Weekend Rewind! Goodguys 33rd Speedway Motors Heartland Nationals

Wow, what a blowout! Goodguys kept the Independence Day sparks flying throughout the weekend during the record-setting 33rd Speedway Motors Heartland Nationals! It was a celebration of freedom, fun, and the joy of the automotive hobby during three thrilling days in Des Moines as thousands of rods, customs, classics, and cool rides crowded into one of our favorite venues anywhere, the spectacular Iowa State Fairgrounds.

Anticipation for this midsummer tradition was building for months and we could feel the energy in the air all week leading up to the Fourth of July. While scores of locals and early arrivers spent Thursday afternoon on the Heartland Nationals Poker Run, several dozen rodders were finishing up a multi-day journey from Texas on the Vintage Air Road Tour. Thousands of others, meanwhile, made their way to Des Moines from different points around the region and across the country. They were joined by representatives from some of the top aftermarket companies and hot rod shops, all of them seeking to take part in this most epic July jam. In other words, all roads led to Iowa!

Thursday preparations quickly gave way to a full-blown party on Friday morning as thousands of cool cars and trucks rolled into the fairgrounds and started cruising Grand Avenue. Morning clouds kept the weather cool and gave way to beautiful summer sunshine in the afternoon, which carried over into a spectacularly sunny Saturday. With temperatures in the low 80s, enthusiasts were soaking in the sun and basking in the vibrant colors and brilliant chrome of the gathered cars and trucks.

We had a changing of the guard this year, as Andy Leach from CAL Auto Creations took over the reins of the Heartland Nationals Builder’s Choice Top 10 awards. He and his team whittled custom billet aluminum trophies and scoured the event looking for deserving cars and trucks with distinctive style, clean execution, and fantastic attention to detail. The selections ranged from home-built drivers to high-end cruisers, all of which looked fantastic in the final lineup on Sunday.

Likewise, the Goodguys awards team was seeking out equally distinctive vehicles as finalists for all the regional BASF Top 12 awards. We found some great examples, too! They included Chris Ryan’s ’56 Lincoln Continental as the Fuel Curve Custom of the Year finalist; Joe Faso’s ’51 Henry J as the Vintage Air Custom Rod of the Year finalist; Tony and Missy Onstot’s ’66 Nova SS as the Snap-on Muscle Car of the Year finalist; Bobby Schumacher’s ’66 Mustang as the Griot’s Garage Muscle Machine of the Year finalist; Ed Ganzinotti’s ’56 F100 as the LMC Truck of the Year Early finalist; and Travis Lienemann’s ’68 Jeep Super Wagoneer as the Dakota Digital Truck of the Year Late finalist. Lienemann’s Jeep also earned CAL Auto Creations a Chevrolet Performance GM Retro Iron Builder of the Year finalist spot, while Revision Rods & Rides grabbed the GM Iron Builder of the Year finalist nod for Mary and Clayton Graham’s ’68 Camaro. The Goodguys media team chose Mick Even’s ’53 Pontiac convertible for the Goodguys Feature Pick.

Awards are great, but most of the crowd came to the Heartland Nationals simply to have a good time. And Goodguys kept the Fourth of July holiday spirit alive with fun happenings like a watermelon eating contest, apple pie bake-off, and valve cover races, in addition to staples like our Nitro Thunderfest exhibitions and the massive Burnout Competition that has become a huge attraction at this event. We also welcomed hundreds of vendors, live music from multiple acts, a fantastic swap meet, large Goodgals Gallery, and of course, our traditional Saturday evening festivities that included twilight cruising, a live band, nighttime Nitro Thunderfest, and a Fireworks Extravaganza.

Speaking of fireworks, there were plenty of figurative sparks on track as the Goodguys CPP AutoCross Series heated up the northeast portion of the fairgrounds. More than 80 racers took to the track, duking it out in class competition and the always-competitive Optima Batteries Duel in Des Moines shootout. Robby Unser secured the Speedtech Performance PRO-X class and shootout victories in the Team Speedway ’70 Camaro, while Tyler Gibson did the same in the Summit Racing PRO class. The Forgeline Street Machine class was won by Andrew Chenoweth in the Summit Racing-sponsored ’84 Corvette, and Tony Kvatek won the Sports Car class and shootout in a ’97 Corvette. John Curby won the Challenger class and shootout in his ’80 Camaro, and Chris Osborn did the same in the No Limit Engineering Truck class in his ’71 Chevy. Nathan Bickel finished out the weekend by conquering the All American Sunday class and shootout in his Ford-powered 2013 Mazda Miata.

Rain showers Sunday morning resulted in a slow start to the event’s final day, but soon gave way to clear skies and bright sun that helped us finish the weekend on the same positive note that characterized all three days. The combination of great weather and a three-decade-plus tradition of midsummer fun helped us smash the Speedway Motors Heartland Nationals participation record, with well over 5,000 cars and trucks in attendance! We can’t thank you all enough for getting our midsummer swing of events off to a fantastic start, and we hope to keep the momentum going through the 26th Summit Racing Nationals next weekend in Columbus. We hope to see you there, but until then, enjoy some of these great memories from Des Moines!

Photos by Damon Lee, Jason Lubken, Terry Lysak, and John Jackson

Editor, Goodguys Gazette

Damon Lee began snapping photos at car shows when he was 10, tagging along with his father to events throughout the Midwest. He has combined his passion for cars and knack for writing and imagery into a 20-year career in the automotive aftermarket, writing for titles like Super Chevy and Rod & Custom and, more recently, working for respected industry leaders Speedway Motors and Goodguys Rod & Custom Association.