Bob and Susan Bell of Scottsdale, Arizona, have been traveling to the center of Nebraska every July "for several years" to attend the five-day annual "Cruise Nite" event which begins on a Wednesday night with a car parade for residents of care facilities and culminates with a worship service and drag races on Sunday.
Kearney's Cruise Nite celebrated its 25th Anniversary this year under mostly cloudless skies with triple-digit temperatures and some 525 cars registered for two days of show and shine events open to the public. A nostalgia rock performer entertained one night and live bands performed on stage all day downtown. A Christian group played contemporary worship music on that stage Sunday morning.
Ron and Patti Moore drove their pink early Ford sedan delivery to Kearney from Salome, Arizona, just in time to participate in the mid-week nursing home cruise. "It was great to see a large group of participants share their cars with folks who can't get out, especially in this heat," Ron Moore said. The couple attends many car shows every year, but this was their first time in Kearney.
Moore said he has never met a friendlier batch of folks than Nebraskans. The fuel pump went out on the "Pink Lady" in the midst of the nursing home cruise. But members of the Central Nebraska Auto Club scrambled and not only found, but installed a new fuel pump in the car. And the couple made it to the after-tour gathering at the local senior center in time to share ice cream with their new found friends.
Cruise Nite Chairman, Brad Kernick, noted that the Kearney event is but one of many across the state, but it is also among the largest. He said several car club members had visited a car show in California more than a quarter century ago and brought back the idea. The first show they held had about 100 cars. The event has slowly grown by adding days and events.
"It started as a one-day car show with a dance in the evening. It then grew to four days when we added drag races on Sunday at then Kearney Dragway. It grew to three days, then four days and recently grew to the current five-day format," Kernick said. "We try to add something new every year."
Miss America 2011, Teresa Scanlan of Gering, Nebraska, spent two days in Kearney during the event. A newly refurbished downtown movie theater showed "American Graffiti" several nights.
But it's not all about Kearney. From Bennington to McCook and Auburn to Alliance, there is some kind of car activity almost every weekend, according to the Eastern Nebraska/Western Iowa Car Council, which publishes an annual directory -- 148 pages this year -- of car clubs and events. In March the council hosted its 40th annual swap meet with the admission being non-perishable food or cash donations to the Food Bank of Lincoln. The group also sponsors college scholarships for students in the automotive field. Charitable donations are also made by the organization at Christmas.
It's all part of a burgeoning car culture that seems to make itself visible in the warmer months when restored custom cars and hot rods become as prolific as zucchini and as natural as watermelon and corn-on-the-cob.
So, after the Silver Anniversary of one of the bigger shows, what's next?
"We are going to try to keep on doing what has gone well for us as well as keep an open mind for other potential events," Kernick said. "Every year we review how things went before we start planning the next year's events."