By Jared Curtis
a stroll to summer cruise nights and car shows
around the metro
“I never want to part with her you see, this
little car means a heck of a lot to me,” sang
Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys in “This Car
That sentiment holds true today as hundreds
of classic car owners throughout the metro gas
up and hit the road on a weekly basis, attending
numerous cruise nights.
The impromptu car shows not only attract car
aficionados but also catch the eye of almost
every person driving by. Custom paint jobs gleam
and characters are aplenty at these local events,
offering car owners a chance to show off their
pride and joy, see other beautiful vehicles,
chat with old friends and meet some new ones.
During the warmer months, car shows are peppered
throughout — The Goodguys Heartland Nationals
Car Show is less than a month away — but drivers
need a few more options to show off their classics,
which is why cruise nights have become so popular.
Even though the mother of cruise nights, Porky’s
Diner, has long disappeared, other locations
have picked up the slack, offering metro cruisers
five locations on four nights to hit the town
in style. They’re not just for members of the
muscle car era anymore; the majority of cruise
nights welcome anyone with something cool on
four wheels. The car shows take up the weekend
days, but the cruise events take over the nights
— a perfect time to shine up that chrome, crank
up the tunes and hit the pavement.
vehicles line the parking lot at Bennigan’s
during the weekly cruise night on Wednesday.
Photo by Jared Curtis
Gathering on the Grounds
Iowa State Fairgrounds
Tuesday — 5 to 10 p.m.
June 19, July 10 and July 15 (the Sunday finale)
In only its second year, the Gathering on the
Grounds has become the biggest car/bike night
in town — as long as the weather holds up. The
event came together in April 2011 when people
were looking for a bigger cruise/bike night
after Porky’s Diner shut down.
“Ever since Porky’s closed, people have been
looking for that big event where they can come
together and show off their bikes and cars,”
said Tammie Palazzo, event coordinator. “A lot
of people put in plenty of hard work to make
this go smoothly, and I think it’s evolved into
a great event.”
Although the location is key in displaying thousands
of cars and bikes, the number of Gathering on
the Grounds events the group can hold is limited.
“People love to come to the fairgrounds, and
there is plenty of shade and benches to create
a cozy atmosphere. It works out for us because
there is enough space to park the cars on one
side and bikes on the other,” Palazzo said.
“But because the fairgrounds are so popular,
we’re only allowed to book so many Tuesday nights.
Last year we went through September, but this
year our finale event will be on Sunday, July
15 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.”
The event is open to both cars and bikes, and
there are no era restrictions.
“We don’t limit the years, and we get every
type of vehicles from rat rods to kit cars.
If you’ve done something cool to your vehicle
and you think others will like it, then stop
down,” Palazzo said. “I don’t know of any other
place in Iowa that offers a car and bike night
that brings in this many people. When the weather
is nice, we’ll have 400 to 500 cars and 2,000
bikes, and that’s not counting spectators.”
Along with the rows of eye-catching vehicles,
attendees can also get their fair food fix before
“We don’t have everything the fair offers, but
we’ve got all the staples, including corndogs,
and there is plenty of pop, water and adult
beverages for everyone,” Palazzo said. “It’s
a great mix of people because the car people
like to see the bikes and the bike people love
seeing the cars. And some people bring both.”
With only a few more Gathering on the Grounds
events left for the summer, Palazzo encourages
everyone to experience the sights and sounds.
“It’s a fun-filled night where you can meet
up with friends and see some really cool vehicles,”
she said. “Even if you don’t have a car or a
bike, come down and enjoy the festivities.”
5 & Diner Cruise Night
5 & Diner, 5015 E. University Ave., Pleasant
Tuesday — 5 to 8 p.m.
May through September
21st annual Goodguys Heartland Nationals
Car Show takes over the Iowa State Fairgrounds
June 29 through July 1. Special to Cityview
Celebrating 10 years, the 5 & Diner has
become a Pleasant Hill staple. For nine of those
years, they’ve been a favorite of the cruise
night community with their Tuesday night events.
Owners Betty and Danny Thurman knew there was
a need for the night, even though they didn’t
own a classic… yet.
“We were always fans of classic cars, but we
didn’t even own one until after we started the
cruise nights,” Betty laughed. “The event has
really grown into a weekly destination.”
While some popular cruise events have disappeared
over the years, the 5 & Diner crowd has
“Our first year we probably only had 20 or 25
cars on a weekly basis, and it’s grown over
the years,” Danny said. “Now we usually have
more than 75 cars each week. We have a lot of
loyal customers that come back every week, but
we also like seeing new faces and cars.”
As the crowds grew, the Thurmans were forced
to expand the event.
“We used to have the show behind the building,
but we ran out of room so we moved it to the
front,” Betty said. “Being out front allows
the cars a little more exposure and draws some
The event takes place every Tuesday night (weather
permitting) and features live music and a free
soda for anyone involved with the show. On July
28, the 5 & Diner will hold its annual car
show as part of the Pleasant Hill’s Summerfest
celebration. With its ’50s décor, the diner
is an ideal place for a cruise night.
