Contributed by Tara Bush and Photos by Russ Muller Photography
How did the Daytona Turkey Run start? (according to their website):
The Turkey Run was created in 1974 by Stu Sarjeant. Stu and his five year old son. Jim had attempted to enter their 1923 Ford T-Bucket in the 1973 Ormond Beach AACA Gaslight Parade sponsored by the local Jaycees. They were ejected and denied entry as Hot Rods were not permitted. Jim starting crying and asked his Dad if they could have their “own parade” next Thanksgiving. The following year the very first Turkey Run was born. In 1975, Sarjeant along with friends Rick Finzer and Olin Hopes founded the Daytona Beach Street Rods.
The first Turkey Run hosted 45 cars and was held at the Howard Johnson hotel near Belair Plaza. Continuing to grow, the show moved to Seabreeze High School in 1982 and added a swap meet. By 1987 The Turkey Run had grown to more than 900 cars and relocated to a property at the Daytona Beach airport. In 1989 the Daytona Beach Street Rods partnered with the Daytona Beach Racing and Recreational Facilities District and found a permanent home in the infield of the Daytona International Speedway. By this time, the show had grown to over 1,500 show quality cars and 250 swap meet vendors.
Today, the Turkey Run boasts over 5000 show cars 1200 cars for sale in the Car Corral and over 1,500 swap meet vendors, making it the largest combined classic car show and swap meet in the USA.
I started attending in the early 90's with my black 1966 Chevy II Nova. For 4 days during Thanksgiving weekend, I'd get up at daybreak to wash my car at the local self-service car wash to get the overnight salt off, then I'd waltz right into the infield and park smack-dab in the middle of the grass area between turns 3 & 4. No directions necessary. Wander around for a bit, then sit by my car until about 3pm, talking to people all day long. At that time the only slowdown in traffic was getting to the north beachside on A1A. There was a roadside gazebo in front of Belaire Plaza that was big enough for two small cars. My Nova fit right under it. As the evening progressed, the Plaza would fill up with classic cars, the street was lined with folding chairs, and the cars would cruise until midnight. Head home late and do it all over again the next day.
Back then you could walk the show car field, see a number of cars for sale, and shop the afternoon looking for car parts. Over the years the Turkey Run personnel has handled the exponential growth well. After some up and down years with logistical issues, I felt the crew has done a great job handling such a monumental task and everyone that I encountered had a welcome smile and a morning greeting. Those guys & gals are out in the cold at sunrise assisting lost car owners, punching admission tickets, parking trailers, and a million other tasks so we all can enjoy a great show.
Over the years the car corral has become massive. From bargains to overpriced vehicles, you can always find something that sparks the senses. Wait long enough and a great deal could be had. I've sold some cars and bought a few myself. The big winner is the swap meet, automotive tools/parts, and manufactures midway. It's not just used “junk” another longer. I found this very cool piece of art way down on row 55. It now adorns my new she-cave. The only disappointing factor is the show car area has become so large that many people don't wander through it and talk to the owners. Shoot, the owners are never by their cars. After the swap meet and car corral who has energy or time to see the show cars. Best way to see most of them is to park a chair at an exit, with a cold drink in hand, and watch the parade go by.
The nighttime gathering on A1A has become a thing of the past. Sadly it got too big, too dangerous, and too congested. That was my favorite part of the weekend. The police restricted the flow of traffic and the plaza was up in arms. The last few years the nighttime gathering was moved to the new One Daytona entertainment complex across from the Speedway with it's many restaurants and overabundance of parking spaces, however that became a nightmare as well. I'm not sure how the nighttime activities went this year. I've decided just to enjoy the day and go home to get a good nights sleep.
Since I'm older now (with less energy too), I set up my “home base” with the FlaCarShows tent, my classic next to me, and enjoying the conversations with the people who come by to say hello. To me that is what the Turkey Run is about; spending a leisurely weekend around cars, parts, and those that love them. Russ Muller, a treasured friend and one hell of a photographer, captures the beauty of the cars and trucks as they roll in. He is a contributor for several national magazines and covers the Cruisin Orlando events. View all of his Turkey Run Friday photos HERE.