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Gunnison Car Show cruises into its 27th year

“Well I’m not braggin’ babe so don’t put me down, but I’ve got the fastest set of wheels in town. When something comes up to me, he don’t even try, ‘cause if I had a set of wings man I know she could fly. She’s my little deuce coupe, you don’t know what I got…” 
—The Beach Boys, Little Deuce Coupe
 
This weekend marks the Gunnison Car Club’s 27th Annual Car Show and it revs up August 15 through August 17. It’s a three-day family—friendly event with a haul of activities on Friday and Saturday in Gunnison. Then it motors up valley to Crested Butte on Sunday for the popular Breakfast Cruise to Donita’s. Friday night’s Cruise-In and street dance party closes Main Street in downtown Gunnison to feature the live music of the RevTones and showcase fabulous cars from 5 to 9 p.m. 

The Saturday extravaganza is held in Jorgenson Park from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. “Jorgensen Park is a wonderful venue. Many car shows are on hot pavement and this one is on the grass and that’s a big draw,” president of the Gunnison Car Club Michael Callihan explains. “We are a destination event. You don’t just run over to the Gunnison show because it’s convenient, on the way or close. You have to want to be here.” The Gunnison show attendees are serious exhibitors who bring high-quality cars. Then, early Sunday morning, a long brightly polished string of large colored gems motors up Highway 135 for the Breakfast Cruise to Donita’s Cantina in Crested Butte. Parked three-deep across two blocks of Elk Avenue will be cars that evoke memories of high school shenanigans and backseat triumphs of those wonderful years when gas was cheap enough to warrant those guzzling engines. The Gunnison Car Club is now 27 years old, with a humble start of just a bunch of guys getting together to socialize with their cherished autos. “Next thing you know, they had a car show,” Mike Callihan says of the early days when the Friday Night Cruise-In was held at the old A&W in Gunnison. “It was causing a dangerous situation with rubberneckers,” Callihan says. There was a close call with an 18-wheeler that almost ran over a car in front of him. Vintage cars will turn heads no matter where, but Callihan thought a venue change would be a good idea for a multitude of reasons, including safety. The A&W “wasn’t an attractive place to have the show so we moved it downtown and it took off.” There are approximately 3,000 car shows in the U.S. annually, but only a mere 20 are allowed to award the prestigious Lee Iacocca Award (Iacocca is the father of the Mustang). “We lobbied long and hard to get this show designated as one of the 20,” Callihan proudly admits. “We’re known for nominating nationally known recipients.” This year’s award goes to one of the Gunnison Valley’s very own, internationally known country music star and singer/songwriter Dean Dillon. The requirements of the reward are twofold. Obviously, you have to love cars but foremost, the person must be involved with and give back to the community. Callihan says that Dillon qualifies on both counts as the primary force of Tough Enough To Wear Pink (TETWP), the local fundraising foundation in support of breast cancer awareness. “We’re honored to recognize that,” Callihan says. “Cars and music intertwine. I’ve probably put the word Chevrolet in my songs more than anything,” Dillon laughs. “At one time I had 17 cars, but I’m down to about five now. I’m a Vette freak. I think what Chevy did with the new Corvette is pretty amazing. The cockpit design gives the driver more of a sense of control of the car.” The new seventh generation 2014 Corvette Stingray that Dillon talks of will be at the car show on Saturday, brought in by John Roberts Motor Works of Gunnison. Dillon’s favorite of his currently owned cars is a 1952 Chevy pick-up. “Someone gave it to me for a song,” he smiles, and he means that quite literally. “They said if I wrote the song for their anniversary they’d give me the truck.” He wrote the song and still has the truck. As for the Iacocca Award, Dillon says, “I understand there’s only 20 a year given out across America. Stuff like that is always humbling to me. I’d like to think that the work I do in the valley speaks for itself. [TETWP] has raised $1.5 million. The future of that is amazing because of what we started here. This year we bought our new digital ultrasound machine and Gunnison Valley Hospital is kicking in around $500,000 to hire a specialist breast cancer surgeon as a full-time staff doctor here. In the long term, the goal for us and GVH that I personally would like to see is that the hospital becomes the premier small town hospital breast cancer center in the