Wind, Heat Keep Numbers Down But It was Still Motor Madness

Star City Motor Madness took place in downtown Roanoke.

by Gene Marrano

Scorching hot temperatures and a freak windstorm that knocked out power to thousands of homes locally may have kept some of the numbers down, but plenty of vintage car owners and aficionados turned out anyway for the 11th annual Star City Motor Madness last weekend. Many were watching on Williamson Road last Friday night as classic cars cruised, much as was the norm fifty years ago. But the high velocity “Derecho” windstorm that swept into the Roanoke Valley around 9:00 p.m. put a damper on that activity.

The next day dozens of vintage automobiles were displayed on Jefferson St. and Franklin Road, where the pavement reflected temperatures that reached around 100. Still many came out for the Madness, which began as a fundraiser for the Virginia Museum of Transportation’s automotive gallery and continues to support the VMT today through car owner entry fees and corporate sponsorships. Now the annual event also supports other local charities chosen by the Star City Motor Madness board.

Roger MacMurray from Newport News was showing off his vintage wheels (a 1941 Chevy Master Deluxe) for a third time. He was staying with relatives in Fincastle – who had no power Friday night after the windstorm.  “A lot of people have owned them before and just like to look at them,” said MacMurray, whose car actually runs on a Camaro engine and transmission.

As for the windstorm that affected the Williamson Road cruise, MacMurray said, “Alot of people got stuck in it,” although he had already headed towards Fincastle. “There was stuff blowing all over the streets, [like] traffic markers.”  MacMurray said making the trip over from Newport News to support the Transportation Museum was worth it: “we like going places for a good cause.” He’s been to the museum and called it “really nice.”

Motor Madness board member Robert Bennett said it was the “biggest turnout of all time on cruise night,” which then yielded to “the biggest storm. There was a lot of scrambling out there but it turned out pretty well [damage-wise].”  A fair number of car exhibitors return every year while new ones also sign up; Bennett said the event continues to grow. “Some great cars,” he observed.

VMT Communications Officer Peg McGuire said the funds raised by Motor City Madness “helps us create exciting exhibits in that [auto] gallery.” The money has helped change out the exhibit every six months (Advance Auto is the principal sponsor for the gallery); it has also meant better heating and cooling and new windows coming soon. “Without [Star City Motor Madness] we wouldn’t have that space. Our partnership works very well.”

Next up for the Virginia Museum of Transportation is a new aviation gallery, on track to open November 17. Don Moser, the curator and deputy director for the VMT, said exhibit materials would continue to come in right up to the opening day.  “We have assistance from NASA-Langley and a plethora of other people that have all chipped in,” said Moser about where the materials are coming from, “it’s going to be a pretty big thing.”

VMT Executive Director Bev Fitzpatrick remembered when part of the roof came off at the museum during a previous storm in 2006. “We did okay [this time].”  As for Star City Motor Madness, Fitzpatrick said the annual event “brings people to Roanoke. It’s [also] fascinating to see how much people love old cars. They’ll come from all over. This is a destination attraction – its unfortunate that we’ve gotten so much heat.”

Added Fitzpatrick about the impact Star City Motor Madness has had on the museum, “this is a big deal and it continues to get bigger … We couldn’t have done what we’ve done down there without them.”