A display of history's great breakthrough designs, a look at the '50s tailfin frenzy and race cars from Charlotte Motor Speedway's action-packed half-century are just some of the attractions to see at the April 2-5 Food Lion AutoFair.

New ideas for wild dream cars are born every day. Mooresville, N.C., resident Joe Harmon, an industrial design graduate of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, chose to explore the versatility of wood as a 21st century automotive material for his graduate project. Splinter was inspired by Harmon's admiration for the de Havilland Mosquito, a World War II-era twin-engine fighter-bomber made of wood. He figured if England could build a 400-mph plane 70 years ago from laminated plywood and primitive glue, he should be able to use composite wood technologies and modern adhesives to create a rigid and reliable sports car. The jaw-dropping result looks like a cross between a Lamborghini Gallardo, the Batmobile and a finely-crafted armoire.

Any discussion about breakthrough designs must include the wild fantasy machines created by Ed "Big Daddy" Roth. In 1959, the pinstripe artist set the custom car world on its head by building his Outlaw T-bucket roadster from lightweight and easy-to-form fiberglass. Although it was a simple design when compared to his later works, the seamless fiberglass passenger compartment, wing-like front fenders supporting quad headlamps and airbrush paint scheme made Roth a hit on the show circuit. A year later, "Big Daddy" Roth unveiled his Beatnik Bandit, a two-seater with a jet fighter-style glass canopy, fiberglass body and shortened '55 Oldsmobile chassis.

In 1965, inspired by this lofty new school of design, 16-year-old Dan Woods built a Roth-style vehicle he called Milk Truck. Woods created the body from fiberglass laid over a wooden frame, much of which was fabricated in his high school shop class, then transported home on his bicycle. A '57 Pontiac 389-cid V-8 with Weiand supercharger was hooked to a '55 Pontiac automatic transmission and Cragar mag wheels wore wide, drag racer-style Goodyear tires. The square body was painted purple, and the "milk" lettering was performed by none other than Roth, whose team of customizers Woods soon joined.

Woods began working on a follow-up to Milk Truck - a light-blue companion piece he called Ice Truck. The project was interrupted by his service in Vietnam, but Woods completed Ice Truck upon his return and showed it for the first time in 1971. After several years of abuse and neglect, both Milk Truck and Ice Truck have been restored by hot rod builder Dave Shuten.

In 1967, Indiana natives Glen Yeary and Steve Tansy toured a Coca-Cola plant in search of old bottle dispensers. Their visit led to the creation of the Coke Machine, a rolling tribute to America's favorite soft drink with a 327-cid Chevrolet V-8 fed by four four-barrel carburetors.

Genuine Coca-Cola products went into the creation of this caffeinated dream car, including a radiator-mounted spigot, bottle caps, wooden cartons, bottles, ice chest and dispenser doors.

One of Roth's competitors in the 1960s was George Barris, the self-proclaimed car customizer to Hollywood's stars and creator of TV's Batmobile. When Redd Foxx became a popular television star through NBC's "Sanford and Son," Barris created a one-off vehicle to match Foxx's bigger-than-life personality. The Li'l Redd Wrecker was a tow truck with a hand-built metal body and hydraulic tilting cab covered in a bright red paint scheme. It features a crushed velour interior, center-mounted steering wheel and mid-engine 750-horsepower supercharged V-8.

Modern-day pupils of Big Daddy's outrageous style include Fritz Schenck, a Missouri-based builder who has gained fame for producing Roth-influenced dream cars. Schenck's Margarita Chiquita started life as a 1960 Harley-Davidson motorcycle, but is now a '60s-style chopper with "ape hanger" handlebars, a narrowed gas tank and a custom green paint scheme with orange and purple flames.

Nostalgia for the 1950s street rod movement still inspires some unusual creations. Like "Big Daddy" Roth, Jerry Bowers was a painter who dreamed of building crazy cars. In the late 1980s, he traded some work for a

'49 Ford F-5 school bus and transformed it into a chopped, lowered and shortened machine riding on a custom Cadillac Eldorado chassis. The "Shortcut High School Bus" has toured the country encouraging students to study hard and graduate.

Not all dream cars spend their lives on the show circuit - some of those breakthrough designs actually go into production for the public to drive. Such was the case in 1934 when Chrysler Corp. introduced its radical Airflow sedan. Based on a prototype known as the Trifon Special, the Airflow was the first mass-produced American automobile styled in a wind tunnel.

Roth's Beatnik Bandit and Beatnik Bandit II, along with a reproduction of his Outlaw built by Schenck, will represent "Big Daddy's"

body of work in the Breakthrough Designs display at AutoFair. The exhibit will also include the Splinter, Ice Truck, Milk Truck, Coke Machine, Li'l Redd Wrecker, Margarita Chiquita, Shortcut High School Bus and Chrysler Airflow.

