Vancouver's hot rod homecoming

Cruisin' the Gut brings together great cars, their fans, and lots of old friends

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



If you go

• What: Cruisin' the Gut.

• When: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., July 20.

• Where: Along Main Street between Sixth and 28th streets, followed by a screening of "Grease" at 11 p.m. at Kiggins Theatre.

• Cost: Free; participants are encouraged to visit local businesses and bring three cans of food for Share.

• Information:

Part homespun car show, part class reunion and part sidewalk festival, the fifth annual Cruisin' the Gut offers a tribute to Vancouver's long history of cruising.

As early as the 1940s and well into the 1980s, cruising was a fundamental see-and-be-seen aspect of Clark County social life. People would drive their cars up and down Main Street, honking and waving to their friends or chit-chatting along the sidewalks, said Phil Medina, the event's founder.

"Everyone who comes down is reliving events past," Medina said. "Main Street was a huge cruising spot from the '50s to the mid-'80s, when (the authorities) put the kibosh on it."

Medina, who used to cruise Highway 99 in the 1990s, was always fascinated by his older relatives' tales of their cruising days in the '60s and '70s. He founded the event in 2009 as a way to bring those days back -- at least once a year, he said.

"I would call this the fifth 'production,'" Medina said. "The first year I just made some fliers at home and talked to some car clubs. The second year is when it really took off."

Last year's event drew thousands of people and cars to the route along Main Street between Sixth and 28th streets. It's hard to keep tabs on how many attend, since the event is free and open to everyone.

"We really don't have a way to count or have somebody stand there with a clicker," Medina said. "But it's a huge event. People come down from Canada, from Spokane, from Idaho, and up from Northern California."

Along with out-of-state visitors, many local groups treat the event as a homecoming, he said.

"If you just walk the thing and see the people around you'll see signs for the class of '62 or the class of '78," Medina said.

The event includes a Racer's Row showcase on 12th Street, a motorcycle roundup on Ninth Street, food specials from local businesses and live music at Turtle Place on Seventh Street.

Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main St., will have a screening of "Grease," the 1978 musical starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, at 11 p.m. to cap off the event.

"It's a different vibe during Cruisin' the Gut," said Dan Wyatt, who owns the theater. "There are a lot of people, everyone's on the move."

Last year's screening of "Bullitt," the 1968 action thriller starring Steve McQueen, didn't net a huge crowd, but Wyatt said he's hoping more people will show up this year.

"We're looking at expanding it and we may have multiple screenings over the weekend," Wyatt said. "But last year it wasn't the be-all, end-all of our business."

Other businesses fare better at the event, especially food sellers, Medina said.

"Many businesses tell me it's their biggest day of the year, hands down," he said. "In the second year, Vancouver Pizza ran out of food."

The nonprofit Cruisin' the Gut encourages people to bring canned goods to donate to Share and buy T-shirts to support the Clark County Skills Center's automotive technology program.

"I went to Prairie High School and we used to have a race car in the automotive program there," Medina said. "I heard a lot of those programs were shut down. But the Skills Center's program is great."

Those who come to check out the vehicles will be treated to a huge variety of unusual cars, he added.

"You name it, it's here," Medina said. "It's not a limited event. We have hot rods, classics, customs. If it looks cool and it sounds cool, bring it out."

He plans to keep the event free as long as he's in charge, he added.

"I don't ever intend on charging people to cruise," Medina said. "It's a public street. I wouldn't want to go to an event that charges to cruise."

Still, there are a few things that people can't do during the festivities, such as drag racing and burnouts.

"You're going to see cars with hydraulics, cars with open headers, cars with neon and other additions that are a little gray on the legal side," Medina said. "None of that's really a huge deal. But burnouts, any kind of drinking and driving, that would just ruin an event like this. We have no tolerance for it."

Fortunately, most of the people who come to the cruise self-police the event along with the Vancouver Police Department, he added.

"We're all car people, and I don't want to limit that," Medina said. "The whole idea of cruising is just Saturday night, seeing friends and hanging out."