive from Atlanta to Columbia, South Carolina, which was held at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds. This location also had plenty of vendors, bands, and events throughout the day.
The third day, we left Columbia and went to Rockingham Speedway in Rockingham, North Carolina, where the lines to get in were even longer. We opted to pull off to the side of the road near the entrance and watch the ever-growing lines of hot rods and cool trucks roll in before we pulled inside.
Wednesday morning, we were up bright and early again to head to the zMAX Dragway in Concord, North Carolina. Here they were letting participants run down the official drag strip, which, if you came with a group of people, let you safely race a buddy and see who got to take home bragging rights.
Thursday morning, we left Concord and headed up the mountain to the Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. This was probably one of the most scenic routes of the week as it went through several small mountain towns, several with just one red light. After a week of perfect weather and zero issues, one of our crew lost his brakes but managed to safely get stopped at a gas station where a quick bleed of the front brakes and topping off the brake fluid got us back on the road. Random people at the gas station asked if they could help of if they could loan us tools. To me, that level of camaraderie is what this event was all about. Strangers from all over the country that were there for the same reason we were, stopped to help.
Once to the final stop of the week, a quick pass through the venue and it was time for the trip back home. Throughout the week, there were stations to get your pass stamped at each venue so on the last day, you could get the Long-Haul plaque and certificate that you made the weeklong journey. That was a bucked list checkmark for sure!
If you ever have a chance to make one of these events, even if it’s just for one or two of the stops they make, do it! Even with this under my belt, I would do it again in a heartbeat.