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Hot for Hot Rods

Riverfront Run Car Show
showcases classic cars

Madison auto mechanic loves to show off
his cars at the annual car show

(May 2019) – You could say that gas and oil run through Jack O’Brian’s veins. Since his early teens, the 62-year-old has gotten excited at the roar of a Ford engine being run full out. As an older teenager, O’Brien and his friends would meet on the county line between Scottsburg, Ind., and Madison, Ind., to prove who had the fastest car. They chose that site near Nabb, Ind., because it was so far from the respective sheriff’s offices that they hoped that they would be left alone.

Photo by Ben Newell

Don and Becky Cole of Madison, Ind., pose with their 1948 Ford.

It didn’t always work out that way. Today, O’Brien still goes to the drag races in Ohio and Kentucky but no long worries about them being broken up by the law. And when he wants to show off his cars and check out his friends’ rods, he heads to the Madison riverfront. 
On May 25, the River Rat Rodz Car Club will present its annual Riverfront Run car show on Madison’s riverfront. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
Seeing the cars lined up on the riverfront is bound to bring back memories from the past and perhaps even start a new love affair with what is unquestionably America’s greatest machine. The event starts on Friday afternoon with check in and registration at 4 p.m. Anyone can enter by registering their vehicle beforehand for $15 or $20 at the beginning of the show.
The show is noted for its variety, quality and quantity of entrants. Usually more than 400 vehicles will register for the show that takes place on Vaughn Drive. As you stroll along the river you may see anything from Model Ts, muscle cars, military vehicles, motorcycles and more.
To recognize this assortment of transportation, the organizers will hand out more than 140 trophies. The awards ceremony starts at 4:30 Saturday and includes a six-foot trophy for the Best of Show. So if on Saturday evening you see a piece of metal sticking out of the trunk of a beautiful car, you’ll know you’ve just seen the winner go by.

Photo by Ben Newell

Madison’s Jack O’Brien stands beside his 1966 Ford Fairlane 500.

Since the show will occur on Memorial Day weekend, a special ceremony will take place. Not only will there be a tribute to the men and women who gave their lives for our country but there will also be a short history lesson on how the national holiday came to be, according to Kenny Washer, the car club’s vice president.
Money raised from the registrations and local business sponsorships goes into the club’s scholarship programs. They emphasize programs for kids, like “Shop with a Cop” and Ohio Valley Opportunities.
One scholarship that the club is especially fond of is the one for students going into a trade after high school. Not only are they looking to help future auto mechanics, but anyone who is learning a mechanical skill.
O’Brien  has been participating in the show since its inception 20 years ago. His family has been around Madison for at least five generations, with his grandfather graduating from Madison High School in 1905 in a class of nine. O’Brien’s love of car turned into a lifelong profession. He operates Jack’s Automotive, just off Meadow Lane in Madison. It is a business he started more than 40 years ago.
Each May when the show comes around, O’Brien is hustling trying to get his cars ready to take down to the riverfront. He usually enters three to five cars, and you can count on them being his favorite brand – Fords. If you want to know about the history of the muscle cars in the ’60s, O’Brien has all the information.
As you’re walking along the riverfront, it won’t be hard to pick out Don and Becky Cole’s bright red 1948 Ford. They exhibit much pride they have for their cars, the Madison show and even more importantly, the people with whom they have connected through their many years pursuing this hobby.
The couple also wouldn’t miss the car show. Don has that special ability to rebuild a car from the chassis on up and make it look better than it ever did when it was new. Proof of his workmanship is the room full of trophies that he has won over the years in Madison and at other shows.
He and his son, Brian, worked on his 1967 Camaro together. He intentionally used the project to teach his son life lessons, such as hard work, perseverance and pride in accomplishment. As far as the Coles are concerned, the project was a success. Not only did they create a striking car, but today Brian is a pilot in Kansas City, Mo.
And that’s exactly what this car show does. It brings together people who have worked hard to make beautiful cars and allows them to share their experiences. And it gives onlookers a chance to go back in time when days were simpler and less complicated. At least, that’s how we like to remember it.

• For more information on the car show, contact
Kenny Washer at (812) 493-9344.

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