Cruisin' on Main coming to downtown Manchester

By Martha Marteney - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Thu., Jul. 21, 2011
Spectators enjoy looking at this custom hot rod at the 2010 Cruisin on Main. Photo by Tana Parseliti. - Contributed Photo

“I was the one who came up with the idea of the cruise,” said Ed Firestone, chair of the Downtown Manchester Special Services District. “I had so many memories of cruising on Main Street,” said Firestone. “I’ve always been a gearhead.” Firestone especially remembers Thursday nights, driving up and down Main Street, first as a kid in the back seat, and then with his own car.

For the first year of Cruisin' on Main in 2000, the hope was to have 100 cars displayed. That first year, more than 500 cars were registered. Now, Cruisin' on Main averages upwards of 1,000 cars and 30,000 spectators. “That’s all [the cars] we can fit on the street,” said Firestone.

The event is a fundraiser for the Downtown Manchester Special Services District, with a portion of the net proceeds donated to MARC and MACC. Funds are raised through sponsorships, as well as the registration donation of $10 per vehicle. This year, there will be an old car at each end of the show and spectators will be asked to donate $1 as an entry fee. “It just means more money for MACC and MARC,” said Firestone.

“It’s a very rewarding thing to do,” said Bud Gilman, president of the Eastern Connecticut chapter of the Over the Hill Gang car club, based out of Rocky Hill. Since the inception of Cruisin' on Main, the club has been a key partner in organizing the event. “We’re car people,” said Gilman. With Buicks as his favorite, Gilman likes “anything with a little bit of age” and especially old cars with all the modern extras.

“It looks from the outside like everything runs smooth,” said Manchester resident John Thrall, “but it’s a lot of work.” Thrall started volunteering on the event committee eight years ago. “It’s fun, but it’s hard work.”

Thrall said much of the reason the show is so popular is because of the Main Street location. The cars are parked along the road, and the spectators can walk up and down Main Street looking at the cars, talking with the owners and other spectators, and visiting the local businesses and vendors.

“We have a good selection of all cars,” said Thrall. Typically cars, with a few trucks and tractors, some of the vehicles are stock while others are custom. The only requirement is that the vehicle is at least 25 years old. For those needing help with the math, that’s 1986 or older.

Many consider Cruisin' on Main to be the largest single-day car show in the Northeast. “It’s developed into a great, recognized show,” said Gilman. “It’s very well-received.”

A new feature this year is music performed at the Pinewood Furniture Parking lot near Bennet Academy. Five Connecticut-based member bands of the North East Surf Music Alliance will play surf music, a form of guitar-led instrumental rock music that evolved in the early 1960s. A new band will take the stage every hour beginning at 10 a.m. The Mansfield-based 9th Wave will start playing their blend of classic and original hot rod surf music at 11 a.m.

“It puts Manchester on the map,” Firestone said of the car show. “The ambiance of the street – that’s why people love it.” He also knows of many people who grew up in town who come back especially for Cruisin' on Main, with or without a vehicle to show.

Firestone also noted that the event has great support from the town, including Parks and Recreation, Public Works, police and fire departments. “They all do whatever they can,” said Firestone. Even the Board of Education lets Cruisin' on Main borrow chairs from one of the schools.

This year, world-famous NASCAR driver Bill Slater, a Manchester resident, will be on-hand to talk with the spectators and sign autographs. Slater will be located near the Mary Cheney Library and the cars from Stafford Speedway.

For those interested in showing a vehicle, Gilman said, “Just come down the day of the show. The earlier the better.” Registration begins at 8 a.m. at either end of downtown Main Street, by the intersections with Center Street or Hartford Road/Charter Oak Street. In order to be shown, the vehicle must be 25 years old or older. The suggested donation for vehicle registration is $10.

Cruisin' on Main will be held on Sunday, Aug. 7, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The rain date is Aug. 14. Food and beverage vendors will be located in the Forest Street municipal parking lot, as well as along Main Street. This year’s Cruisin' t-shirt features a 1970 Mustang Boss 302. The graphic is silk-screened on a white t-shirt and will sell for $15. Vintage t-shirts will also be sold on the day of the event. For more information about Cruisin’ on Main, visit the website

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