MODESTO – In 1993, cruising was shut down in the city that inspired the movie “American Graffiti.”
Twenty years later, Modesto remains a community passionate about its vintage cars, even without a license to parade their distinct curves, colors and sounds down McHenry Avenue.
“Manteca is right along with Modesto and Turlock. Kids had cruised towns for years,” said John Sanders, general chairman for the upcoming American Graffiti Festival.
“Sadly, over the years cruising has been banned in these towns.”
The owners of such Graffiti staples as the Thunderbird and coupes (among others) still have their outlets, the biggest of which is fast-approaching.
The American Graffiti Festival returns for its 15th year from June 7-9, beginning with a downtown parade on Friday evening.
Legendary filmmaker George Lucas will serve as the grand marshal and will make two laps around a 1.1-mile route in a 1947 Mercury convertible.
Lucas introduced Modesto’s cruising scene to the rest of the world with “American Graffiti,” released in 1973.
This year’s festival celebrates the 40th anniversary of the theatre release of Lucas’ original success.
“The parade has become extremely popular. It gives car owners a chance to show their cars,” Sanders said. “People love it, because they see a variety of cars. They hear them – and that’s important to car people.
“The parade is a way to further the experience for the car owner, being able to drive in a closed circuit.”
Based on the sheer number of early entrants, Sanders expects Friday’s parade to be the largest in the festival’s 15-year history. He anticipates more than a thousand cars crawling slowly down I and J streets, between 10th and 17th streets. Last year, 825 cars entered the parade.
“The people that own these cars,” he said, “like to drive them.”
The first cars out will carry Modesto city council members. Though Modesto’s elected officials banned cruising in the early 1990s, they’ve been instrumental in the success of the festival through the years.
“If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be doing this at all. We get amazing support from the city, from the police chief to the mayor,” Sanders said. “This has been true for the last four administrations. We couldn’t ask for better support.”
The surge in popularity is expected to continue through the weekend.
The festival will close with a two-day celebration at Modesto Junior College’s West Campus that will include a car show.
Sanders says the car show registration is running at 40 percent above last year’s registration at this point. He estimates the two-day show will field 1,500 cars, a stark improvement over the 1,010 that registered for last year’s show.
There’s an uptick in the number of vendors, too. There will be 90 food vendors on campus and an additional 30 non-food vendors.
Jim Anderson and the Rebels will headline the weekend’s live entertainment. The festival will feature two stages – Blue Gum and Quad – with bands playing simultaneously.
Joining Jim Anderson and the Rebels on Saturday are: The Super Avengers, Johnny Rocket, Johnny Pistola, Threshold and the Sensations.
On Sunday, Kyle Barker and Friends and Top Banana and the Wild Bunch will take the stages from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. An classic cars awards ceremony will follow on the Blue Gum stage.
— By JAMES BURNS
209 staff reporter