For the Sun Times
Thirty-three years of burning rubber and counting.
For over three decades the Street Wheelers’ Street Machine Weekend has been geared toward car enthusiasts, be it showing off in the show and shine or tearing up 100 feet of pavement in the quickest possible time.
Now, as the Street Wheelers rev into their 33rd year, the annual event remains as much of a passion for cars as a family affair for chairman Jordan Vander Woude and vice-chairman Raymond Huppee.
“The club has been around for about two or three years longer than that. My father (Lauren) and a whole bunch of his friends started it back then. That’s how I got roped into it,” said Vander Woude, whose brother Dustin is also a member and his main car a 1969 Beetle. “(Lauren) was a big car guy. He and his friends were all car guys. They got together and started a club and decided they should do something with it. It’s been 33 years of that and I’d like to say it’s still going strong.”
The amount of participation the event enjoys each year backs up that theory.
“I think it’s something people look forward to now that it’s been here for 33 years,” said Vander Woude. “You would hate to stop it. I know I would be heartbroken if the event shut down and that’s why I’m a part of it. Being a car person, it’s a major weekend Lethbridge has. They have lots of other car shows that are put on well, but I think this is the biggest one.”
Huppee not only holds the title of vice-chairman of the Street Wheelers, he also holds the distinction of being the stepfather to the youngest member of the club, 17-year-old Tyler Beninger.
“He seems to like the quarter-mile stuff. He wanted a Camaro, so we went and found him an old one,” said Huppee. “When we did our Power To The Pavement Event this year he started in the burnout box with a broom and he wouldn’t leave. He was there all day and he liked it. He likes the burning tires and Christmas tree. I have a feeling that by September he’ll run that Camaro down the track. I think my Mustang will be complete by then and we’ll go out, have a family weekend and run in it with these guys.”
A member of the Street Wheelers for many years, Vander Woude steps it up to the executive ranks in his first year as chairman of the club.
“It’s been a learning experience, that’s for sure,” he said.
Still, Vander Woude finds time to compete.
“I’ve had a Rambler American for almost 12 years. That’s been what I’ve been doing,“ he said. “I’ve had a second one that is more of a cruiser. I’ve been going every year with my dad being involved. Once I was 16 I took advantage of having my own car in the event and it’s probably grown to 10 times the car since I bought it. I joined the club when I was 18, so it’s been about nine years now.”
The Street Wheelers also participate in the Power To The Pavement event in Medicine Hat.
“We rent the drag strip and we put on a heads-up street car race,” said Vander Woude. “So every car that shows up has to have proper registration and insurance. It’s all heads up, so whoever is the fastest car in their class is going to win. We’ve been doing that for five or six years.”
Huppee worked for nine years for Volkswagon in Edmonton and Red Deer before making the move to Lethbridge.
The Street Wheelers event immediately caught his eye.
“The first time I saw the event I was blown away by what it was,” he said. “My kids liked the event and I liked the event. That’s why I joined. I hunted down a couple of members and got involved,” he said.
And he did so with his four-door, bright orange Volkswagon.
“At the time I had my ugly convertible and they still let me in,” said Huppee with a grin. “That was good news and I have since bought a quarter-mile car so I can keep up with some of the other street car guys.”
Vander Woude disagreed with Huppee’s assessment of his Volkswagon.
“It’s a beautiful car.”
The Street Wheelers hold a show and shine in Calgary each February to promote their weekend in Lethbridge, said Huppee.
“It’ll be snowing in Lethbridge, typically, but we’ll leave here with our cars and our trailers and put six to eight cars on display all shined up as well as a video of our event, the cruise and the show and shine,” he said. “We show that throughout the weekend and give out pamphlets of what we do in Lethbridge throughout the weekend. I think we get quite a few people coming from Calgary because of it. The numbers have gone up since we started doing that, so it’s definitely paying off. Sometimes you need more numbers, so you do anything you can to bring them in.”
The three-day event begins with the registration July 8 at the Exhibition Centre followed by the controlled cruise on Third Avenue South.
“We pick and choose car show-ready cars. So it’s like a parade of cars on the street just to keep the basic stuff out,” said Vander Woude. “On July 9 we have the 100-foot dash at the grandstand. We see who can do 100 feet the fastest. That goes all day. Then we wrap up and there’s a fun cruise.”
The auto cross starts at 7 a.m. at the Exhibition grounds July 10.
“We set up some pylons and a track and all the sports cars rip through,” said Vander Woude. “We give those guys something to do and we also have the main car show at the Galt Gardens (July 10). That goes from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.”
Volunteers play a large role in ensuring the success of the Street Wheelers event.
“There are about 60 volunteers that we need,” said Huppe. “Without those volunteers we wouldn’t be able to put this event on. Our sponsors and volunteers allow us to donate back (to the community).”
A total of 524 cars took part in last year’s event.
“We find out as the event goes on,” said Vander Woude of the attendance. “Some years we have more and some years we have less. It all depends on the weather and other events around Alberta or B.C. and Saskatchewan. There are people from all over that come here. But there are usually a lot of them.”
With go-round No. 33 ready to hit the street, the goal is to keep the Street Wheelers tradition in full gear.
“We’ll play it by ear and do whatever we can,” said Vander Woude. “Right now we’re limited with options and space. You can only do so much and have so much going on. You always want to go bigger and better.”
For more information, go to www.streetwheelers.com.