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25th Cruise Nite rolls in

Downtown event wears its years well
By: Andrew DiLuccia Journal Motoring Editor
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When you ask those who were there at the beginning, their answer is a swift “no.” That’s what they say if you ask them if they thought Auburn Cruise Nite would be celebrating 25 years. “I was told five or six years would be a really good run,” said Tom Potts, the man behind bringing Auburn Cruise Nite to Lincoln Way in Downtown Auburn. “I was telling (former Journal Motoring Editor) Chuck Butler the other day, my daughter wasn’t born when Cruise Nite started, and I’m now a grandfather. It kind of throws a whole different perspective on how long 25 years is.” Against the odds, Auburn Cruise Nite continues to draw thousands each spring and summer. And tonight from 5 to 9 — and still free to the public and classic vehicle owners — Cruise Nite will rev into Downtown for the 25th year. The car show, which features as many as 300 classic rides, has its origins at Fosters Freeze on Highway 49 in Auburn, where the idea of showing off classic rides first surfaced in 1984. Back then, the local Chevrolet club gathered at the Fosters Freeze as often as once a week, showing off their classic rides and vehicles in the process of being brought back to their former glory. “We might of had 10 cars that first time, it was mostly guys from the Chevy club that was there,” said Vic Macy, who owns Sierra Cab and served as the DJ at the events held at the Fosters Freeze. “The word kind of got out. At that time we were doing it every week.” Back then some brought their vehicles on trailers, while others drove classics that were everyday drivers. The range of restoration of these vehicles varied widely. Macy remembers seeing one classic car owner bringing her convertible in with lawn chairs for the seats. The show grew at Fosters Freeze, expanding to as many as 50 to 60 cars on a given night. Then Potts, who attended a few of the shows at Fosters Freeze, established the Auburn Cruise Nite event on Lincoln Way in Downtown to be held on Thursday nights. “I was told it would never work,” Potts said. “Wrong night, wrong environment, wrong everything — never going to happen.” That very first Auburn Cruise Nite had just 35 cars and the display route ran from where the Monkey Cat restaurant is now to the current Auburn Promenade. When the show first started out it was a weekly event, which by the third week had more than 125 cars. After the weekly vehicle numbers increased, the show moved to a monthly schedule. “I think it was great that Tom Potts took the initiative to have it in the Downtown area,” Macy said. “I give him a lot of credit for making it what it is. He’s the one who pushed it a lot.” As the show grew in size, so did the support from the community, and in 1988 during Auburn’s 100th year, Cruise Nite was the opening event of the Centennial’s Memorial Day weekend celebration. That Thursday Auburn Cruise Nite had as many as 25,000 spectators jam Lincoln Way, according to Potts. He and his staff began turning vehicles away once they hit the 400-car mark. “That was a phenomenal event — just a phenomenal weekend,” Potts said. Over the years Cruise Nite has done all kinds of promotions to get fans to come Downtown. The street was at one time wired for sound so music could play up and down Lincoln Way. Potts also organized hula-hoop contests, specialty nights featuring service vehicles, motorcycle nights and even had a Cruise Nite Gorilla. During the car show’s 25 years the event saw Potts hand over control to others. The event switched from Thursday to Friday and even charged admission for a while according to Potts. When Potts retired from his Cruise Nite duties, he passed them on to John Knierim and Dick Kiger. Knierim has since stepped down from a leadership role on the Auburn Cruise Nite Committee, but Kiger is heading the show into the 25th, and his final, year. “No, definitely not,” was Kiger’s response to if he thought the event would last this long. “For this to survive this long is more than anything we could have thought of — no way.” In 1999 Kiger and the rest of the Auburn Cruise Nite Committee helped the show remain free once again to spectators and car owners by working in conjunction with Downtown businesses who advertise in a program that allows the event to be free to the public. Many of those original advertisers are still supporting Cruise Nite. As for the reason for the show’s longevity, many say it’s simply the safe family atmosphere that allows for fans from children to adults to mingle — and of course there’s the cars. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s a work of love,” said Auburn Cruise Committee Co-Chair Jack Kenny. “It’s lasted this long because of people’s interest in the cars. They’re always asking, ‘When are the dates?’” The Journal’s Andrew DiLuccia can be reached at andrewd@goldcountrymedia.com, or post a comment at Auburnjournal.com.