There are a good number of us who have been around since the first Street Rod Nationals in 1970, held in Peoria, Illinois, with its 600 hot rods. And there are many, many more who weren’t but realize the Nats has history unlike any other hot rod event in the country. (Although if you count indoor car shows you have the likes of the Grand National Roadster Show and the Detroit Autorama, which have longer histories but not nearly the number of entrants.) It was mind-boggling in 1970 to see that many street rods in one location. There was nothing like that ever before—and it was just the beginning.
Back in the day it wasn’t the National Street Rod Association (NSRA) Nationals but rather it started out as the Rod & Custom Street Rod Nationals; by the third go-around it was the Hot Rod Street Rod Nationals and come the fourth year (1973) it was now the NSRA’s Street Rod Nationals … and they have never looked back!
For the record, the second year was held in Memphis with its 1,200 cars, the third year was Detroit with its 1,500 cars. Over the years the event bounced around to several cities in (roughly) the Midwest, which included Memphis (1971, 1975, 1980), Tulsa (1973, 1976), St. Paul (1974, 1977, 1979, 1982, 1985, 1989), Oklahoma City (1983, 1986, 1991, 1997), and Columbus (1978, 1981, 1984, 1987, 1990, 1993, 1996). There was an attempt at an eastern destination and that was Syracuse in 1995. To date the number one city for participant attendance goes to Louisville (1988, 1992, 1994, 1998-present), which appears to be home for the Nationals. According to the NSRA, the contract to hold the Nationals in Louisville was extended until 2025. Attendance at each of these cities enjoyed a steady increase in numbers with the occasional mild drop. It was decided by the NSRA that beginning in 1998 to the present a city was needed that had the required space to house 10,000-plus cars and the infrastructure to house, feed, and entertain the tens of thousands of rodders who go along with this many cars. So, Louisville it was, is, and will be for some time to come.
It was back in 2009 that ’49 and later street rods were allowed into the event. Clearly this has turned out to be a good thing as this is the direction our hobby/industry is moving. For the past 10 years entrants have hovered around 10,000, with 10,190 in 2018 and for 2019 an impressive 12,762 street rods showed up. (Between Builders’ Showcase, 40 Street Rods, and exhibitor vehicles and other display vehicles numbering 200-plus there were 13,000-plus street rods on the grounds.)
The Builders’ Showcase has been around since 2006 and for the past 13 years it has turned into a must-see exhibit, located in the entrance hall of the mammoth Kentucky Exposition Center building. (Every year I say, “This building has the best air conditioning of any building I have ever been in!”) This exhibit is also the home for the NSRA Elite Builder of the Year. It’s the third time for the award. In 2019, Eric Peratt of Pinkees Rod Shop took home the honors for building the current AMBR-winning ’36 Ford roadster belonging to George Poteet.
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