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Saturdays are cruise-in time at the Valley Mall

August 09, 2004|by DAVE THOMPSON

Larry Sulser wasn't sure what he thought a good name for his classic car group would be when the subject came up a few years back, but he definitely knew what he didn't want the club to be called.

"There were about six or seven of us in the club that would store cars at the old Central Chemical Plant," he said. "The joke started going around that the cars glowed at night, so they started calling us the Glow Club."

Sulser and other members of his crowd decided they didn't want to go through life under the Glow Club banner and came up with the name Classic Car Group for Children. The name refers to what club members believe is the family aspect of the car hobby, Sulser said.

Classic Car Group for Children now hosts what Sulser and club buddy Joe Hemler say might be the consistently largest classic car "cruise-in" in the East. On Saturdays from 6 to 9:30 p.m. during warm weather months, approximately 250-400 cars gather in the Valley Mall parking lot east of J.C. Penney.

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"We went to Virginia Beach, which was supposed to be a large cruise-in, but it wasn't even close to ours," Hemler said.

"There might be some that are larger on one night, but I don't think they have a consistent crowd like we do each week," Sulser said.

It all started about 14 years ago with a group of guys hanging around the old Burger Chef restaurant. When that closed, the club adjourned to the McDonald's at Wesel Boulevard. The gatherings outgrew that lot and moved to the Kmart lot.

"When we did that, we went from about 12-14 cars showing up to about 125 the first night," Sulser said.

Obviously, something even bigger was needed, and the club negotiated with former Valley Mall general manager Ron Formosa for a site at the mall.

"He was great to us. He walked out with us and let us pick the site," Sulser said. "We can't thank him enough."

Surprised by the continued success of their events, car club members decided it might offer the opportunity to make some charitable donations. They looked around for a likely charity and settled on Dreams Come True, a local nonprofit organization that grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses.

"We liked the fact that they have a volunteer staff so all the money goes the charity, plus the money stays in the Tri-State area," Sulser said.

"They're a super group of people. What they do is really touching," Hemler said.

Money is raised through a $2 per car fee at the cruise-ins and the sale of 50-50 raffle tickets. Given the size of the turnout, the money collected can be considerable.

"I think we may have been the largest independent donor (to Dreams Come True) other than industries last year. We sent in close to $8,000," Sulser said. "We've sent in about $48,000 so far over the years. We didn't think it would keep going like it has."

A chance to show off cars, look at cars and meet with friends appear to be chief attractions at the cruise-ins.

"We take a couple of nights off a summer and people will contact us and say, 'What are we going to do that night,'" Hemler said.

There is a mixture of older and newer cars at the events. Sulser and Hemler said they've noticed more young people at recent cruise-ins.

"They've got their tuner cars. They're a lot like we were when we were kids," Sulser said.

To maintain the family atmosphere, there are a few simple rules. No alcohol is allowed, and, due to mall regulations and insurance restrictions, neither are pets. Tire-screeching "burnouts" are also frowned upon. There's an ice cream wagon at the events, but no other food is sold outside.

On cruise-in mornings, club members show up early to mark off the area for the event. Sulser said the Classic Car Group for Children's 17 members still included about 90 percent of the original group.

Sulser and Hemler occasionally go out in a '67 Ford Econoline van to do disc jockey shows. They usually do car shows, where their blend of '50s-'70s era rock is well received.

"We don't charge much. We just have fun with the people," Hemler said.

Among future plans is the club's Halloween night scheduled at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center. The event actually will be held Sept. 25 from 2 to 10 p.m. to avoid conflicting with other Halloween shows. Admission will be $3 per person, with children 12 and under admitted free. Gingerbread and coffee will be given out, and a costume contest will be held.

For more information on the club's schedule, check the website at www.carshowlink.com.

© 2004, The Herald-Mail Company

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