nation. We’ve taken great steps in that direction.” Dillon will also be auctioning off two Taylor guitars, generously donated by Castle Creek Guitars of Main Street, Gunnison. Taylor guitars are known for their quality sound and one of the guitars is valued at $4,000. Dillon will autograph it if you’d like and if you’re the lucky winner. The funds from the auction will go to the Iacocca Foundation for Diabetes Research. Dillon will also be sharing his expertise on cars and songwriting on Saturday. Those big metal beauties with enough power under the hood to inspire songs and romance also eat an impressive amount of gas. Callihan observes, “Like it or not, they’re part of our culture and history. We’re not oblivious to the fact that you have to practice what you preach.” Callihan notes their green efforts and points out that the Gunnison event is the first certified carbon-neutral car show in America. Most vintage owners drive their cars only a few miles a year. The Gunnison Car Club is out to prove that the car hobby can be enjoyed without degrading the environment, by working with carbonfund.org to offset the show’s carbon footprint. And to its credit, the event has been green for seven years now. “We assess how much carbon the car show generates and [the carbon fund] tells us how many trees [need to be planted], then they plant those trees. The variety of trees is key and the location is key. We don’t have a growing season [in the Gunnison valley] so they plant in Central America.” Every aspect of energy used is factored in. Callihan added, “We even calculate how much electricity the bands use for their show, how many meals are cooked, how many motel rooms. We’re working with vendors to reduce waste. I spend lot of time working on the carbon side of it—reduce what you can and offset the rest.” The event is an open show—everyone and anyone is welcome to participate—which means any vehicle in any condition from barely moving to full-blown restoration is allowed to strut its stuff. The diversity of participants ranges from old timers to young girls. There’s a separate class for under 21 years of age and they can compete and bring their cars to be judged seriously. Callihan explains the club’s incentive to expand the interest. “We’re trying to encourage young folks,” he says. It’s only a $25 fee to enter your beloved machine whether it’s running or qualifies for the Under Construction class. Also, anyone can sign up for the Poker Run, which starts right after the car show on Saturday. It’s $5 a hand with cards drawn at each of the five locations. High hand wins half the pot and the other half goes to charity. Most people play more than one hand and many have a carload of friends cruising the run together. Callihan points out that one of the stops is always the nursing home, “because they can’t come to the car show so we take the show to them. They’ll come out and applaud and you can just see the memories coming back. It’s just something we do and it’s fun for everybody.” Callihan feels strongly about the car culture in America, its place in history and the development of our economics, “Ford paid his workers $5 a day when the average wage was only $2 per day. His theory was that the people building his cars should be able to buy one and for that he was attacked viciously by other manufacturing owners. What that did was help establish a middle class that could afford to travel, break away from the farm, move out of the city, explore the country. We had a middle class that was invested in the economy and the American system and benefiting from it.” Callihan says, “It’s a family activity and people love cars. A lot of us are involved, including myself, because it raises money for local charities and organizations. Our club has a soft spot involving kids and veterans.” As a non-profit charitable organization the Gunnison Car Club generously supports other local charities. Last year the Car Club donated to KBUT’s project for a new tower to boost the radio signal in Gunnison. Back in those days of cruising streets, beaches and strips, and what now seems like impossibly cheap gas prices, music beat to the roar of engines and being seen was the main goal of weekend nights out with the gang of friends. The Gunnison Car Show brings back all the memories, conjuring up the nostalgic in all its resplendent sparkle, and perhaps invoking a bit of envy in the generations that followed the golden years of automobiles. So crank up the Beach Boys tunes and your screamin’ machine and head to Gunnison or catch a glimpse of the show in Crested Butte on Sunday as it parks itself on Elk Avenue. For more information about the Gunnison Car Club and Show, go to gunnisoncarclub.com.

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