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Ya Gotta Drive ’Em…All! – Deane and Robin Wilson Take the Mother of All Road Trips

Deane Wilson still recalls the time the idea first struck him. “My wife Robin and I were at the 2018 Goodguys Colorado Nationals having dinner with friends, including Ed Capen from Goodguys and his wife Maggi,” Deane said. “We were discussing the possibility of Goodguys having two Hall of Fame Road Tours in 2019 when I suddenly had a wild hair: Could I do a road trip to all 18 shows in one year?”

deane wilson, goodguys, driving hot rods, ultimate road trip, road trip, hot rod road trip, driver hot rod, classic car, driving classic cars, 1961 Impala, bubbletop, bubbletop impala, chevy impala“Crazy, right? Everyone at the table fell silent, and then it felt like the entire restaurant broke out in laughter. Frankly, I didn’t see what was so funny.”

The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time. – Credo by Jack London

Deane put the ambitious road trip idea in the back of his mind as one of those “someday” things, but it continued to rise to the surface as he and Robin drove on the 2018 Hall of Fame Road Tour and attended several more Goodguys events to finish off the season. “As we thought more about it, it started to seem possible,” Deane said.

The notion continued to percolate during the off-season. Deane was confident his ’61 Impala was up to the task. It had more than 70,000 road trip miles on it since being rebuilt in 2011 with an LS1 engine, overdrive transmission, disc brakes, comfy Cadillac seats, and air conditioning. The question was, could Deane and Robin endure the challenge?

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Deane and Robin Wilson

Easing into Spring

The thoughts became more serious as the spring of 2019 rolled around. At the very least, Deane and Robin, who live in the Northern California town of Grass Valley, figured they could start by attending the first four events of the year – in Fort Worth, Scottsdale, Pleasanton, and Del Mar – since they often attend those anyway. “We always attend both Texas shows because my best friend Rod moved to Texas back in 1986,” Deane said. “We really enjoy Scottsdale, too. I mean, what’s not to like about the weather there in March! Not to mention, our youngest son went to college there and still lives in Phoenix.”

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From Scottsdale, it was off to the All American Get-Together in Pleasanton, just a couple hours from the couple’s home. “It was the first Goodguys show I ever attended, and the first time the Impala got an award: Coolest ’60s!” Deane said of the event. “That was way back in 2011 when there were only about 3,000 miles on the odometer.” The following weekend was the Del Mar Nationals. “What we really like about going to Del Mar is the road trip put on by Goodguys called the ‘Cruise to Del Mar,’” Deane said. “There are stops at rod shops, private collections along the way, and great camaraderie. What a great little cruise.”

The “big time” driving came into play later in April with the North Carolina Nationals in Raleigh. “That’s only a mere 2,752 miles away,” Deane said. “Yikes!”

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At this point, Deane did start to question the idea of a major road trip driving to all the events. “My wife and I had some serious discussions about going to Raleigh,” he said. “First, we tried to figure out what other friends or sights we could visit along the way. Our daughter and grandkids live in Michigan, so that was a good reason to make the drive, and we could be there over Easter. Okay, so then what? Wait, the next Goodguys show is in Nashville the following weekend. Nashville is close to Raleigh, right? Perfect! Then we realized that a longtime friend just moved to Charleston, South Carolina. Excellent!”

By the time they’d attended the Nashville Nationals, visiting family and friends along the way, Deane and Robin were six events in – a third of the way through the season – and had logged about 10,000 miles. How could they back out now?

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Summer Fun

After going back home and attending the Summer Get-Together in Pleasanton in early June, Deane and Robin started planning the journey to Des Moines, Iowa for the Speedway Motors Heartland Nationals.

“We had already planned on going to Des Moines, as it is one of our favorites. It has one of the best fairgrounds, plus it is second only to Columbus for the most cars. There’s also a fireworks show for the Fourth of July. Oh, and the eateries on the fairgrounds! Forget about your diet!”

