June 02, 2009
This past weekend I had the privilege of spending some time at the 10th annual, Gasoline Alley Birthday Bash, in Las Vegas Nevada. This event raises money for the Lilly Claire Foundation, that helps children with neurological disorders like autism, Downs syndrome, etc. Mike Kinney is the guy that puts this all together, and the resulting car show is one of the most diverse you’ll ever see. There were all kinds of Hot Rods and Muscle cars. But there was also some killer custom VW’s and Dune Buggies……Lifted 4x4’s,……original restored cars……full on customs……race cars……you name it, it was probably there! The highlight of the event for me though, was being able to spend some time with actors Bo Hopkins and Paul LeMatt from the movie “American Graffiti” Bo owns a chopped, lead-sled 50’ Merc’ that is just like the one he drove in the movie, and he had this car at the show and we were shooting some footage of us cruising it around. As we were goofing around on the shoot, and I am sitting and cracking jokes in this slammed Merc’ with Bo…… a guy that has been in more movies than he can even remember. I was once again struck with how HUGE of an impact that American Graffiti had…..and continues to have on our culture. Matter-of-fact, the movie and the popularity of the characters and cars continues to grow every year, and it’s great to see the people that played the parts in the movie, taking part of this cultural groundswell. Because after all….Paul LeMatt will always be John Milner…..Bo Hopkins will always be Joe the Pharoh….. Candy Clark will be Debbie….. and Harrison Ford will always be the sneering Texan in the nasty 55’ Chev that gets his butt kicked by Milner. But beyond all that, The thing that really is the secret of the success of American Graffiti is the story and it’s accuracy. The story was real, and it was something we all can relate to, no matter what era you grew up in. I did most of my early hot rodding in the 80’s and yet I KNEW every one of those characters. Heck, from time to time I WAS one of those characters! The music was different, the cars were different, the language was different, but the story was the SAME.Because of it’s accuracy, Graffiti also serves as a history lesson about the roots of Hot Rodding, Drag Racing, Rock and Roll, and a lot of other things that influenced our culture Rumor has it that George Lucas pulled from his own memories growing in California when he wrote and put this story together, and hopefully one day I will be able to sit down with George and do a story on him for GEARZ. Most people don’t realize it, but George Lucas is a huge car guy and it is evident in his movies. For example, in Star Wars, what was the Millennium Falcon? You guessed it!.....the “fastest car in the valley”! …..a futuristic, ’32 five window that was always falling apart. If that’s not a Hot Rod, I don’t know what is! Anyway, we’d love to hear your stories about American Graffiti and how it influenced or affected you. I also invite you to share some stories with us about your hot rodding history, or the era YOU grew up in, because it’s all good stuff! Also, if you get a chance to go to a show where Bo or Paul or Candy, or any of the other American Graffiti alumni are appearing,…..make sure you do it. It’s a great way to get a first-hand connection to a truly legendary piece of film-making.