Other Food Lion AutoFair attractions include:

. When Fins Were In: The idea of adding fins to the rear of a car was born in the late 1930s, when General Motors stylist Harley Earl took a group of designers to the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan to see Lockheed's top-secret P-38 fighter-interceptor. The first hint of a tailfin distinguished the Cadillac line from cheaper GM products through 1954. In 1955, Cadillac introduced the first true tailfins on its Eldorado convertible with razor-edged, chrome-tipped vertical stabilizers. The rest of the 1950s was spent in a tailfin race with other manufacturers.

. Fueled by the Fallen: A pair of nitro-burning NHRA Funny Cars, dedicated to the memory of U.S. military personnel killed in service of their country, will be displayed during AutoFair. Kevyn Major Howard, an actor who has appeared in movies such as "Full Metal Jacket" and "Alien Nation" and television programs such as "Magnum P.I." and "Miami Vice," created a traveling memorial based on drag racers. The Fueled by the Fallen Memorial Race Team is 11 cars strong and has raised more than $100,000 for military families. Each car is branch-specific and has the names of personnel killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq.

. 50 Years of Racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway: LMS held its first superspeedway race, the inaugural World 600, on June 19, 1960. Race fans sat on concrete bleachers in the hot Carolina summer sun to watch Joe Lee Johnson take the checkered flag. A half-century later, the speedway is the epicenter for NASCAR racing and has expanded to include The Dirt Track @ Charlotte Motor Speedway and zMAX Dragway. A special display of historic race cars, including Bobby Allison's '69 Mercury and Rusty Wallace's '90 Coca-Cola 600 winner, will commemorate 50 Years of Racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

. AACA National Spring Meet: At the heart of every good car show is an active car club, but when 57 clubs get together on the same weekend the result is one of the nation's largest annual collector car events. One of the largest turnouts will happen during the Antique Automobile Club of America's National Spring Meet, which features more than 600 of the country's most beautiful classic cars, ranging in model year from 1896 to 1984. The historic "show within a show" is hosted by the Hornets Nest Region of AACA and takes place on Saturday. A sampling of other car clubs participating in the spring Food Lion AutoFair on Saturday and Sunday include the Capitol City Corvette Club, Carolina Classic Pontiac Club, CORSA (Chevrolet Corvairs), Euros at the Fair (foreign exotics), Horsepower Junkies, Mini Motoring Club of the Carolinas, Plymouth Owners Club, Southern Performance Ford Club and Southern Scouts.

. Auction Action: Tom Mack Classics will conduct its Spring Fling auction on Friday and Saturday of AutoFair. Everything from a 1927 Chevrolet Landau Coupe to a 2008 Shelby GT convertible will cross the block - many with no reserve. The centerpiece for this year's event is a 52-car collection of unusual and low-mileage AMC products such as Pacers, Ambassadors, AMXs, Matadors, Javelins and Ramblers. Other collectors selling groups of cars include Lakeside Classics, Duncan Ford, Mark Tcherzkezian and George Poteet.

The sale starts at 1 p.m. on Friday and 11 a.m. on Saturday. For consignment information, or to obtain a complete list of auction cars, contact Tom Mack Classics at (803) 364-3322 or visit www.tommackclassics.com.

. Book Signing: Automotive author and car collector Tom Cotter will greet fans and sign autographs in the Showcase Garage from 10 to 11 a.m. and 2 to

3 p.m. on Saturday. The Davidson, N.C., resident will have copies of his popular books, "The Cobra in the Barn" and "The Hemi in the Barn," available for sale, as well his latest release, "Dean Jeffries: 50 Fabulous Years in Hot Rods, Racing & Film."

. Automotive Art: Famed automotive artists Dan McCrary, David Snyder, Garry Hill, and Roger Blanchard will have a mini-gallery in the Showcase Garage all four days of AutoFair.

. Huge Car Corral: More than 1,500 vehicles available for sale or trade will circle the 1.5-mile superspeedway, and the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles will have an on-site office to process the paperwork.

. Giant Flea Market: One person's junk is another person's treasure, and 10,000 vendor spaces, located both inside and outside the speedway, will offer an extraordinary array of automotive parts and memorabilia.

. Manufacturers' Midway: The NASCAR Sprint Cup garage and its surrounding parking areas will be filled with manufacturers and distributors of aftermarket parts and accessories. From welding equipment to car care products, the Manufacturers' Midway is the ultimate shopping destination for automotive aficionados.

. Awards Ceremony: The ceremony for car club awards will be presented by CarShowTrophies.com, the Preferred Award Supplier of the Food Lion AutoFair whose custom-made, hand-painted trophies are crafted in the United States.

Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets can be purchased at the gate on event days and are $10 per day for adults, while children 12 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5.

For more information, contact the Charlotte Motor Speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit us online.