July 29th, 2022

Cruising McMinnville Celebrates Classic Cars

Classics line 3rd Street. Photo courtesy of Cruising McMinnville.

Here’s a McMinnville tradition more than 60 years in the making featuring an international cast of characters. Fords. Chevys. Triumphs. Volkswagens. Ferraris. This is Cruising McMinnville, an annual gathering for car lovers of all makes and models.

Cruising McMinnville takes place Saturday, Aug. 27, when vintage cars and unique, one-of-a-kind autos, will be displayed for five hours along historic downtown Third Street. At 5 p.m., drivers will start their engines and drive. It’s all designed to benefit local students.

To understand Cruising McMinnville, however, one must understand local history. Teenagers from throughout the area would drive here during the 1950s and ‘60s to “drag the gut” – parade their cars and trucks “American Graffiti” style on a long loop around town. The novelty eventually wore off but cruising made a comeback in the 1980s, so much so that the city passed a law restricting the number of times a car could make the loop by within a two-hour period.

Dragging the Gut “went nuts,” one longtime community observer recently said. “Kids filled the entire length of Third Street with lawn chairs” just to meet with friends, hang out, and watch cars pass by.

 The law worked, the thrill was gone, and so was the traffic until McMinnville native Ruben Contreras Jr. brought it back in 2010 as an annual community event. Ruben’s idea was wildly successful. Dragging the Gut was back.

Shift gears to 2018 when a non-profit was created to rebrand the event as Cruising McMinnville. “We took over when Ruben decided to step back from the event,” organizer Elizabeth Hinchcliff says. “Our mission is to raise funds so that we can offer scholarships for students that are going into the trades. It can be schools for welding, automotive, culinary, beauty school, anything that gives them skills to go into a trade.”

Cruising McMinnville distributed $13,000 in its first three years thanks to local sponsors and expects to double that total in 2022, Elizabeth says. 

Cruising McMinnville attracts visitors excited to inspect more than 300 classic cars while perhaps sampling wines at the many Third Street tasting rooms. It also brings back McMinnville residents from decades gone by looking to reunite with old friends.  

 “A number of (high school) reunions happen that weekend,” Elizabeth says.

“People from out of town come for the cars and the setting,” says Scott Hinchcliff. “I think McMinnville is a big draw in itself. I’ve been going to car shows almost my whole life and most of them are in a parking lot. This is a great setting, there’s plenty of shade, and there’s so much to do.”

Scott knows by experience having cruised as a toddler in the back of his dad’s hot rod. Now he does his own driving. “I’ve brought my 1938 pickup down in the past, but I think this year it’s probably going to be the 1966 Fairlane or it might be the Model T Roadster.”

For more information and show car registrations, visit the event website – cruisingmcminnville.com

Dan Shryock

Dan Shryock regularly writes about McMinnville, travel, and cycle tourism.  See his work at danshryock.com.