Earlier that week, Hurricane Irma was supposed to bulldoze western Florida clean like a dry erase board. Thankfully – and miraculously – the single-strongest Category 5 hurricane on record deflated to a Category 2 right before it slammed into the coast between Naples and Ft. Meyers. The damage and death toll, albeit heartbreaking, wasn’t what experts had predicted only a day earlier, and as the hurricane blazed inland and upward, it quickly lost steam before finally dissipating. Yet, before making her final gasp, Irma battered towns and counties along the way, knocking over droves of trees, and cutting power to countless neighborhoods and businesses.
Tens of thousands of Floridians, fearing the worst, fled into Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina, filling hotels and guest rooms of friends and family. When the “all clear” signal was raised, evacuees began migrating back home en masse, just as they arrived. This perpetual congestion shut down Atlanta’s already taxed freeway network, and it was here that I found myself, doggedly creeping along in my truck, towing our 1969 Dodge Charger R/T project car, “Brazen”. The persistent chiming of my GPS alerted me to further traffic, upcoming accidents and alternative routes. Beleaguered after an hour of reminders, I caved and opted for the recommended path. That was my first mistake.
I don’t much care for the Google Maps app. The layout is awkward and the functions aren’t easy to navigate on the fly. The Apple Maps app works a bit smoother, the voice direction isn’t as grating, and the voice command option works pretty good, especially in situations like these. The problem is that neither can tell you much about road conditions, or whether the road is through commercial, rural or residential areas, and towing a car and trailer through miles of neighborhood for hours really, really sucks. Had I left an hour earlier I might’ve avoided this whole fiasco, I thought to myself. But here I was on my way to the annual 2017 Chip Foose Edition Braselton Bash at Year One and barreling through bedroom communities trying to make it to the hotel before nightfall.
That wasn’t going to happen. I was already too late for the Year One Hot Rodders Children’s Charity Poker Tournament Invitational; a private dinner, meet-and-greet, auction and poker tournament all to drum up donations for the children’s charity. Table sponsors and guests were invited to play craps, roulette or black jack. As a guest it meant a free meal and chance to get some one-on-one time with Chip Foose, but again, I was easily two hours late and lacked the appropriate business casual attire. I toyed with the idea of swinging into a department store and picking up some long pants and a button-down shirt, but a hot pizza and a hotter shower proved too powerful a temptation after my delayed arrival.
Pulling into the hotel parking lot, I noted a police cruiser was stationed by the entrance to deter thieves, parked among the vintage Corvettes, Bel Airs and muscle cars. Mine was the only Mopar and I slowly backed it off the ramps and filled a spot next to the truck and trailer. The next morning, a turquoise ’69 Road Runner sat alongside, certainly happy to find a fellow B-body. Year One and The Hot Rodders Children’s Charity have been partnering for well over a decade, bringing together hot rodding icon and television star Chip Foose for the annual event. Having personally met Foose on three separate occasions throughout my career, I found him as genuine, friendly and affable as portrayed onscreen, making him a solid ambassador for the industry.
As it would reveal, the migration of evacuees and so many areas still without power had hindered the prospected attendance for 2017. Irma had her revenge. Of the 450 cars expected to attend, half of that filled the two lots. Year One divvies up its lot into the Chip Foose Select Car Show group and the Participant Vote Car Show. Entrance into the “Foose Select” group fetches a heftier entry fee, but garners you a photo with the man himself, who chose one vehicle as the “Chip Foose Select Award Winner.” Sounds great, right? Well, the winner also gets their vehicle sketched by Chip Foose and an invitation to attend dinner with Chip and Year One President, Kevin King. This year, the honor went to Tom Hardy with his 1932 Ford roadster.
Of course, Foose was on display as much as the cars were. Under the tent, he signed away prints of his car designs and T-shirts, graciously greeting all those in line. Meanwhile, inside of the Year One showroom, a silent auction was bidding off various bits of memorabilia, toys, gift cards and much, much more. Just outside the glass walls was a bounce house, the squeals and shouts of kids having much more fun than walking the rows of cars with dad. By 11am, it was in the mid-80s, with absolutely unmarked skies. I had arrived a couple hours earlier to set up Brazen in the Classic Muscle Metal booth. Because of the hurricane, foot traffic was equally lighter than expected, but still strong given the circumstances.
In the distance, the shrieks of burning rubber erupted as participants in the burnout contest began torturing their tires. Year One had set up a corral of cement k-rails on the far side of the show field where contestants could melt their rubber to the cacophony of cheers from the crowd sitting on the sides of the grassy berm surrounding Year One’s parking lot like a natural amphitheater. With five-and-a-half hours of driving ahead of me, I walked the lot once more, said my goodbyes, fired up Brazen to the pleasure of a few onlookers and drove back to the hotel where I loaded the Charger back on the trailer. While the route southbound was gridlocked, the highways back to Nashville looked wide open – at least according to Siri. But I don’t know if I trust her anymore.