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Valve Burners prepares to host about 400 vintage cars

Merced's street rod club, the Valve Burners, has been staging a car show each fall at Lake Yosemite and Sunday's 18th annual event should attract about 400 vintage vehicles and several thousand spectators.

"Super Sunday at Lake Yosemite" will showcase street rods, customized cars, showroom-stock autos, muscle cars and trucks along the shores of the lake. Classic car enthusiasts from Fresno-Clovis, Bakersfield, Pleasanton, Hollister, the San Francisco Bay Area and Oakhurst are expected to bring their highly modified and brightly painted creations to Merced.

Former Valve Burners' president Tracy Ledford said each year Super Sunday raises between $7,000 and $10,000 for its main charity, Hinds Hospice. Many people have been to nearly all the shows which began in 1991 and it's a favorite on the street rod circuit.

"It (Lake Yosemite) is a good place to have a car show. There's a camaraderie among car people," Ledford said. He will be driving his wife Judy's pastel green 1954 Ford station wagon and bringing the "Cotton Chopper" rail dragster raced by Valve Burners club members from 1952 to 1960 during the group's early years. He is restoring the dragster to its original version from 55 years ago.

Norm Machado of Atwater joined the Valve Burners 20 years ago and has had his 1934 Chevrolet two-door sedan for 17 years. The "brotherhood of car people" keeps Machado's interest up and eagerness to make Super Sunday a success.

Former club president Joe Santo of Atwater said the Valve Burners was first established in 1952, went dormant in the 1960s and was revived about 20 years ago. The owner of a 1941 Chevrolet two-door sedan, Santo joined the club after visiting the Super Sunday event for several years. He said the show is an ideal opportunity to make new friends and see friends from past years.

Santo said there might be 100 examples of a particular car at a show like Super Sunday but all will be different. He said club members work all year on the show and he reserves the Lake Yosemite facilities from the county the day after the event.

Keith Wildes of Merced has been attending the Super Sunday event for many years. Several years ago he acquired a 1951 Austin four-door sedan, which now sports a 350 cubic-inch Chevrolet engine and extra-large rear tires.

The powder-blue compact English-made car has been described as a "stink bug on steroids," Wildes said. Now a Valve Burners member, Wildes said the Super Sunday event is a great show.

Also planning to attend and help fellow club members with the show will be Francine Martinez of Merced. The Valve Burners' newsletter editor, she and her husband totally rebuilt a 1971 Chevrolet Nova two-door sedan, complete with a new Chevrolet V-8 engine, special exhaust headers and mufflers. The car features a bright tangerine orange paint job and aftermarket chrome rims.

Dave Jeffery of Atwater is the Valve Burners current president. He has a 1951 Chevrolet pickup featuring an updated Chevrolet V-8, airbag suspension and reversed, or "suicide," doors.

A club member for two years, Jeffery said he was moved emotionally when he helped present last year's donation check to appreciative Hinds Hospice president Nancy Hinds. The club has 40 member families, including about a dozen new members in the last year. Members range in age from 18 to their 70s, he said.

Thirty-one awards will be given out Sunday and club members' vehicles are not eligible for judging. Ledford said a special memorial award will honor the late Johnny Wood, who was instrumental in reviving the Valve Burners and served as one of the group's early presidents. The award will go to the owner of a 1932 Ford coupe, the car Wood drove for many years.

Kevin Malone of Merced has nearly every dash plaque from past Super Sunday events. He will be bringing his 1929 Ford Model A closed cab pickup to Super Sunday. The vintage truck once belonged to street rod magazine editor Jim Rizzo and now sports a 327 cubic-inch Corvette engine, wide whitewall tires, red rims and a custom cab.

Car registration begins at 7 a.m. and the gates open to spectators at 8 a.m. The car entry fee is $25 and spectators are admitted for $3, with children under age 12 admitted free. The show ends about 3 p.m. after awards and raffle prizes are given out.

A Saturday Night Rendezvous will be held Saturday from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Lowe's store parking lot on West Olive Avenue.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209-385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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