Classic car enthusiasts work to keep hot rods, culture alive and well

Model As, coupes and stubby short-bed trucks growled, crackled and crept toward the starting line of the Tulsa Raceway Park quarter-mile track.

Running the drag strip two at a time, the aged beasts bridled as they filed in for their turn. The green light sent the hot rods tearing down the track, blowing past the finish line in 11 seconds or less.

Not bad for a bunch of cars originally built around seven decades ago.

The competition drew members of Oklahoma's Central State Gasser Association, a group of hot-rod enthusiasts who rebuild the classic cars of their fathers' or even their grandfathers' generation. 

"A lot of people are coming back to gassers " the younger people don't quite understand it and are intrigued," said Sam Woodard of Woodard Racing and Hot Rods. "They are neat-looking old cars and don't look like Camaros and belly buttons, where everybody's got one."

CSGA only accepts hot rods built before 1964, edging out Camaros and Mustangs, which Woodard said are from a different era. That age restriction only really applies to the body, however; everything underneath is fair game, and Woodard's gassers cost around $20,000 to build and are modern beneath the body.

Of course, not every hot rod is reserved for tearing down quarter-mile tracks. Some are still puttering around the city streets. The Oklahoma City-based Ratty Bastards Car Club is comprised of custom car lovers, harking back to the days where automotive works of art weren't built with computers, but with elbow grease, scavenged parts and human ingenuity. The club isn't much more than a loose affiliation between friends who share the same love for custom cars, rockabilly, tattoos and all the other quirks that surround the culture.

"Some of our guys are engineers; some are in a legal profession," said Jeff Beck, owner of Beck's Garage, 4217 N. Western. "There are some of us that are shop owners. We come from a wide range of career fields."

They converge to share knowledge, help each other with the tougher repair jobs and also help strengthen the subculture. The club started unofficially 15 years ago with just four people and has grown to approximately 20 members today.

Beck currently drives a 1957 Chevy two-door business coupe and a 1954 Chevy truck, but that just scratches the surface of the projects sitting out back of his garage awaiting his attention.

"The cars I've finished can be counted on one hand, but I've started building a million," he said. "I also have a hard time selling them once I finish them. I develop a Frankenstein-ish love to my projects, my babies and my creatures."

Rebuilding hot rods, whether racing or cruising, is a proposition undertaken out of love, rather than profit.

"You don't make any money doing this, but hey, it's what we do," Woodard said. "You don't get paid to go to the lake to fish, either." "Charles Martin

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