History of the club
The Street Wheelers Car Club, or at least Street Machine Weekend, has become a household name in and around Lethbridge and Southern Alberta. Since 1977, a small group of car people have been trying to build, promote, improve and continue car culture in and around Southern Alberta. But how have the Street Wheelers done this? Where did the club come from? What have they done during their existence to make the Street Wheelers a recognizable name? Let us take a look at the history of the club and its humble origins.
The Street Wheelers started as a simple car club focused around fun, beer and of course cars. It’s been thirty eight years since a group of car guys decided to start this now infamous club. 1976 birthed the "In Tin" a group of guys who were essentially a simple group of “car guys.” The name literally represents cruising around "In Tin" as cars of that era were pretty basic and unlike today, still made of metal. Some of the founding members included, but aren't limited to: Ross Spencer, Bill Landry, Darren Mills, George Kirkham, Shane Howard, and Fred Toldorf and of course Lauren VanderWoude.
By 1977 The In Tin had a car display setup at Center Village Mall. A half page ad in The Lethbridge Herald read "Come see the In Tin Street Wheelers who have 10 Street Wheelers on display." This meager beginning seems almost laughable looking back from the shows they put on now. This was the humble beginnings of the club we have today, 10 cars on display at a small mall on the north side of Lethbridge.
1978 The very first Street Machine Weekend! I can only imagine. I wasn't even alive when this event took place. From all accounts it was pretty successful, and a lot of fun. The original weekend had a cruise night on Friday with a show and shine on Sunday, just like today. Lethbridge was famous for “Alberta’s best cruise strip” people would cruise from A&W to A&W on 3 avenue and Mayor Magrath drive. However, Saturday had an automotive themed “carnival”. Competitors would participate in all kinds of different games ranging from creeper races to hub cap toss and spark plug changing contests; some years even had watermelon eating contests! Bragging rights were earned and pride was tarnished, but fun was had by all who attended.
In 1980 the Street Wheelers Car Club began to host the World of Wheels car show. The annual event attracted some of the biggest show and race cars from across the country and the USA. This was the pinnacle of the car show circuit in the 1980s. World of Wheels is still held today all across the USA and Canada, although it hasn't been held in Lethbridge since 1986.The club back then was filled with hard working and passionate people who truly loved cars and the car community, much like it still is today. During this time the Street Wheelers put on a World of Wheels event unlike any other on the tour, helping to raise the prestige of the WOW show and the Street Wheelers Car Club.
Street Machine Weekend continued to evolve over the years. In 1982, the fourth annual Street Machine weekend and the year I was born, they added a "precision driving event."This was a type of autocross held by the club; I can imagine what all those old muscle cars looked like trying to maneuver through some cones back then. This was the first year the weekend bested 100 entries with a 105. They were still doing the carnival games and still having a great time doing it!
At some point in 1985 or 1986 the 100 footer was officially born and in 1987 it was the thing to do on Saturday afternoon. By this time the club had started to evolve, averaging in the mid thirty member range, many new members had joined and some of the original members had moved on. The club had become something now in its 11th year it was no longer just a group of cars guys. It had become a legitimate club (Are we even a legitimate club now? I have to ask that question sometimes.)
Throughout the early years, and continuing today, the club and its individual members have supported many different local charities. In the early years many the club donated proceeds to the big brothers and big sisters and helped with organize a rally to raise money. They also ran an "operation red nose" type service on New Years Eve to help get people home safe, which is an impressive accomplishment in the 1980s. The charity work has been present in the clubs actions since they were founded. Even today we support numerous charities in southern Alberta. All part of where the club originally started from.
The 100 footer was run behind the Lethbridge College for several years and was nothing like the spectacle it is today. The fastest of the fast were running in the mid to high two second range! Compare that with todays fastest in the high 1 second range and this really shows how much we've grown. Safety concerns have grown with the speed and the club moved the event to help with crowd control, and improve safety and the event.
As the hobby evolved so did the club. Changing venues and changing the events, creating and eliminating the judged classes for the show and shine. Throughout the years awards for best van, best Volkswagen, best female owned are just a few of the classes that have fallen to the sands of time. Countless new classes have been created as the show has grown. With the ever changing climate of car culture and popular trends ever changing keeping up with classes can be a challenge. The Street Wheelers have constantly strived to provide the best possible shows and the best possible atmosphere for those who continue to come for both spectators and participants.
Enter the new millennia! The weekend was now seeing ever increasing record numbers, year after year the events got bigger. Car counts grew to sizes never before imagined. The 100 footer was now hosted at the exhibition grandstand and the cars continually got faster and faster. The club paved a concrete patch to help provide a smooth surface to launch the cars from. They have also added new timing equipment, concrete blocks and additional fencing and adopting some basic NHRA safety standards to help improve safety of the event.
