Iola welcomes car enthusiasts, even younger ones

Very rarely do I manage to find myself on the eastern side of the Mississippi River. Each time I do, not only meet some interesting characters, but the cars are always nice.

Show section dedicated to Camaros and Firebirds | Nicole Ellan James photos

Show section dedicated to Camaros and Firebirds | Nicole Ellan James photos

Very rarely do I manage to find myself on the eastern side of the Mississippi River. Each time I do, it’s as if I am transported from Phoenix to an alternate universe –- it’s humid, everything seems oversaturated in green hues, and I not only meet some interesting characters, but the cars are always nice.

My latest such adventure took me to the Iola Car Show, held July 6-8 in Iola, Wisconsin –- a town of around 1,300 people located approximately a two-hour drive north from Madison, the state capitol.

The swap meet area was full of visitors

The swap meet area was full of visitors

For the last 45 years, over 120,000 people flock to the town of Iola for its annual three-day festival-style car show.

The event earns festival vibes with camping on site available for those with tents or campers — there’s even an area dedicated to campers made before 1975 — as well as free concerts with regional performers like Raised Reckless, Vic Ferrari, Highfield Drive and BoxKar. A PinUp contest is held along with the car corral and swap meet and car show.

Well, actually, car shows.

The show portion of the Iola festival presents over 2,000 cars showcased in groupings — Pre-War (1942 or earlier), Post-War (1945-1990), all-original vehicles pre-1976, modified cars pre-1990, as well as a Blue Ribbon Concours and a themed category dedicated to the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird and Trans-Am pony cars.

Staged near the “winner’s circle” and seemingly endless rows of Camaros and Firebirds was the first Camaro built, N100001, parked behind velvet ropes next to its clear trailer, with owners Corey and Logan Lawson nearby.

The Lawsons shared the story of how the car was acquired by 13-year-old Logan, a kid from Kansas, and his English-teacher grandmother, who’d been convinced by his father that buying the car was a better “college fund” investment than the stock market. The father-son team restored the car to its original specs with every single piece from an original GM part other than the seat cover and carpet.

Crowd surrounds first Camaro

Crowd surrounds first Camaro

The Lawsons tour the car to various shows. Logan Lawson told the crowd at Iola, “We’re trying to bring the history back to everyone who enjoys it.”

My favorite class at the Iola Car show was “Old Cars Young Drivers” and was just what it said — cars 25 years or older driven by enthusiasts 25 years or younger.

Aside from age restrictions, to be included in this class, cars and trucks could be stock or modified and of any quality, as long as they could be driven onto the show field under their own power.

I liked the class because I was among my peers and it was refreshing to find other people my same age who enjoyed old cars, not just the cars our same age. I also enjoyed seeing how welcoming the long-running classic car show was to the under 25 crowd and to our need for modifying our cars.

Despite the culture shock I encounter each visit east, I appreciate the “foreign” experience. They always make for the best memories.

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