The Nitro Joint w / "Chicago Jon" Hoffman

A Celebration of Heavy Metal: Iron Invasion 2019

"It's your one-way ticket to midnight, Call it Heavy Metal...

Higher than high, feelin' just right...Call it Heavy Metal"

- HEAVY METAL, by Sammy Hagar, STANDING HAMPTON (1982)


After years -- and I do mean YEARS -- of scheduling conflicts, I was finally able this year to make it to the legendary IRON INVASION, first held in 2012. And let me tell you, it was a long and arduous commute, what with it being one-point-three miles from my house! However, it might have been more prudent to WALK, as the traffic gridlock was, in the words of TV Chef Guy Fieri 'Off The HOOK!' The weathermen had provided a forecast that was dire, to say the least. (90% chance of rain by 3 p.m. and he was a half-hour slow on that.) And yet, the traffic was backed up on the highway with "robust aplomb". And so, where to start with this 'everything, all at once' kind of shindig? Well, let’s start with the 'heart' of the matter.


The event serves as a fundraiser for the Helping Hannah's Heart Foundation, of Bettendorf, Iowa. This fine organization was formed to help families who are dealing with the financial burden that comes from having a child with Critical Aortic Stenosis or related Congenital Heart Defects. Founders John and Kim Wells know these scenarios all too well, having lived it out with their daughter, Hannah. For more information, please check out their website www.helpinghannahsheart.com for help with donating or for info on their next fundraising event. And that will be in May 2020, the “fifty pounds of fun in a ten-pound bag” event known as VINTAGE TORQUE FEST. That awesome arrangement is held yearly at the Dubuque County Fairgrounds in Dubuque, Iowa.

The understatement of the year would be that there were many, MANY hot rods in attendance, but something that caught my eye early on brought to mind a notion that has been "matriculating" through my skull for some time now, that being: Exactly how and when did this trend begin of hot rods purposely looking like they have just been pulled out of a field? Not a field of DREAMS, but a field of NEGLECT! When in actually, the truth of the matter is the whole shebang has gone through many the hour to ACHIEVE this particular look. No less than Top Fuel driver Richie Crampton owns one, a scruffy looking Nomad constructed to be a part of Hot Rod magazine’s POWER TOUR. Sure, it looks like it was pulled out of a dilapidated barn in Temecula, California, but as an exhibition class car, the Chevy ran 6.98 at 207 mph, so it is HIGHLY unlikely that the funky looks are anything more than a charade. Noted Drag Racing historian and DRO teammate of mine, Bret Kepner is quick to say that “Google is your friend,” so I got to doing my homework.


I have found that the earliest of this genre, known as Rat Rods were the brainchild of Jim Jacobs, of Pete and Jake's Hot Rods (fabricators of the iconic '34 Ford three-window coupe used in the ABC movie CALIFORNIA KID, which starred Martin Sheen and Vic Morrow). Weary of five to six thousand dollar “trailer queens” that had zero functionality dominating car shows, he set out to build hot rods that had less to do with, as the phrase goes, "cubic money" and had more to do with the artworks of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. And as such, a trend was born.


I do enjoy these particular pieces of iron, but I suppose my "pendulum of loyalty" would swing to the flash and pizzazz of glistening machinery. I was probably seven or eight years old the first time I heard those magical three words used in consort, they being "candy-apple-red"!  And trust me, there was a fair balance of both theories on hand this particular weekend.

And what is a retro car show experience without a celebration of pin-up girls, am I right? The yearly competition, known as the "Maidens of Iron" had a wealth of contestants, in beautiful '50s attire. All had a three-minute talent show window to display various skills, which this year ranged from sign-making to pumpkin-carving. Some crafted drinks, one gal did a routine that would have made the late Andy Kaufman proud (her talent was playing the cymbals, and she was a SCREAM!) With colorful nicknames like "Miss Demeanor", "Lady Danger" and "Honey Hellcat" all the young ladies who competed definitely gave the folks an enjoyable show, but MY pick also ended up being the JUDGES’ pick. (In a Carl Spackler voice: "So I got THAT going for me.")


Presenting, for your dining and dancing pleasure, your 2019 Maiden of Iron Champion, hailing from the great state of Minnesota: First Sergeant Millie Rose Mitchell! An MP who is also a twenty-year combat veteran, Millie Rose performed a routine that was a wonderful balance between skills and comedy. Singing (flawlessly to boot) Aretha Franklin’s NATURAL WOMAN, while paying tribute to the 'Desperate Housewives of the Fifties", she danced about the stage, vamping with a variety of retro props.


BUT WAIT, there's MORE! Each one concealed larger and larger wine glasses, the last of which almost towered over her. Truly funny! And when I say singing skills, I do mean SKILLS. A show of hands, please, how many of you out there have sung to the Vice President of the United States of AMERICA? First Sergeant Mitchell pulled this one off at the 2003 US Army Birthday Bash. (Later at the same event she'd share the stage with Wynonna Judd, maybe you've heard of her?)


And so, the 2019 Iron Invasion was literally TONS of heavy metal fun. (See what I did there?) Now that I've had a taste of the action, I can see myself taking a shot at the Vintage Torque Fest event next spring; we'll wait and see.  Remember, check out the website listed above to help little children with big problems as every dollar helps.


‘Til next time, I AM Chicago Jon, time to say...C-YAAAAAA!!  



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