The Du Quoin Street Machine Nationals Bring The Party Back To Southern Illinois
Some might think the little town of Du Quoin to be an odd place to hold a car show. Other than the fairgrounds, there isn’t a whole lot in the sleepy little Southern Illinois borough. However, for those of us who grew up in the '80s and ‘90s, it holds a special place in our car show memories. Launching many car builder’s careers, the Du Quoin Street Machine Nationals (SMN) was the place to debut a new build to be recognized by a major magazine. It is also the birthplace of Pro Street– the original cars with exaggerated engines and wild paint schemes, and steam roller tires.
The Street Machine Nationals presented by Continental Tires have returned to Du Quoin, and people’s enthusiasm for the car show (and specifically Pro Street) has not waned. It’s good to see the focus back where it should be — on the cars — in a family-friendly environment. It is a place to reminisce about the good ole days while seeing what the future holds, especially for the Pro Street category. Du Quoin will always be synonymous with Pro Street, so it only makes sense to celebrate it there.
Cruising The Grounds
The Street Machine Nationals at Du Quoin is all about cruising the grounds and checking out all the other rides. The temps were unseasonably low this year, but it did get hot out in the blazing sun on Friday and Saturday. So, you want to have some “motorvation” instead of hoofing it everywhere. It’s good to have a vehicle in the show (it is open to all cars, you just have to register) because the fairgrounds are enormous, and people can park wherever they want.
There is a designated cruise route around the fairgrounds and most try to park somewhere along it. This makes it like a rolling car show — you don’t have to leave your seat if you don’t want to. Chances are that the majority of cars will pass by you at least once. Of course, you will want to get a closer look at some of them at some point.
Dare To Be Different
There is always something entertaining to look at parked amongst the throng of cars on the grounds. This year was no different as some very ingenious designs appeared around the show. We love to see the artistic visions of creative geniuses amongst car enthusiasts.
Despite Car Craft’s infamous late-’90s headline declaring “Pro Street is Dead,” enthusiasts are proving the contrary. Pro Street lives on and is thriving. With a passionate group of enthusiasts who banded together to promote their category through outlets such as the Pro Street Association, Blown Mafia, and the Pro Street Era Facebook page (to name a few), Pro Street is indeed growing. The dedication of this core group of Pro Streeters is preserving the history while introducing a whole new generation to their craft — and it is paying off. Despite the absence of some heavy-hitter legends such as Matt and Debbie Hay, Rod Saboury, Scott Sullivan, Rocky Robertson, Rick Dobbertin, and Troy Trepanier, there were as many Pro Street vehicles (if not more) than ever before.
Du Quoin has become the homecoming for this unique group of Pro Streeters from all walks of life. On Wednesday night, most of them go to a pre-party cruise-in at Syberg’s in O’Fallon near St. Louis before heading to Du Quoin to stay at the Fairgrounds Inn adjacent to the grounds. On Thursday night, they all leave the Inn together and head to St. Nicholas Brewery for dinner. On Friday night, they fill the Pizza Hut restaurant and parking lot. They are super welcoming, support everything Pro Street, and welcome newcomers with open arms. If you have a fat-tire vehicle, you can count on befriending anyone in the group. They honor their history and legends and strive to help each other out instead of tearing others down.
Kevin Oeste, the emcee of SMN, said it best about the Pro Street group: “I do a ton of car shows, and I’ve never seen owners of vehicles who are so passionate and supportive of their genre. And rarely do you ever see the husband and wife’s names both listed on the registration card; with Pro Street, you almost always see both. It’s a team effort and a testament to how passionate they are about their pride and joy.”
Whether appearing for the first time at Du Quoin, reappearing since the return, updated since the last showing, or debuting for the first time ever, several “new” Pro Streetbuilds were seen this year.
The burnout competition highlights the event on Sunday as competitors vie for a new set of Continental Tires by burning off the ones they have. The car is backed onto a steel plate in front of the grandstands, and then the wheels are chocked before the 30-second timer is set. After that, it is game on, as competitors try to figure out the best way to create smoke. Some just floor it and bounce the engine off the rev-limiter, while others go for lower RPM and varying wheel speeds. There is no exact science, but it all makes for great entertainment for the fans.
This year, the number of participants was down, but the quality of cars was up. Typically, people don’t want to risk their show car for a set of tires, but a few did this year. Fat-tire vehicles don’t usually do well in this style of burnout competition, as the massive tires begin to hook on the steel plate, pushing the car off the wheel chocks, but two tried. One succeeded.
Carnage often means victory in this event. Usually, a blown tire is all that occurs. Unfortunately, for one competitor this year, it was a transmission tailshaft that let loose just as he started making smoke. The winner was a nice-looking ‘77 Firebird owned by Brent Kibodeaux of Royalton, Illinois, who surprised the crowd with yellow tire smoke!
The Du Quoin Street Machine Nationals has a very storied history. Between 1986 and the mid-1990s, the Street Machine Nationals was not just a show, it was the show. Du Quoin went from a sleepy little burg on Illinois Route 51 to a swarming mass of show-goers and wild, radical, high-end machines every summer. We're talking a town that has a normal population of about 5,000 or so people swelling up to well over 50,000 people and 3,500 cars during a weekend. We're talking about builders like Rick Dobbertin, Troy Trepanier, Rod Saboury, and Bret Voelkel, among many others who cranked out the wild machines, all sporting big power, wild paint, trick modifications and, of course, monster tires in the back. But the Nationals found themselves uninvited to return to Du Quoin in 1999 and did not return until 2013, thanks mostly to a very persistent effort of fans of the show.
While the return of the Nats in 2013 was welcomed and has proven to still be popular since, it has occasionally been criticized for not returning 100% back to its wild late 1980s roots. In the age of the internet and the smart phone, it's probably for the best that those rowdy days are left in memory. But, if you haven’t been before, make sure to put it on your list for 2022. It’s sure to keep growing! Until then, enjoy the gallery of photos below, and we'll see everyone next year!
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