HISTORY OF MID AMERICA
Currently, most performance cars have clubs formed around them and club regional meets are more and more common. Thirty Nine (39) years ago in the “dark ages” after the oil crisis, Shelby’s were just aging cars from an earlier era and relics to be reviled rather than honored. The annual Mid America Meet began with one man’s enthusiasm and appreciation “… for his Shelby.”
As Jim Wicks remembers, “By 1974, I had compiled a list of Shelby owners and cars, that numbered over 70. I had been driving my 1966 G.T.350H almost every day for four years, chasing after and following up every lead on the striped Mustangs and their owners. Right turns while waiting in left turn lanes and middle of the road “U” turns were not out of the question. Phone calls were made to total strangers: Hello, Mr. Smith. Do you own a Shelby?” “No, I don’t have that kind of a dog, did you find one?” Or, “What’s that? My uncle raises chickens; he might have one.”
“Now, let’s go back in time a little further. November of 1972 had two highlights. We celebrated my son’s first birthday and I called a guy in Pennsylvania about a car club. I found myself talking Cobras, carburetors, and cubic inches with the national membership director & newsletter editor Austin Craig. Following that telephone conversation, the Shelby Owners Association gained another enthusiastic member. I thought I might be able to get a few interested people together for a picnic or something. However, upon returning from the 1973 Shelby Owners Association National Convention, I KNEW I would. Encouraged by Austin’s efforts and enthusiasm, I got started. In the early spring of 1974, my wife, Terry, humored me and began addressing the postcards announcing a picnic. From Vinita, OK the cards went out to Joplin and Webb City, MO, Pittsburg and Coffeyville, KS, Enid and Tahlequah, OK and other points in between. What would that Sunday picnic bring? Maybe no one cared.”
“On the day of the picnic, Terry packed a nice lunch and we, along with our son, headed for Tulsa, OK. I would have been thrilled if only two or three cars had come; however, before the day was over, there were 16 cars in attendance. Spirits were high and we all agreed to attend the Ponca City Grand Prix that year, a local-SCCA national race where G.T.350’s, Cobra’ and Boss Mustangs regularly ‘waxed their’ competition. Attending the race turned out to be instrumental in reaching other people interested in the cars.”
“Enter Dr. French Hickman: orthodontist, enthusiast and successful B production racer in a G.T.350. We talked about another get-together. He invited me to organize an event for the upcoming spring of 1975 that could be held on the park-like ground of his home in Oklahoma City, OK. The day was enjoyed by approximately 75 people displaying 32 cars. WOW!!! Was this neat or what!?! It was at this time that the idea was conceived to set aside a day each spring for this event, and the Mid America Shelby Meet was born.”
1976 through 1978 stayed with the picnic format, but the numbers increased; 32 people became 62, 62 became 120. In 1977, we added a new twist. Early member, Irl Collins, suggested we have a autocross and everyone enthusiastically agreed. After all, these cars were built to perform. This segment of our event during the 1977 and 1978 was a rousing success. If became obvious that performance would become the focus of Mid America. Along with this, however, it also became clear that we would have to find a larger facility to handle the growing number of enthusiast finding their way to Mid America. 1978 would be the end of an era as it would be the last year for the event to be headquartered at the residence of “Doc” Hickman.
1979 brought the first major change in the format of the meet. The headquarters was relocated to Tulsa, OK and based at the Sheraton Skyline East. The larger facility was necessary because we had suddenly grown to a two and half day event. During the years 1979 through 1981, Friday night was occupied by what we referred to as “terrorizing Tulsa.” Those of you who participated in this take-on-all-comers cruise will not likely forget some of the exploits of the “hot shoes of Peoria Avenue.” We also decided to change our focus in the performance category from auto crossing to drag racing. Tulsa International Raceway was interested in having club racing events and offered us the use of the track. Our first year of drag racing in 1979 saw fifty cars run. In these our early drag racing days, we had Bob Crowder as our Race Director. His “Piston Pony” 427 Mustang thrilled the crowd with its 10 second passes. Erma Crowder, Wilma Hale and Terry Wicks put on their lead shoes and got our Powder puff racing class off to a thunderous start. The Sunday car show was held in the parking lot adjacent to the hotel and was attended by a record number of cars. Our first year in Tulsa was history and great success.
1980 and 1981 continued along the same path that had been traveled in 1979, although we began to see signs of growth in record numbers of cars attending. The word had gotten out: if you had a performance Ford product and you wanted to go fast and enjoy the company of other performance Ford enthusiasts, then there was only one place on the planet to be in mid May; the Mid America Shelby Meet.
In keeping with our performance image, 1982 brought about the second major change in our format. The event was extended to a three and half day meet after it was decided that we would add and open track road racing event on Friday at Hallett Motor Racing Circuit. After all, Shelbys and other performance Fords do more than go straight. They can also turn corners at high rates of speed to the sheer delight of the drivers and spectators alike. Dana Moudy became our Open Track Director. With road racing on Friday, drag racing on Saturday and a car show on Sunday, we could finally say that we had an event that catered to everyone’s taste, no matter what form of motor sport they preferred. This year was also a milestone in that the Mid America meet was finally getting some well deserved attention from several major corporate sponsors, including involvement from the Ford Motor Company and the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. This has undeniably helped our event to grow over the years and we still enjoy sponsorship from these and other companies today.
