Route 66 Cruisin’ Reunion Expected to Top 200,000 Visitors

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 19, 2015 issue of The Press Enterprise. View clip online.

Laurie Bakewell and Nancy Derrick had prime seats Saturday, Sept. 19, for Ontario’s Route 66 Cruisin’ Reunion car show — in the back of Bakewell’s husband’s 1966 Pontiac GTO convertible.

The white GTO, like the two women in its red backseat, is a car-show veteran. It’s now been to all three Route 66 Cruisin’ Reunions, and before that, all 22 editions of San Bernardino’s Stater Bros. Route 66 Rendezvous.

The Ontario show took over from San Bernardino’s version in spirit if not in name – due to copyright issues – after San Bernardino filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and cancelled its popular car show.

The move caused some rancor among the two cities and tradition-minded participants — Route 66 didn’t pass through Ontario, for one thing — yet Ontario’s version appears to be accelerating in popularity since its 2013 inception.

Michael Krouse, CEO of the Greater Ontario Convention and Visitors Bureau, said opening night Friday felt busier than last year. By early Saturday afternoon, show entries topped 1,000, CVB Communications Director Sue Oxarart said. Both predicted attendance to reach 200,000 by the show’s end Sunday afternoon.

The final Stater Bros. Route 66 Rendezvous in 2012 attracted about 1,500 cars and 400,000 spectators.

Entrants arrived hours earlier than Saturday’s 9 a.m. start to snag a good parking spot along Euclid Avenue, which was closed between B and I streets to allow for cruising.

Within hours, rides of all kinds lined the avenue: Hemis and Minis, ‘Stangs and ‘Vettes, fire trucks and 4x4s. Some were bone stock, others heavily modified, none newer than 1975. Hoods stood open to display chromed engines, and owners dabbed flawless paint with feather dusters.

Not every vehicle sparkled. Some flaunted the so-called “patina,” a weathered finish that looks like it never started. It’s de rigueur for the “rat rod,” a pieced-together Frankenstein of a machine built lower than a lowrider. One sat not an inch above the asphalt.

Muscle cars and hot rods rumbled past the lemonade stands and hot dog vendors in the median. The burbling idle and throttled roar of engines reverberated inside spotless engine bays and out of mufflers, a misnomer if there ever was one.

On occasion an engine stalled, starved for gas but not for attention. Hearing a vintage V-8 come to life is a big reason why people come to shows like this.

Back at the white ’66 GTO, with its top down and their legs stretched out onto front seats pushed flat, Bakewell and Derrick waited for Bakewell’s husband Gaylen to return so they could join the other cruisers.

Ontario’s fledgling show suits them.

“We’ve made so many new friends,” said Bakewell, who lives in Jurupa Valley. “It doesn’t matter what type of car you have … they’re all brothers and sisters. They extend their hospitality and tools for anyone.”

Bakewell and Derrick owe their friendship to camaraderie like that. They met in May 2011 at Riverside’s Show and Go Car Show.

Soon Gaylen Bakewell returned. He opened his GTO’s hood to show off the 389 cubic inch V-8 to a friend, then dropped it shut.

It’s time to go for a cruise, he said.