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From Des Moines, Deane and Robin joined the annual Cruise to Columbus, a caravan coordinated by Goodguy Dave Ruhs that takes in shops and stops during a relaxed three-day drive to Ohio and “The Big One” – the PPG Nationals. “Columbus is always a great show,” Deane said, “that is, if you like a million venders, heat, and a bazillion hot rods, customs, restomods, and just sweet eye candy.”

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The Impala basks in the neon on Beale Street during the 2019 Hall of Fame Road Tour.

“It was after the Columbus show that some of the Goodguys staff began to realize we might actually do all their shows in one year,” Deane said. “Mind you, we hadn’t been telling everyone we were positively going to them all, and frankly we were not really sure we could pull it off. But the idea was blossoming into becoming a reality.”

Northern Detour

“How does one drive home to California from Ohio? Through Canada, of course!” Deane quipped.

That’s right, Deane and Robin took some time touring Canada between the PPG Nationals and the Pacific Northwest Nationals a few weeks later in Puyallup, Washington, visiting Moose Jaw, Banff, Calgary, Jasper, Lake Louise, and Vancouver along the way. “The speed limit is 110 in Canada,” Deane said. “Pretty cool, I thought, until I was told it’s in kilometers, which equates to only 68.3mph. Dang it!”

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After an enjoyable weekend in Puyallup – “one of our favorite Goodguys shows” – the Wilsons had a couple weeks to contemplate the daunting task ahead: three consecutive weekends that would take them from the Great Northwest Nationals in Spokane, Washington, across the country to the Grundy Insurance Great American Nationals in York, Pennsylvania, then back to the West Coast Nationals in Pleasanton! “Wait, what?” Deane said. “Whose idea was this? I nicknamed this leg the Bermuda Triangle. And to make a hard thing harder, I was going alone. My wife, navigator, and buddy was not going on this leg.”

Cross Country

The 805-mile jaunt to Spokane was relatively straightforward, but Deane said the 2,466-mile journey to York proved to be a little more interesting and included a tornado warning in Montana, road work, lane closures, and $80 in tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. His exhaust suddenly got louder, too, the result of an exhaust hanger weld failing and tearing a hole in the pipe.

“I called around and found a really cool guy at a muffler shop,” Deane said. “He not only was a car guy, he had a ’69 GTO for his daily driver. I told him of my journey, and he got my car right into the shop. It is a good feeling when car guys go out of their way to help other car guys. I was able to make the show on Friday and I stayed ’til Sunday to get my Long Distance award. I was hoping for gas money, but all I got was a plaque.”

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The biggest setback of the road trip happened as Deane left York Sunday evening to get a head start west. “Everything was going well until my car started to slow down and I wasn’t braking,” Deane said. He made it to an offramp and, at the suggestion of a friend, touched the wheels to find them hot as a frying pan. Somehow, the brakes were engaging on their own. Once he let them cool down, however, he had no brakes at all!

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Deane limped his way back to the York mechanic he’d found, who got the car in on Monday morning. Believing the under-dash master cylinder (relocated due to a smooth firewall) to be the problem, they ordered a new one with overnight delivery. It wasn’t until Tuesday afternoon, when the new master cylinder arrived, that they discovered the real problem was merely a dislodged brake fluid feeder line. Two days lost for a lousy brake fluid line!

Deane was back on the road but had nearly 2,800 miles to cover in three-and-a-half days if he wanted to be in Pleasanton on Saturday. “Crying was not helping,” Deane said, “so I called my wife and had her book me hotels every 800 miles. For the next few days I started driving no later than 4am, arriving at my hotels around 8:30pm. No TV, no wine, barely any sleep.

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“Well, guess what? I made it! I pulled into the Alameda County Fairgrounds at 1:30 on Saturday afternoon and walked up to the registration desk asking about the longest distance. The guy asked how far I drove. When I said 2,792 miles, he told me ‘we have a winner!’”

Fall Finish

September found Deane and Robin returning to the scene of the crime – Loveland, Colorado, where this whole road trip idea had been hatched a year before. “We really like the Loveland show,” Deane said, “but this year we used it to get closer to where the Goodguys Hall of Fame Road Tour East started in Detroit.” That’s right, in addition to driving to all 19 events, the Wilsons drove more than 2,000 miles on the Hall of Fame Road Tour East, from Detroit to the Summit Racing Lone Star Nationals in Fort Worth.

