CROWN POINT — It wasn’t the Indy 500, but gentlemen were still starting their engines.
The Regional Streeters Car Club of Indiana hosted the 112th running of the Cobe Cup Cruise on Saturday. Starting from the Lake County Fairgrounds, drivers cruised through Crown Point, Cedar Lake and Lowell before returning to the fairgrounds for awards.
Regional Streeter Ray Miranda was anticipating 160 entries.
“They want to be a part of history,” Miranda said. “There’s no cruise like this. People can go to car shows and sit, but here you can drive on the roads they used 100 years ago.”
The race-turned-cruise dates back to 1909, when Louis Chevrolet stood on the east steps of the Crown Point Courthouse after winning the Cobe Trophy Race, a 25-mile automotive road race that was a predecessor to the Indianapolis 500.
The Cobe Cup Race only lasted for two years as a competitive race but continues today as a Memorial Day weekend tradition through the Regional Streeters, a car enthusiast club that promotes street-rodding and good citizenship. It featured historic cars, including Marktown resident Paul Meyers’ 1929 Model A Ford sedan.
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Driving the lead vehicle, Meyers said he’s owned his classic car for three years, or 14,000 miles.
“This is a great chance to meet new people,” Meyers said of the cruise.
As for his vehicle, “The car turns heads,” he said. “I’ll be driving, and people will pass me and take pictures. People just like these cars — unless you’re behind this car.”
Named after car enthusiast and Chicago Automobile Club President Ira M. Cobe, the race has been described as “the first major auto race in the United States,” though it was modeled after New York’s Vanderbilt Cup Race. It ran at the Crown Point Road Race Circuit in Northwest Indiana in 1909 and then was moved to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the next year.
The auto club intended to return the race to the Chicago area in 1911, but that never happened after the race lost $25,000 the first year and was displaced by the Indianapolis 500 the next year.
Anthony Traicoff, of Lowell, brought his grandson and his 1951 Buick Roadmaster. “This car is absolutely original, with nothing done to it,” he said. “All original parts.”
Traicoff and others cited the camaraderie among drivers and passersby. “The people are fantastic,” he said, “If you have a breakdown along the route, others will pull over to help.”
Traicoff also owns 1938 and 1958 Chevys.
“Every time I get in the car, it brings back memories when I was a child,” he said.
One thing car enthusiasts share is a love for talking about their vehicles. Visitors have only to ask and they’ll hear a story.
Carl Rudzinski, of St. John, drove his 1939 Chevy, which he describes as “a little classy and pretty reliable.”
He added that the classic Chevy is all factory-made. “There’s no computer chips, and I’m able to work on it, and I’m no mechanic,” Rudzinski said.
Rudzinski cited several unique features with the car. One is side doors locking on only one side. This is due to parallel parking, with entry only available on the sidewalk side.
Another feature is a variety of car horns. Country horns sound louder, while city horns are not as loud. Still another feature is radiator overflow. In case the radiator overheats, the fluid travels to another container in the engine.
Another driver with stories is Dan Dieck, of Hebron, who honored family ancestry with his 1931 Ford Model A Roadster pickup. On one side of the wooden truck is the company logo for his grandfather’s Sinclair station, John’s Garage and Service Station in South Holland, Ill. Lettering includes the Sinclair dinosaur logo and his grandfather’s shop phone number, ED1-9518.
On the other side of the truck is the logo for the florist shop run by his wife’s grandfather, G.C. Milhahn Florist of Dolton, Ill. Opened in 1929, the shop was in business for 86 years, and its phone number, Dolton-938, is also posted.
“I run into people all the time at these car shows,” Dieck said. “Plus, I love to talk cars.”
Mike Ceiga’s 1961 Studebaker Hawk had its share of admirers. The Cedar Lake resident said his car has a 4-speed manual transmission and bucket seats, which is very rare. “They made less than 200 of these, and these features were only available in the ’61 models,” he explained. “I get a lot of thumbs-up with this car, and it’s a lot of fun to drive.”
The cruise, Ceiga said, “is the element I like to be in.”
Lest anyone think the cruise is men only, women also participate. Heather Panczuk, of Lowell, rode with husband, Paul, in their 1977 Pontiac Trans Am, similar to the vehicle in “Smokey and the Bandit.”
“We drive this car everywhere,” Panczuk said. “We go to a lot of car shows and enjoy talking to people. You see people you’ll only see at these shows.”
The cruise is unique, she noted. “You’re doing something,” she said, “and you get to cruise the course.”
Melissa Schlueter, of Lake Village, rode with husband, Heath, in “Betty,” their 1938 Chevy. “We enjoy seeing all the cars and people,” she said.
While Bill Zeller, of Hammond, has a 1974 Datsun 260Z that “gets a lot of compliments,” he asks other drivers about lead additives, as his car takes leaded fuel.
Mark Stancy, of Hammond, thinks yesterday’s cars have a style and classiness that today’s vehicles lack. “It’s interesting to see what manufacturers used to do to sell cars,” he said.
Brian Ensign, of Valparaiso, was relaxing beside his 40th anniversary 1993 Corvette, with its unique ruby red color and interior.
“I love that this is just a cruise. I have a wall full of trophies; I don’t need any more,” he said. “This is about seeing people, talking to people.”