“Obviously the diner goes with the theme, but
the baby boomer crowd loves the old cars as
it brings back fond memories of when they were
young,” Betty said. “We welcome everybody out
to have some fun, see some beautiful cars and
enjoy the evening.”
Bennigan’s Cruise Night
Bennigan’s, 4800 Merle Hay Road
Wednesday — 5 to 9 p.m.
May through September
In only four years, the cruise night at Bennigan’s
has become one of the most popular of the week.
Cars line the parking lot and beyond, quickly
filling up by 5:30 p.m. Once again, the closing
of Porky’s was a reason for starting the night.
“When Porky’s closed, my uncle, who had a classic
car, talked to me about having a cruise night
here,” said Greg Fontanini, general manager.
“Coincidently, a guy from the Pontiac Club had
also approached me about having a cruise night.
So I thought it would be a fun idea.”
Since then the event has taken off with more
than a 100 cars showing up on a weekly basis.
“We average about 150 cars a week, but we had
about 250 cars here on our best night,” Fontanini
Originally the night was geared more toward
the older vehicles, but that changed the following
“When we started it was called ‘Classic Car
Night,’ but we changed it the next year to ‘Cruise
Night’ so anybody who has something cool to
look at is welcome,” Fontanini said.
Fontanini strives to create a fun and family
friendly environment for all ages to enjoy.
“We have a lot families who show, but the hotel
guests also love it. It’s something fun to do
on a Wednesday night,” he said.
The event officially starts at 5 p.m., but that
doesn’t stop the cars from rolling in early.
“We say 5 p.m., but people start coming around
3 p.m.,” he laughs. “I think our big draw is
the flat driveway and the close proximity to
the Interstate. But I think a lot of people
also like the fact that the cars are out front,
so everyone driving by on Merle Hay Road can
see them. There is a not a bad parking spot
in the lot.”
Premiere Bowling/Strikers Sports
Bar Cruise Night
Premiere Bowling and Entertainment, 655 N.E.
56th St., Pleasant Hill
Friday — 5 to 8 p.m.
May through July
Three years ago, Betty and Danny Thurman were
having great success with their weekly cruise
nights at the 5 & Diner and decided to expand
the event to another night and location.
“Since we had success here, we thought we’d
try it at a different location,” Betty said.
“We also did it on Friday night because there
wasn’t a weekly cruise event on the weekends.”
Although the night doesn’t draw as many people
as the 5 & Diner show, the vehicles are
still rolling in.
“We didn’t get as many people as we thought
when we first started,” Betty said. “But we’re
getting 30 to 40 cars per week, with a lot of
new people showing up.”
The event only runs through July as the calendar
heats up in August.
“We decided to hold this one just through July
because it seems like the crowds die down once
the fair starts up,” Danny said. “Plus our bowling
leagues start up in August, and that keeps everyone
pretty busy around here.”
The event offers live music and draws a diverse
mixture of young and old compared to the 5 &
Diner cruise night.
“We get a wide variety of car owners from 20-year-olds
to 80-year-olds,” Betty said. “We thought we’d
bring a lot more people in with the fun bar
atmosphere, and it’s paid off.”
Gill T’s Cruise Night
Gill T’s Bar & Grill, 918 E. Euclid Ave.
Saturday - 5 – 10 p.m.
May through September
The newest cruise night is at one of the newest
bars in town, Gill T’s Bar & Grill, which
replaced Scooter & Babs earlier this year.
The idea came about after relatives of the new
owners, who are also members of the Concrete
Cruizers Car Club, approached the Cruizers’
founder, Gary Pullen.
“The majority of the cruise nights and bike
nights are during the week, but Porky’s used
to have one on Wednesday and Saturday night,”
Pullen said. “Nobody can match the nights at
Porky’s, but we think Saturday is a great night
for a cruise.”
As with most new things, it has taken time to
build up the numbers.
“It’s always tough when you start something
new because it’s basically word of mouth,” Pullen
said. “We only have around a dozen cars or so,
but the word is spreading and we expect more
people to start showing up.”
Along with food and drink specials, participants
who display their cars receive drink tickets.
The event is open to any car.
“It’s a great mix of different people, and it’s
open to anybody. It’s not a club thing,” Pullen
said. “We have a nice range of vehicles from
a 1923 Model T to a 2010 Mustang.”
Although it might be the newest and smallest
cruise night in the metro, Pullen offers plenty
of reasons to help it grow.
“They have a great patio and serve some excellent
food, so it’s a great night to bring your old
cars out and relax,” he said. “ It’s also a
great chance to enjoy the camaraderie of your
fellow car owners, while meeting some new people.”
The biggest show of all
Goodguys Heartland Nationals Car
Iowa State Fairgrounds
June 29 (8 a.m.-5 p.m.), June 30 (8 a.m.-8
p.m.), July 1 (8 a.m.-3 p.m.)
The Fourth of July is one of the most celebrated
and beloved holidays of the year. Every year,
Americans plan parties, barbeques and vacations
around the date. But the weekend around the
Fourth has also become an important celebration
in its own right for car lovers from all over,
as the Goodguys Heartland Nationals Car Show
comes to town, June 29-July 1.