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“If you haven’t gone on a Hall of Fame Road Tour yet, you are missing one of the most fun car things you can do,” Deane said. “This year checked off a couple items on my bucket list. How about driving around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway! As usual, this road trip was outstanding: hooking up with friends we’ve made since our first HOF trip in 2014, unbelievable shop tours, private collections, and museums. These are places and things you will never get to see without connections.”

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Deane and Robin did some sightseeing on their own before the Kentucky Nationals in Lexington in October and visited family on their way back to California. That left just two more events – the Autumn Get-Together in Pleasanton, and the Speedway Motors Southwest Nationals in Scottsdale.

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Be on the lookout for Deane in 2020 in his new ride – this 1961 Ford Wagon that he, with help from family and friends, began working on in 2018. They installed the Fatman suspension components and 5.0 Coyote engine before All Ways Hot Rods dialed in the tune, cleaned up the wiring, and buttoned up some other loose ends. It was a fitting delivery when Mike & Randy Way handed the keys back to Deane last November in Scottsdale when his journey in the Impala was complete!

“I did Pleasanton by myself because Robin went to Italy with our youngest son,” Deane said. “See what I sacrificed doing all 18 Goodguys shows! She flew into Phoenix from Italy for the last show.”

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“When we got to Westworld in Scottsdale, the first thing I did was ask Andrew Walker at the registration table to put the last sticker on my storyboard,” Deane said. “It had to be official. None of the Goodguys registration staff knew about us doing all 18 shows, so they got a kick out of attaching the last sticker. To our great surprise, we were awarded Gary’s Pick at the event, named after Goodguys founder Gary Meadors, the one who coined the phrase, ‘Ya Gotta Drive Em!’ That was a wonderful honor. You know, I never told anyone this, but I kind of felt like Gary was riding with me on the York-to-Pleasanton leg.”

Reflections

Driving nearly 40,000 miles to 18 Goodguys events gives a man plenty of time to think, and Deane has some great takeaways from his incredible year of travel.

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Deane and Robin amassed quite a collection of key cards after spending 187 nights in hotel rooms during their journey.

“They say life is all about the journey, but what makes the journey worthwhile are the people you meet along the way,” Deane said. “Literally every day on this mother of all road trips was about the people. People at rest stops, people at gas stations, even the road crews doing work on the highways, and of course the people at all the events. They were fun to be with and I could share stories that would fill a book.”

“Without question, the overwhelming topic of conversation was the road trip,” Deane said. “Where have I been? What did I see? How many do I have left? How many miles? From each person there was admiration and desire – admiration that I am really doing it and desire that ‘someday’ they could do it. I can’t count how many times I was asked, ‘Was it fun?’ My answer never wavered: ‘Absolutely!’ Will I do it again? Absolutely! I believe I was truly living the dream.”

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Coastal Differences

“I’d like to point out some differences between the Raleigh and Del Mar shows,” Deane said. “In Del Mar, ‘power parking’ is a thing. In order to get that special front-row parking spot, you need to be in line before the gates open. We’re not talking about 6am or even 5am. Nope, in Del Mar, try 2am or even earlier! In Raleigh, we thought we would go a little early – around 6am (we’re not power parkers). So, we pull up to the show and there are only about 10 cars in line! The gates open at 8 and we pull in, get set up, and wait for the onslaught to begin. That never happened. Most cars started rolling in around 9 or 10. Talk about laid back!”

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Photos from Goodguys Archives and Deane Wilson

Editor, Goodguys Gazette

Damon Lee began snapping photos at car shows when he was 10, tagging along with his father to events throughout the Midwest. He has combined his passion for cars and knack for writing and imagery into a 20-year career in the automotive aftermarket, writing for titles like Super Chevy and Rod & Custom and, more recently, working for respected industry leaders Speedway Motors and Goodguys Rod & Custom Association.

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