Thousands flock to city for Automania
Event draws record number of vehicles on display
July 02. 2013 9:26AM
Brandon’s population swelled to more than seven times its population Friday, when the Midwest’s largest car show – Automania – rolled into the city.
Moved from Downtown Sioux Falls to the city’s Holly Boulevard, the new layout allowed the show to set new records for vehicles registered and attendance, making this the largest show to date. Event organizer Bill Nelson said between 1,500 and 1,800 cars were at the show, much more than the 1,200 parking spaces reserved for the event.
“We’ve got cars here from 18 different states,” Nelson said. “They’re here from Chicago all the way down to Phoenix.”
More than a mile of Holly Boulevard was blanketed with muscle cars, classic vehicles, sports cars and motorcycles, and the street was filled with car enthusiasts posing to get their pictures taken next to favorite rides.
At any given time, about 70,000 people were present at the show, Nelson said. The Sioux Falls show averaged a crowd of almost 60,000. And while he said he’s unsure whether the Brandon crowd broke the attendance record, he said he was “impressed” by its size.
There were 105 vendors lined up along the strip, selling Automania memorabilia and food.
TV personalities Aaron Kaufman and Richard Rawlings from the Discovery Channel’s “Fast ‘N Loud” and David Betz, portraying Buford T. Justice from the 1970s comedy “Smokey and the Bandit” proved to have a big following. The line to grab a photo and an autograph from the Gas Monkey Garage boys went for blocks.
Betz, who travels the country with wife Nancy, with the Bandit Run, was impressed by both the venue and the people. The Bandit Run is a reenactment of the Texarkana to Atlanta over-the-road run made famous in the “Smokey and the Bandit” movie.
“I love this town and I can’t believe all of the cars,” he says standing beside a replica of the sheriff’s car from the movie.
“All of the cars from the original movie were crushed,” he informs.
Betz, of St. Joseph, Mo., takes his role as Sheriff Buford T. Justice seriously, donning an authentic costume created especially for the part.
“My grandfather was a sheriff,” says Betz. “Plus, I got married on May 27, 1977, about the same time the movie came out. … When I found out I wanted to do the Bandit Run, I decided to do this, so I sent a picture to them and see what happens.”
It was that photo that landed him the job of Sheriff Buford T. Justice with the Bandit Run.
While fans were excited to meet Betz, he, too, looks forward to meeting Burt Reynolds – the movie’s namesake, Bandit – later this year. He’ll arrive in 1977 Pontiac LeMans – with only 30,000 miles – and plans to ask Reynolds to sign the car.
“I was at his house once before but he was gone,” Betz recalls.
He also wants to meet Sally Field, who also starred in the movie.
“I’m going to stalk Sally Field now. She doesn’t know it, but she’s going to sign this car, too,” he said.
A few of the show’s most notable cars included a 1997 Dodge Viper GTS race car that won at the Daytona International Speedway, a 1969 Camaro that was showcased in Las Vegas and one of only six 1966 retractable hard-top roof Mustangs ever built.
Another eye-grabber at the show was the 1933 International fire truck with Luverne Fire Apparatus purchased by the Hurley Fire Department that year. Fire Chief Brad Georgeson said this was the first time the truck has made an appearance at Automania.
“As far as Internationals in this condition, as what it is, this is the only one,” he said. “The Hurley Fire department has owned it since day one. It was the first purchased motorized truck in town, and the department has had it ever since.”
He added that many of the viewers that stopped by told him not to change anything about the truck.
When David Johnson heard Automania was moving to Brandon, he knew he had to check it out.
So he packed his lawn chair in his 1964 Buick Rivera and drove 10 miles outside of Sioux Falls to Brandon’s Holly Boulevard. And while sitting in his chair next to his brother, who also brought out his classic ride, he found himself pleasantly surprised by the event’s new look.
“This is a great layout,” he said. “Because of the way it’s split up in downtown Sioux Falls, they had to keep moving you around the block, and it’s nice that you have everything’s a straight shot.”
Argus reporter Mark Walker contributed to this report.