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The Wheel Thing

The Darryl Starbird National Rod and Custom Show has changed over the years. Still, the show's essence remains the same: display cool, exciting cars while entertaining with events and attractions.

John Tranchina
January 28, 2020

It may seem like the appeal of old hot rods and customized cars may be on the decline, but nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, the culture of ‘60s and ‘70s muscle cars is a bit different now, but as attendees to the Darryl Starbird National Rod and Custom Show at Expo Square in Tulsa will discover, not only is America’s love for cars still going strong; it’s more intense than ever.

There will be over 1,000 cars on display from people who live all over the United States, in many different categories, from classic hot rods and customized cars to 4x4s, trucks, low riders, and much more.

“We have a little bit of everything for everybody at this show,” says Brice Bledsoe, co-producer at Starbird Productions. “They’re not just classics. If you like anything on two or four wheels, because we have motorcycles as well, you’ll find something at this show that will pique your interest.”

The Starbird show has changed a bit over the years, but the essence of the show remains the same: display cool, exciting cars while entertaining with specific events and other side attractions. In the end, the spectators undoubtedly leave satisfied. Bledsoe acknowledges that the landscape has evolved over the years, but the core attraction is still there.

“It’s not just about the old cars; it’s new cars these days, too,” says Bledsoe, the grandson of legendary car customizer Starbird, who retired from producing the shows several years ago. “A lot of people are finding ways to personalize cars. They always said it was the American love affair with the car. It started in Detroit, and guys across the country in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s just started out trying different things. Now we have an entire sport that’s centralized around it and have taken it to heights I’m not even sure the originals like Darryl Starbird, Gene Winfield, or George Barris would even imagine.

“Shows are happening every weekend across America these days. It’s taken off, and I’m glad to see that people are still interested in it and that cars still carry something meaningful to people.”

Bledsoe pointed out some of the highlights of the show this year, with many mainstays supplemented by a few new features.

“We have some of the more high-dollar, nice flashy stuff upstairs in our regular show, and then downstairs, on the east side, we have our Rockin’ Billy Bash,” Bledsoe says. “It’s kind of a show within the show, and it’s more about the cars in the rat-rod style, where it’s not so much about the glitz and glamor, but more about the guys who are working on cars in the backyard or garage. It’s got sort of its own culture. We also do contests for pin-up girls and beards. There are also pinstripers and tattoo artists. We have pedal car races for children and mini-bike races.

“In our action arena, we’re going to have the live hooning going again, which is essentially burnouts, flame throwers, freestyle, doing figure eights, and whatnot. And then we’ve got a demolition derby Friday starting at 9 p.m.”

On Saturday in the arena, there will be an old-school-style monster truck show, which Bledsoe points out, originated with the Starbird show in Tulsa in the 1980s and is a bit different from the current incarnation of monster truck shows. Cliff Starbird, Darryl’s son and Bledsoe’s uncle, created one of the first monster trucks and will have it on display.

“We were the first ones to do the side-by-side racing over cars, but we’ve got a handful of the old-school monster trucks coming back,” Bledsoe says. “Cliff is restoring his Monster ’Vette, which was one of the original monster trucks, and they’re going to have a show-off.”

Outside the venue by the Golden Driller statue, check out the Cool Car Corral.

Inside, there will also be a DJ, bands playing, and celebrity appearances. Ian Roussel, from the MotorTrend TV show Full Custom Garage, will be there along with his famous bubble-top T-Bird signing autographs and taking pictures.

Chuck Miller will be there as well. “He’s the guy who originally built the Red Baron, the little T-bucket type car that everyone probably built as a model or picked up a Hot Wheel of,” Bledsoe says of Miller.

The cast of another MotorTrend TV show, Wrench’D, will also attend, with Justin Nichols, Maegan Ashline, Ziggy Huizinga, and Nick Roberts signing autographs and selling memorabilia.

And as always, there is also a separate kid zone and, really, something to interest just about everyone.

“We’ve got a kid zone with inflatables and trampolines and face painting,” Bledsoe says. “We’ll have all kinds of vendors, not just automotive ones. We have all kinds of stuff, including people selling purses, leather bags, toys, collector items, and die-cast cars.”

Tickets bought in advance are $20 (16 and up), $10 (13-15), and free for 12 and under. At the door, tickets are $25 (16 and up) and $15 (13-15).

Darryl Starbird's Rod and Custom Car Show
Expo Square
4145 E. 21st St. | Tulsa
Feb. 14: Noon-11 p.m.
Feb. 15: 10 a.m.-11 p.m.
Feb. 16: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.