While the rest of the country prepared for Independence Day with hot dogs and apple pie, the Midwest car community congregated in Des Moines, Iowa over the weekend to celebrate America’s enduring car culture with hot rods and fine rides at the Goodguys 26th Speedway Motors Heartland Nationals in Des Moines.
This event has been a standout on the Goodguys calendar for years and the 2017 edition showed why. Thousands of spectacular rides from around the region crammed into one of the most picturesque fairgrounds in the country for three days of, cruisin’, showin’, shinin’ and relaxin’. The weather was picture perfect (minus a light shower Sunday afternoon), the rides outstanding, and the people had their fun meters pegged.
The Iowa State Fairgrounds is always filled with familiar rides and faces, but there was enough first-rate fresh iron on hand to keep Roger Burman of Lakeside Rods & Rides busy selecting the Builder’s Choice Top 10. On top of that, the Goodguys team selected finalists for Truck of the Year (both Early and Late), Muscle Machine of the Year, Muscle Car of the Year and Custom Rod of the Year. We also had a great turnout for the second SEMA Young Guns competition of the year. More than a dozen builders age 27-and-younger put their rides in contention. From those, Jacob Griffin’s ’27 Ford roadster and Gavin Guehler’s ’29 Model A coupe were selected for a head-to-head vote on Goodguys social media. It was a true cross-country final, with Jacob hailing from California and Gavin coming to Des Moines from New York. When votes were tallied on Sunday, 23-year-old Jacob Griffin became our Heartland Nationals finalist. Congratulations, Jacob!
On the AutoCross track, the Duel in Des Moines brought more than 60 of the best corner-carving cone chasers in the country together for bragging rights and a payday for the top four spots. Ryan Mathews qualified in first place on Saturday with a 45.819-second run after finding his groove on Friday in the Detroit Speed Corvette. He had everyone chasing his heels through the weekend. Chris Smith’s RideTech ’Vette was closest, with a 45.879-second qualifying run. They were the only two competitors to lay down sub-46-second runs. After the 16-car field of qualifiers was determined, the tire-squealing shootout action went hard and heavy throughout the day Saturday. Mathews and Smith would ultimately meet up in the final round, with Mathews taking the win and the $2000 check. Smith took second and a cool $1000, with Jared Leisinger picking up $750 for third place and Team Speedway’s Robby Unser taking home a $250 fourth-place check. Saturday track action finished up with some fun twilight AutoCrossing into the dark.
The weekend action went well beyond the track. We had Team FMX freestyle motocross performing exhibitions on Saturday, constant cruising down Grand Avenue, plentiful special parking areas like Deuce Doins, Homebuilt Heaven and the Camaro Corral, plus live entertainment from Richie Lee, and eye-watering, ear-splitting music at the Nitro Thunderfest. As is tradition here at the Heartland Nationals, we capped off Saturday in spectacular style with twilight cruising, great music from Missbehavin’, flame-spewing Nitro dragsters and an incredible fireworks show celebrating our nation’s independence.
It was hot. It was loud. It was colorful and it was fun. The Speedway Motors Heartland Nationals is always all that and so much more. We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the independent spirit of hot rodding and the freedom we all enjoy.