The show and shine now consumed Galt Gardens filling it from corner to corner and even spilling out onto Fifth Street, instead of just a small area in the south east corner. The car counts improve every year, getting larger and more diverse. Import cars from Japan and Europe have started making a mark on the scene as the “next generation of car guys” takes over with the cars of their generation. Muscle cars, pickup trucks, hot rods and anything you can think of fills the park. Spectators flood through taking pictures of all the shiny iron that populates the area. It’s really pretty cool to see that many cool cars parked in the same place, with their proud owners showing off their pride and joy.
A few major changes came about as the weekend grew to bigger and bigger sizes. The controlled cruise was introduced to help reduce accidents, control the number of vehicles on the street and keep the city and the police happy. This was originally seen with mixed reviews, but is now a pinnacle event. Last year we had over 800 cars register for the cruise with several turned away due to road capacity (I can't make that stuff up!) This event really shows how much support this community has for cars and the culture that comes with it. Thousands of spectators line Third Avenue on Friday night.
2004 was when the club added the very first modern autocross event. This small event hosted on the Friday evening of Street Machine Weekend tucked away in the south lot of the exhibition seen a huge variety of cars run this time attack style event that’s become a staple for so many.
The following year the event was hosted on its now more familiar Sunday morning. The variety of cars and the challenge it brings makes it both a crowd and driver favorite. This event also keeps growing year to year with car numbers now in the 70+ range.
In 2010 the club rolled out the Ultimate Street Car Challenge, a combined event that requires cars to compete in all aspects of the weekend. Then a tally of times and car show judging leave us with 1 ultimate street car. This is just another example of the ever changing and evolving nature of the club and the hobby.
The Street Wheelers don’t just host Street Machine weekend. The club does much more throughout the year. The club hosts numerous other events that range in size and scope. The Street Wheelers have small cruises throughout Southern Alberta, attend various car shows, and races as well.
Not all Street Wheelers supported events relate to cars directly. The club has many charity events including fundraising, blood drives and various other methods of community support. This May the club did a coulee clean up, continued our partnership with Canadian Blood services, and donated thousands of dollars to local charities.
In 2004 the Street Wheelers took over an event hosted at the Medicine Hat Drag Strip named Power 2 the Pavement. This is a drag race for street legal cars. It once again pushes drivers and their cars to the limit. It’s a favorite among racers and attracts drivers from all over Alberta. Some big rivalries face off here, friends line up and some exciting all out racing happens. The event kicks off the season for many of the club members and has changed the opinions of how hard drag racing really is, showing that driving in a straight line isn’t as easy as it sounds.
The club decided to host a Charity Car show in January with proceeds benefitting local charities in 2013. Starting small, we filled a section of the exhibition with hotrods. The show was a success and raised a fair amount of money. We repeated the “Snow and Shine” event this year. We more then doubled the car count, and raised a lot more money for charities and thousands of pounds of food for the food bank.
Over the years the Street Wheelers Car Club has helped other local clubs with their events. In the early 2000s Southern Alberta Drag Racing Association had a few races hoisted at the fort Macleod airport. The Wheelers helped them run the event. The Lethbridge Sports Car Club was given assistance with the autocross events they hold throughout the summer by giving the use of equipment until they could become the club they’ve become today. Promoting and improving the car hobby, responsible usage of cars and awareness of the hobby have always been at the forefront of the club.
The members of the Street Wheelers have changed many times over the years. The changing members bring with them different ideas, different cars and different interests within the car community. The cars of the founding members are much different then the ones those same people own today. Today some of the newest members have the oldest and newest cars. Import, domestic, muscle cars and trucks are all owned by Street Wheelers members today. The Street Wheeler members also have various interests from car shows and drag racing ranging to autocross and cruising!
The Street Wheelers of today are not much different then the original club from 1976 however. Even though the number and scale events have grown the number of club members never really has. The values and ideals of cars and fun are still evident in the events we host and the members themselves. We strive to promote the car hobby and support the car community. The club has raised tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity over the years, it has supported the local community, brought families together and provides a place for people to meet friends, have fun and of course share a passion for cars. Today’s club still has a couple original members. It has brought people together; friendships formed and helped to strengthen families.
The Street Wheelers still promote the car hobby and encourage the lifestyle today just as they did 38 years ago. The shear scale of what this club does every year, Street Machine Weekend, charity work, cruises throughout the year, car shows, power 2 the pavement and charity work. Everything we do as a club is because of a group of car guys brought together because of their shared love of the automobile. The original spirit of that group lives on through today’s members. I am proud to be a part of the Street Wheelers and everything that brings with it.