By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Modesto heritage lives on with American Graffiti festival

For many years Central Valley residents have loved their old cars and one of the biggest celebrations of that affection takes place in June in Modesto.

It's the Modesto American Graffiti Car Show and Festival which begins June 12 with a parade in downtown Modesto and then runs June 13-14 at a new venue, the Modesto Municipal Golf Course on Tuolumne Road.

The event is conducted by the North Modesto Kiwanis Club, whose 100 members all are involved in running the events. All proceeds go to support 60 charities.

This will be the 17th such celebration and General Chairman John Sanders is expecting 1,300 vintage vehicles manufactured up to 1979. He has been the chairman off and on for all those years and remembers the early days of hot rodding immortalized in George Lucas' film "American Graffiti" which portrays life in Modesto.

What's the charm of the American Graffiti Festival?

Sanders said it's a chance for people to relive their youth. Visitors' thoughts typically revolve around their parents having cars like that or they wanted one themselves when they were growing up decades ago.

Organizers have never counted the number of American Graffiti Festival spectators but Sanders concedes it's probably around 15,000 to 20,000 people whose lives revolve around old cars and trucks. A majority of the participants live within a 100-mile radius of Modesto but some come from five states as far away as Texas.

Cecil Russell is the chief executive officer of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce as well as a car enthusiast. He will be bringing his 1966 Ford Mustang hardtop to the Graffiti events.

"What is there not to like about it?" Russell wonders. He said the Graffiti celebration is part of Modesto's heritage. The veneration of vehicles goes back to the 1950s, Russell believes. He has been participating in Graffiti events since they began 17 years ago.

Don Wood of Modesto will be bringing his 1937 Ford street rod, a four-door flatback sedan. He said the whole town turns out for Graffiti events. He's the president of the 200-member Mid-Valley Chevy Car Club which puts on daily events in the week leading up to the festival.

Wood recalls he and Sanders started the Concours d'Elegance which preceded the Graffiti festival. Until this year the events were held at the Modesto Junior College West Campus.

Back a couple decades ago, Wood was hoping to get 50 cars at the first concours. Now the events easily draw more than a thousand vehicles.

Sanders said the Graffiti Events are put on entirely by volunteers and nobody is paid to put on the show. At the new golf course venue, there will be four times the available space compared to the MJC campus.

"Our show is definitely the biggest car event in the San Joaquin Valley," Sanders said. "The parade begins at 7 p.m. and runs a three-mile loop along McHenry Avenue to Orangeburg. There is no ending time but it usually lasts a couple hours."

There are no formal awards given out at the Graffiti Festival, Sanders said, but 25 awards are given by area celebrities picking their favorite vehicle.

The parade is free for spectators. Saturday and Sunday events cost $10 with children under 12 admitted free. Parking is free.

About 70 vendors will be selling food and auto-related souvenirs on the grounds.

— Doane Yawger of Merced is a retired newspaper reporter and editor.