1983 saw more of the same of the previous years, only on a larger scale. Then came 1984 and our tenth anniversary. We knew we had to really come up with something big to commemorate that moment in time. It was time to put on a serious effort in extending an invitation to the man who started it all, Carroll Shelby. Having Carroll there was a very proud and memorable moment in the lives of those who met and had their picture taken with him. This truly stands out as one of the most cherished moments in the history of Mid America.
The event continued to grow and flourish during the years 1985 through 1987. Every year that passed seem to draw more people and more unique and beautiful vehicles to the Ford performance “Mecca” of Tulsa. Then, in 1988, we were joined by a man who would, through his diligence and support, help us grow into the ’90’s and push the meet to an even higher level. Austin Craig brought Rick Titus to the event by promising him our event was the best in the nation. Having won the Escort Endurance Series Championship in the previous year, Rick was well received by the participants. Those who attended the banquet on Saturday night that year will never forget the extremely moving story that Rick told about his father, Jerry. From that point on Rick and his influence has been instrumental in helping us garner support for our event. Rick has worn many hats at Mid America; that of teacher and storyteller, but most of all, friend. He continues to join us to celebrate this most notable of Shelby related events.
During the planning stages for the 1989 event, we were hit with the news that we would be losing our home base; the Sheraton Skyline East was closing the doors and we would have to go elsewhere. We landed at the Camelot Inn for the 1989 and 1990 events. Although the parking facilities were a little more crowded than before, we managed to have two very successful events and watched our attendance grow to even higher levels. It was also in 1990 that we moved the meet from the often soggy May date to June.
By the time 1991 rolled around, we were seeing more major sponsorship than ever before and were expecting another record crowd. We had already outgrown the Camelot and desperately needed to find another location for our headquarters. After much deliberation, we decided to move the event to the Sheraton Kensington Inn, known today as the Southern Hills Marriott. We felt, as we still do, that this location provided us with easy access and enough room to grow for years to come. With the new location came even more people and cars and this trend continues today.
1993 saw the Ford Motor Company getting involved in a big way. The awesome Mach III on display in the lobby of the hotel was a sight to behold and the enthusiasm level of our guests from Ford contagious. We also had some minor deviations in our program with the additions of the “1st Annual Chevrolet Destruction Test”…. well you just had to be there and the addition of the Concours class in the car show. The “great exploding Chevy” was enjoyed by all who attended its “funeral” and was a hit. The Concours class was our first attempt at any kind of points judging at the car show and it generated a lot of interest. This became very popular and prestigious as the interest in perfection and authentic restoration grew. The value of these awards has been proven in many auction settings such as Barrett-Jackson and Russo & Steele
This brings us to the 20th Annual Mid America Shelby Meet in 1994. It was hard to believe that twenty years had passed since the first picnic in 1974. Fast forward into a new century, there have been many notable figures who have attended this event as our guests. The list is a “who’s who” of the automotive world and includes such people as ace Cobra pilots Dick Smith and Don Roberts; chassis design engineer, Robert Negstad; author and editor of Road and Track, William Jeanes; author and enthusiast, Mike Schoen: former SCCA B production national champion, Walt Hane; car builder and racer, Steve Saleen; noted automotive artist, Bill Neale; author and racing driver, Rick Titus; a host of Shelby American personalities like Pete Brock; Allen Grant, Tom Yeager, and Bernie Kretzschmar Former SVE performance vehicle manager John Coletti; racer, Lew Spencer and today’s world of Ford personalities including Robert Parker, Fritz Wilke of Ford Motor Company, Jamie Allison of Ford Racing and a host of others. We have also enjoyed sponsorship from several large companies, those of which include Motorcraft Quality Parts, Goodyear, Pennzoil, Revell Models, Coca-Cola, and of course Ford Motor Company. A special thank you is in order for Austin Craig for his immeasurable assistance over the years. Austin has been a great and trusted friend and we are most grateful to him. The latest highlight to Mid America would be joining with team Shelby and Shelby Automobiles Inc. to bring you the team Shelby nationals. From Mid America Shelby Meet to Mid America Ford Performance & Shelby Meet NOW To Mid America Ford & Team Shelby Nationals our focus is the same To enjoy the great Vehicles and automotive legends that we love.
Carroll Shelby, Shelby American, Inc. and Ford Motor Co. have brought a new generation of performance vehicles owners and enthusiasts on to the scene. The hard work and enthusiasm of our volunteers and personnel from the Ford Motor Company and Shelby American will continue to create automotive history adding to The Shelby Legend.
There have been many who have, over the years, been instrumental in bringing this event to this point. For each of these persons it has been a labor of love and an experience that we will treasure for may years to come. Many enduring friendships and business relationships have been made at Mid America and many more will surely follow in the years to come. There is no doubt that it is the people who make the event. The cars are very special but, without the enthusiastic owners who want to share their good times with other enthusiasts, there cars would gather dust in garages all over the country. A sincere thanks goes out to the event staff, participants, and event sponsors. We will be forever grateful to the insight, accomplishments and support of Carroll Shelby the MAN who started it all…… We look forward to seeing you in Tulsa this year at Mid America Ford & Shelby Nationals. Join us for in our celebration of Fords Families & Fun!