Bowling Green, Kentucky
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Hot Rodder’s Paradise

Hot Rodder’s Paradise

Fun on wheels in Bowling Green, Kentucky

By Erica Rucker

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One thing my husband, Jim, and I have in common is a love for cars. I grew up a city girl with a country dad and remember working with him on his old Buick and dreaming about opening a mechanic’s shop just for women when I got older. I ended up becoming a university professor instead, but I never lost my passion.

Life in the fast lane

Classic cars at a car show in Bowling Green, Kentucky

Jim and I had always wanted a vintage vehicle, but timing, opportunity and priorities played interference over the years. But at long last, we decided to bring our dream to life.

We’d just sent our last kid off to college, and after getting over the shock of being empty nesters, we decided it was finally the perfect time.

Being familiar with its automotive renown, Jim and I started our search in Bowling Green. Not only did we find a handful of strong contenders to purchase, we found activities and events to turn the trek into a vacation.

We wanted to experience the whole hot rod playground that is Bowling Green: from automotive history, to whipping around a track in America’s sports car, to watching the pros in action. With our wishlist in mind, we centered our trip around the Corvette museum and the Danchuk Tri-Five Nationals.

Driving to Bowling Green through Louisville and through the beautiful lushness of the Kentucky landscape was a joy. As we got closer, our excitement was off the charts. Our soundtrack for the trip included mostly songs about cars. We had a ball singing along and getting excited about what was around the next turn.

On Track

We knew we had arrived at the National Corvette Museum when we saw the yellow dome and red needle next to the shiny silver building. I don’t think I’d ever seen so many Corvettes in one parking lot before.

Inside, there were wonderful stories about each car and many had photos of the owners. There was a lot of great history not only about the Corvette, but how it fit into the landscape of the American automobile. Did you know that the name Corvette came from a type of small warship?

We’d reserved Corvette Touring Laps at the museum’s NCM Motorsports Park. We approached the track to see a row of gorgeous C8 Corvettes lined up and waiting. The driving experience put us on the Grand Full Course for four laps in a lead/follow format.

Classic Corvettes parked outside the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky
1954 Corvettes on display inside the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky

Let me be honest, I was downright giddy. As soon as I sat behind the wheel, it occurred to me that maybe, this was the car for me. Talk about adrenaline-pumping! Even though we didn’t reach racecar speeds with this particular experience, my knees were still shaking.

At one turn, affectionately coined “the sinkhole” after the Corvette-swallowing incident inside the museum in 2014, the centrifugal force pressed into me with the persuasion of a mighty ocean wave. We were all cracking up when the driver of our lead car recounted how much we slowed down after that.

The decrease in speed didn’t last long. By the time we were on the fourth lap, Jim approached it like a professional. Though he was in front of me, I knew he was beaming during every moment of it.

Jim wasn’t done with velocity after the Touring Lap. He opted to ride a go-cart at the new NCM Kartplex where he got to race against other drivers. My wobbly legs and I chose to play videographer to share the experience with the kids.

Jim got his helmet on and loaded into his high-speed go-cart. The course was bordered by tires, and from track maps, it looked like a PAC-MAN grid.

Without hesitation, Jim rocketed forward when the moment came. He was a natural. I wondered if he’d been practicing around the neighborhood at home.

Aerial view of The Danchuk Tri-Five Nationals car show in Bowling Green, Kentucky
Classic car racing at Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, KY

Green Light

After those attractions, we headed to Beech Bend Raceway, the site of major events like the Holley LS Fest, a celebration of GM LS engines that debuted in the 1997 C5 Corvette, and the Tri-Five Nationals. It was the Tri-Five weekend highlighting 1955–1957 Chevrolets. The cars ranged from classic restorations to super-swank street rods.

The smell of burning rubber and the sound of screeching tires was exhilarating. I’m not sure who was more excited, Jim or me. We both had silly crocodile grins on our faces. As far as favorite racers go, we both loved the Bel-Air. Picture polished retro baby blue paint, a gleaming chrome grill, wide headlights like happy eyes, and white-walled tires reminiscent of Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” Now imagine it as a beautiful blur speeding across the track.

The seating at the course was unbelievably close to the action and provided a perfect view of the races. Jim shared a tidbit he’d picked up, saying they literally don’t make them like this anymore. Beech Bend is one of the longest continually operating raceways in the country, and at the time of its construction, stadium seating was built closer to the track than these days. We could feel the wind from the cars.

Automatically fun

We spent most of the next day shopping. By late afternoon, we bought my dream car—a 1964 Daytona Blue Corvette Coupe! It purred as I drove it off the lot.

We cruised around the historic downtown square in true vintage style, and stopped at Bowling Green Pipe & Cigar to celebrate our new “baby” with an Arturo Fuente. So much for being empty nesters.

Though we went to Bowling Green to explore cars, the quaint downtown, friendly businesses, and surrounding countryside were added bonuses. We decided to check out a small-farm winery, Bluegrass Vineyard,  on the way out of town. Brimming with Southern hospitality and scenery, we ordered a flight of six samples and headed to an outside table. We took home bottles of the Commonwealth Cabernet and Cotton Candy Wine.

Once we got home and tucked in the coupe for the night, Jim and I started planning our return excursion. In addition to the Corvette Experience where visitors can drive a track Corvette, another aspect of the Motorsports Park Jim reminded me of was the High Performance Drivers Introduction (HPDI)—a course that teaches recreational performance driving, in which we’d drive our own car. I was trying to be nonchalant when Jim reminded me of that, but he said I was coming across more like a kid eager for a birthday. I guess that means we’re taking yet another baby off to school.