Returning for its 21st year, Goodguys is the
premiere car show event, featuring more than
3,500 hot rods, custom cars, classics, muscle
cars and trucks. Taking over the entire Iowa
State Fairgrounds, the event has continually
grown over the years which doesn’t surprise
“Des Moines is in the center of the country
and the heart of the Midwest. And there are
a lot of custom car enthusiasts, so we love
coming there,” said Betsy Bennett, who handles
event advertising and public relations at the
Goodguys Rod and Custom Association. “Not only
is the fairgrounds a great facility, but it’s
become a tradition for people to spend time
at this event around the Fourth of July holiday.”
The Heartland Nationals is one of 20 events
produced by Goodguys Rod and Custom Association,
which originally started with only a few shows
in the California area. Although past years
had more events, Bennett says 20 is the perfect
“We started in the west coast and then began
to branch out, starting events in New York and
Des Moines,” she said. “It takes a lot of work
to create these events, so we put our racing
division on hiatus and just focused on 20.”
The event takes place June 29 through July 1.
Admission is $18 and kids 7-12 are $6 (kids
six and under are free). The show offers a wide
variety of classic and custom vehicles prior
to 1972. The show limits the years of the vehicles
to keep the big car era in tact.
“We cut the date off at 1972 because that was
the last year of the big V8. The gas crisis
hit in 1973 and cars became more economical,
so 1972 was the last year of the big car era,”
This year you can still attend even if your
car was born after 1972, thanks to a new event
“We added the Super Sunday get-together event,
which allows all years, makes and models of
American-powered cars and trucks to come out
on Sunday and get involved,” Bennett said. “We
patterned it after the get-together events we
had in California. It’s a lot of fun and allows
the guys with the later models to be a part
of the weekend.”
Along with the car show, attendees can enjoy
a wide variety of entertainment including manufacturers’
exhibits, the Goodguys Autocross course (a 1,000-foot
course featuring tight turns and rapid acceleration/deceleration
testing the vehicles’ performance capabilities),
the Super Sunday Get-together, the swap meet
and car corral and numerous awards including
the “Low Lid,” “Homebuilt Heaven” and the “Builder’s
“It’s a great festival atmosphere, and you don’t
have to be a gearhead to enjoy all of it,” Bennett
said. “Along with the car show, we have an arts
and craft show, a model car show for the kids,
live entertainment and plenty of food and drinks.
We try to offer a fair atmosphere, so even if
you don’t love cars it’s still a pretty amazing
site to see. Personally, I love riding the sky
ride over the grounds; it’s so cool and a great
way to see everything going on.”
The Heartland National event is one of the biggest
events in the country.
“We have about 6,000 vehicles at the Ohio event,
so it’s the biggest, but Des Moines is close
behind,” Bennett said. “It’s one of the most
popular shows on our schedule, and there are
cars from all over the country that attend.”
Although the majority of people attend the Heartland
Nationals to gawk at all of the beautiful classic
cars, Bennett says the event offers so much
“It’s affordable, family fun for all ages. Not
only is it a great place to get ideas for your
future projects, but you can also shop for parts
or even find the car of your dreams,” Bennett
said. “There are some places we go where we
don’t see the culture as alive as it should
be. But we don’t have that problem here. The
car culture is alive and well in Des Moines,
and we’re proud to have created an event that
has become a destination around the Fourth of
July for a lot of people.” CV
Upcoming metro car shows
June 16 Johnston Green Days Classic Car Show
June 16 Mid-Iowa Brit/Euro Car Classic — Johnston
June 16 Wayne Larson Roll — Ames
June 17 10th Annual Peace Classic Car Show
— Southside Des Moines
June 21-23 2012 North Central VTCI Regional
— Living History Farms
June 29-July 1 The Goodguys 21st Heartland
Nationals Car Show — Iowa Fairgrounds
July 4 Kris Mandt Memorial Car Show — Urbandale
July 4-7 2012 Oldsmobile Club of America Car
Show and Swap Meet — Iowa Event Center
July 13 Iowa Street Rod Association Collector
Car Appreciation Day — Ames
July 20-21 Mecum Auto Auction — Iowa State
July 21 Deery Brothers Chevrolet Car Show —
July 28 Pleasant Hill Summerfest Car Show —
5 & Diner
Aug. 10 Classic Chevy & Concrete Cruizers
Iowa State Fair Display — Iowa State Fairgrounds
Aug. 11 Rising Sun Car Show — Rising Sun Church
of Christ (Pleasant Hill)
Aug. 14 Eagles Annual Charity Car & Motorcycle
Show — Eagles #109 (6567 Bloomfield Road)
Aug. 25 Altoona Palooza Car & Bike Show
Aug. 26 Rollin’ Relics Cruise to the Carousel
— Heritage Carousel
Sept. 1 Iowa Street Rod Association Car Show
at the All American Weekend — Ames
Sept. 8 Heartland Driving Tour — The Salisbury
House and Gardens
Sept. 16 2nd Annual Bad Boyz Mustang Club —
Collectamania (3200 Delaware Ave.)