Tri Five Nationals at Bowling Green, Kentucky

Gotta Love Mid-Century Modern!

Words and photos by Pat Donahue

It is well documented that Americans love their classic hot rods. On August 8-10 it was once again time for car lovers to turn their attention on some very specific hot rods and Bowling Green, KY, for the 2019 Danchuk Tri-Five Nationals.


It was the fifth year for the annual event and this year’s would be bigger than ever. It consisted of three days to focus on three of America’s favorite automobiles, the '55, '56 and '57 Chevy's. The streets of Bowling Green were filled with the popular show cars, race cars and project cars of various stages that left no doubt that this was the place to be for Tri-Five fans.


The massive car show, drag race, swap meet and enthusiast gathering started off with a welcome party that was free to the public with plenty of fans, music and cars inside and out of the convention center ballroom and spilled onto the smoke-filled streets of Bowling Green. Day 2 would move to the historic Beech Bend Raceway with its acres of shaded fields and covered grandstands along the drag strip for a perfect venue to take a trip back to the mid 1950s. Tri-Fives as far as the eye could see rolled onto the property with over 2,700 cars registered for this year’s event. Every level show car in every model and every color seemed to be here. And if you ever wished for more than the occasional one or two or half a dozen max, ‘55 Chevys at your local drag strip, they were lined up in the staging lanes one after another. From grocery getters to wheel standing gassers, to 200 MPH Pro Mods.

This event was created with the idea of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1955 Chevy and it grew into something requiring a venue able to hold a large group of people and room to grow as well. The Tri-Five Nationals has grown from 1800 participants to over 2700 and over 300 racers on the track, tripling the first year’s number. The Nationals have adopted some great traditions like a Friday night dance, establishing a Tri-Five of the Year and giving away a free custom-built hot rod to one of the participants. The Tri-Fivers came from all 50 states and seven other countries.


The success of the annual event has led to a California version to be held May 1-2, 2020. The Western Invasion Presented by Danchuck will be take place at Auto Club Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, CA.  August 13-15 will be the return date for Bowling Green next year. Both events will have something new in 2020 that arose from the loss of one of this year’s participants due to a part failure: The Jerry ''Waco" Andres Safety Lane will be a service created by the crew from Woodys Hot Rods and offered to help car owners get a better look at their vehicles. There were nearly 5 million of these cars produced in their day and the enthusiasm showed at this year’s event indicated they just might be as popular as ever.


The Sutton family from O’Fallon, MO, were one of the many enthusiasts that have taken part in the Tri-Five all five years. Their family has had a long history of building, racing and selling Tri-Five cars and swapping parts and making it a family effort.

At this year’s event Bill Sutton was racing his ‘57 that he and his brother Dennis built 30 years ago. Dennis passed away shortly after last year’s event, but the rest of the family continues in his honor.

The Sutton Brothers and Sons brought three cars to this year’s event. Shown are (from left) Jesse, his sons Hunter and Johnny who have been coming to the Tri-Five since before they were born, and his brother Thomas, who were Dennis's sons. Then their uncles Bill and Chris, who was the last to get the racing bug, stepping into a fast '56 for his first time at this year’s event. The Sutton family are already planning a rebuild of one of Dennis's cars for the trip from Missouri to California for the first West Coast Tri-Five next May.

Bob Mandell Jr led the way in the red ‘55 while Bob Mandell III piloted his new blown ‘55. It was the first chance for Bob III to show off his newly finished hot rod and did so by flexing some muscle with a 6.15 at 214 mph and his Creamsicle ‘55 was selected as one of the top 25 show cars out of the thousands in attendance. Bob wasn't hesitant to thank and share the credit with his dad, brother Jeff and crew chief Carl Gouldin. The Mandell team builds race cars at Bobs Profab Racecars in Culleoka, TN, and were a big hit racing against each other at 200 MPH.

“Iron Man” Bubba Mize and Mike Belina put on quite a side-by-side air show during the exhibition runs at this year’s Tri-Five's.

Boyd Howe in his Red Baron who didn't let a few bumps and bruises keep him from coming back for more.

Nick Mueller not only put on a great show on the track but was a top 25 show car in this year’s event.

Nick Freund came from Fond Du Lac, WI, to show off with his "Nicks Speed Shop" 55.

This year’s Tri-Fives featured a gathering of Junior Stock throwbacks that got their own center of attention in the circle track show area as well as on the drag strip. Some were clones of champions and record holders of the past and others were the real deal still showing the could get it done, but all were a great look back great era on the drag strip.

Ron Doran and his wife, Kathy, claimed the big check in this year’s Speedway Gasser Challenge with a win over Kevin Doolittle in the final.

The highlight of event that the fans have come to patiently wait for is the Golden Star Giveaway Car that every participant has a chance to win. This year’s happy couple claiming the prize from Chris Sondles of Woody’s Hot Rodz was Rusty and Cindy Kanoski of Monee, IL. This year’s Woody’s Hot Rod was '56 convertible. Work has already started on next year’s '57.

Throughout the annual event the cars are the center of attention and the task of selecting the ones that stand out the most is A huge one. It starts with the ballroom picks to top 25 and then a top 5 (shown) along with some special awards.

The 2019 Tri-Five of the Year was given to the '56 built by Justin and Eli Griffin of Twin States Rod Shop in Meridian, MS.

Frankie Morris was going rounds at this year’s Tri-Fives. He got it done on Saturday taking the win in the Top Eliminator class after settling for the runner-up spot against his brother, Mike, in the appreciation race of Friday, a special race held for racers who had been to all 5 Tri-Five Nationals.




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