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Hot rod show motors into city; After shaky start, engines revved for Summer Nats.

Byline: Bronislaus B. Kush

WORCESTER - Of the three collectibles that Bruce Dapkins owns, the cherry red 1936 Ford panel truck, with its contrasting black fenders and specially ordered wide whitewalls, might very well be his favorite.

It's the truck that he likes to use on scavenging trips to flea markets or to just leisurely drive around his hometown of Bethany, Conn.

"It's dependable, and I can just throw things that I pick up in the back," said Mr. Dapkins, a maintenance mechanic at a metal finishing plant in Connecticut, who paid $10,000 for the vehicle seven years ago and spent an additional $10,000 on it.

Mr. Dapkins and his wife, Mary, have driven the truck, which, with its big V-8 engine gets a "decent" 15 miles to the gallon, "just like a good-sized SUV," to Maine and Vermont.

This week, they decided to motor up north from the Nutmeg State to Worcester to attend, for the first time, the New England Summer Nationals, one of the largest vintage car and hot rod gatherings in the Northeast.

This is the show's 19th anniversary, and Robert J. Moscoffian, the promoter, said he is hoping that the monthlong spell of drippy weather in Central Massachusetts and the weak regional and national economies won't deter folks from attending the four-day event, which kicked off last night with events at the north end of Main Street near Lincoln Square.

Last year's show, which was plagued by rain, drew about 150,000 people, according to organizers.

Event boosters, in the past, have maintained that the show, in some years, attracted up to 200,000 visitors and generated about $20 million in economic spinoff.

There was some concern expressed yesterday about whether Mr. Moscoffian's last-minute organizing efforts will affect attendance.

He did not receive authorization from municipal officials for the show until late last month after he paid last year's bill from the city. With the long-running tiff over the 2008 bill finally settled, Mr. Moscoffian had to scramble to obtain permits.

"I'm pretty optimistic everything's going to work out this weekend," said Mr. Moscoffian, noting he's added new attractions to the show, such as rides on monster trucks.

He admitted the show's gone through "some rough times," but he said he's put aside any differences that he's had with city officials over billing issues - promising that the 20th anniversary show, along with subsequent ones, will be staged in Worcester.

"I want this to be a signature event for Worcester," he said, noting he's expecting at least 5,000 vehicles to be showcased here this year.

Meanwhile, Robert C. Antonelli Jr., assistant commissioner of parks, recreation, and cemetery, said he was happy to have the Summer Nationals back in town, noting that money from the organizers has been used for improvements, such as signs, at Green Hill Park.

Kathy Ryan, convention sales manager at the Central Massachusetts Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the Summer Nationals are also important to Worcester because civic boosters use the success of the show to draw in other events.

"The show helps us make a pitch to promoters looking for a place for their own events," she said.

Richard Kennedy, president and chief executive officer of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the show also boosts business at nearby establishments, such as those on Shrewsbury Street.

Officials said they think the weather will break this weekend and the Summer Nationals will attract a good crowd, drawing many people who have been experiencing "cabin fever."

The National Weather Service, though, is forecasting some thunderstorms and showers through tomrrow, with sunny skies forecast for Sunday.

Mr. Moscoffian said many people have been affected by the bad economy and are closely watching their money. He said he thinks many of those people will attend the Summer Nationals because it's close to home and generally affordable to most families.

The event is staged at two venues, Green Hill Park and Main Street.

It features a show of classic vehicles and hot rods, live entertainment, burnouts, swap meets and beauty pageants, among other offerings.

Organizers said the event is expected to draw participants from as far away as Nevada, Arizona and Montana.

ART: PHOTOS

PHOTOG: (1) T&G Staff/STEVE LANAVA; (2, 3 AND 4ff/JIM COLLINS

CUTLINE: (1) Doug Danger of Palmer, Guinness World Record holder for the longest motorcycle jump, 251 feet, soars on his motorcycle over a monster truck while spectators line the Johnson Tunnel wall on Main Street yesterday. (2) Detail from an early 1960s Ford Galaxy Starliner at the Summer Nationals. (3) Bruce and Mary Dapkins drove their 1936 Ford panel delivery truck up from Bethany, Conn., for their first visit to Summer Nationals. (4) Robert Moscoffian talks about this year's Summer Nationals at a press conference.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jul 3, 2009
Words:798
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