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Friday, July 24, 2009

The Kustom Kemp 29th Annual Leadsled Spectacular in Salina

This weekend, Paul Kruse is looking forward to catching up with some hot rod buddies. The Gypsum resident is a custom car collector who keeps in touch with other collectors and fans nationwide, mostly through the Internet. But for the past five summers, he's been attending a reunion of sorts at Thomas Park in north Salina.

Beginning Friday, nearly 800 hot rods, custom cars, and drag racers will invade the park as part of Kustom Kemps of America's 29th annual Leadsled Spectacular Custom Car Show. It's a way I can find like-minded car collectors like myself," Kruse said. The show will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at the park.

On display will be the 1950s and '60s-era racers, chopped and channeled coupes, Ford roadsters, finned Cadillacs, jalopies, leadsleds and show rods from Kansas, New York, Texas, Ohio, Missouri, Arizona, Iowa, and California. Kruse will include two of his own classic cars at the show -- a 1975 Chevy and a 1931 Ford. I've been coming here five years, and it gets bigger every year," Kruse said. 800 cars? That's nothing. 

Eight hundred cars is nothing to event organizer Jerry Titus. He doesn't see any reason there can't be 1,000 cars at Thomas Park next year. They're wonderful people running the parks here, and we're gaining more space here for cars," said Titus, who lives in Cassville, Mo., home base of the car show. Titus, 69, is a Wichita native who has been organizing and producing custom car shows since 1958, many of them with legendary custom car show producer Darryl Starbird. He's been president of the sponsoring organization, Kustom Kemps of America, since its inception in 1980. Kustom Kemps is a national association of custom car owners and aficionados with more than 15,000 members, Titus said. 

Worldwide recognition
The Kustom Kemp Leadsled Spectacular, he said, is recognized as the oldest traditional custom car show in the world. "Its reputation is such that it attracts people from all over the world," he said. "People plan their vacations around it. "Kustom Kemps produces five car shows a year in California, Texas, Maryland, Missouri, and Kansas. Titus said the Salina show is probably the best of them all. "We have a great working relationship with the city of Salina," he said. "You can't beat the people here. They're the nicest people in the world, and they treat the car guys with open arms. That's why we'll stay here as long as we can." 

Titus said the car show definitely has a 1950s feel, an inspiration being the classic George Lucas movie "American Graffiti," which showcased the custom car and hot rod culture of California in the early 1960s. Several of the stars of the 1973 classic have been part of the Kustom Kemp show, including Paul LeMat and Candy Clark. This year's special guest will be 1970s television star Joyce DeWitt, who played Janet in the popular sitcom "Three's Company." Also featured will be rock ''n'' roll legend Charlie Gracie, a regular on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" in the 1950s who sold 3 million copies of a song called "Butterfly," a future signature song of crooner Andy Williams, Titus said.

The weekend begins with one of the most popular events of the show -- hot rod drag races from 6 p.m. to dusk at the East Crawford Recreational Area. Cost is $5 for a car or truckload. "The drag races have always been a popular family event," Kruse said. "There's really some beautiful cars out there." 

Meet and greet Custom car fans will have a chance to meet and greet famous customizers, including George Barris, John D''Agostino and Darryl Starbird himself. Also featured will be Bill Hines and Brad Masterson of the Discovery Network program "Monster Garage," who will chop a car.

Weekend music entertainment includes a "Men in Black" tribute, featuring Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison imitators, Brian & the Rockabilly Trio and disc jockey KOTO (King of the Oldies).

For Titus, producing custom car shows for 50 years has been a dream career. "I've made a career out of what I used to do as a teenager," he said. "I used to drag Douglas (street) in Wichita. The guy with the coolest car got the best chicks. Luckily for me I married my high school sweetheart."

Reporter Gary Demuth can be reached at 822-1405 or by
e-mail at gdemuth@salina.com.

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