Nightly cruises during the week-long event are now a famed spectacle and viewing party for locals and visitors, despite humble beginnings in the Rail City.
“We used to show in Reno and at that time Sparks wasn’t doing anything. Then all of the sudden about 15 or 16 years ago they opened it up,” said Charlie Gonzales, a veteran Hot August Nights showman, on Tuesday evening.
Gonzales has entered his 1957 Chevy Bel Air two-door sedan in every Hot August Nights showing competition, dating back to the 1980s. The Hathaway Pines, Calif. resident said once the cruises were stapled into the Sparks venue’s agenda it brought even more enjoyment to the Victorian Avenue experience.
“Reno was too congested, too much traffic, too many people,” Gonzales said. “When you get over here it is like a little small town, people are relaxed, casual and friendly. Over the years we have met a lot of people and the crowds are not as rambunctious as the ones in Reno. It is more of a casual feel here and we enjoy that.”
Gini Allen and her husband Skip Brayton have been parking their 1964 Chevy Corvette Stingray in Victorian Square for 14 years. With their home just over the hill in Spanish Springs, Allen said after trying out some of the other venues in Reno that Victorian Avenue fit their expectations perfectly.
“This is the best place,” Allen said. “We have tried other venues and it is nothing but a big parking lot and you sit there and bake all day. We love the smallness of Victorian Avenue, we love the trees and it is just a really great group of people that come down here.”
The atmosphere of downtown Sparks is just part of what makes the nightly cruising fun for drivers and spectators. While driving a souped-up muscle car very slow doesn’t sound exciting, drivers will tell you that staying off the throttle has its upside.
“What I like most about the cruise is all the hoopla, the whistling and the clapping from the people in the crowd,” Sparks resident and cruise driver John Schaeffer said. “You can see the families and the kids out there all having a good time just watching the show.”
Gonzales not only agreed with Shaeffer, but he became emotional while explaining that Hot August Nights, for he and his wife, is about much more than the Best in Show trophy.
“The reason I enjoy it is I like the kids when they put their hands out and they want you to shake it,” he said. “I slow down and take the time to get as close as I can because the kids just get a kick out of it. The parents, when you see the look on their face ... I get a little emotional.
“The look on the parents face when they smile because you took the time to say hi to their kids and make it personal.”
Allen said there is an appreciation by the spectators who line the railings placed on Victorian Avenue for the cruises because they have a chance to really “get a good look at (the cars).” Her words ring true for Amanda Oursler, a Reno resident who made her way to Victorian Avenue on Tuesday and plans to spend the rest of her time at Hot August Nights in Sparks.
“I enjoy the beautiful, beautiful cars here,” Oursler said prior to the cruise. “These men and women have spent so much time restoring these beauties and they are just a sight to behold. They are gorgeous. I just look and admire for the most part. I am a big admirer. I don’t interview many of the owners, but I admire the workmanship. It definitely brings a community environment to the venue, which I really like.”
Schaeffer said standing alongside his 1935 two-door Ford welcoming interaction from the public is half the fun at Hot August Nights. He said the few days he is parked on the Victorian Avenue sidewalk brings out the teacher in him.
“The other side of it is during the day I am always talking to people,” he said. “I feel like I am educating them when they stop to talk or they ask about the car. That part is fun for me too because I am a talker.
“I have never set up in Reno during the day. I will cruise in Reno, but I like to set up in Sparks because it is a little more open, you have easy access to vendors and restrooms and it is easy to talk to people. It is not just a crowded street and it has a very different vibe to it.”
The nightly cruises, fused with the daytime car-laden conversations, form a unique bond among residents, locals, drivers and spectators. It’s an event that many say needs to be seen to understand its beauty.
“A lot of the locals didn’t like the people coming up and taking up space on Victorian Avenue,” Gonzales said. “They were saying we were taking up all the space once the event started in Sparks. Now the local people love it and think it is great. They embraced it and as it grew they saw the town pick up in that time.”