At age 15, Tom Cotter of Davidson, N.C., bought a 1939 Ford woodie surf wagon in Long Island, N.Y., and sold it just four years later. Now 51, Cotter celebrated Sunday when his childhood woodie captured the prestigious Food Lion AutoFair Best of Show Award as the four-day automotive extravaganza concluded at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

"You talk to anybody out there, any fan, and they say 'you know, I should have never sold that car I had,'" Cotter commented. "Well I did, but I was lucky enough to get it back. How many people can say that?"

As a teenager, Cotter sold the car to a collector in Puerto Rico. Years later after moving to North Carolina to pursue a career in motorsports public relations, Cotter's interest in woodies rekindled after seeing a few at the 1986 Food Lion AutoFair. He joined the National Woodie Club and through its national registry, tracked down the owner of his teenage station wagon in Puerto Rico. After a four-year courtship, several meetings with the owner at AutoFair and six months of negotiating, Cotter purchased the car for the second time. It took him another six months of waiting for the car to be shipped after a hurricane wiped out the loading dock at the Puerto Rican port.

"It was out of my life for 26 years," he said. "It's like hooking up with an old girlfriend I guess."

To prepare the car for cross-country driving, Cotter decided to rebuild it with a late model drivetrain, a Chevrolet Corvette engine and modern conveniences like air conditioning, power steering and disc brakes. But the birds-eye maple woodwork exterior and the alligator skin seats are the most eye-catching features of this pale yellow and tan colored machine, complete with a surfboard sticking out the back window. But for all its obvious attributes, it's the intangible appeal of the car that Cotter and other middle-aged automotive enthusiasts enjoy most.

"It's like a fantasy everyone has. To think back to when you were in high school, that's the car you wanted," said Cotter. "Everyone wanted to be a surf bum and hang out at the beach. I guess that's what I am. I'm just a 51-year-old surf bum."

Showing the car for the first time just five days after the restoration was completed, Cotter also captured the Best of Show Award for the Piedmont Region Early Ford V-8 Club.

Robert "Mr. Bob" Cannon of Concord, N.C., claimed the Lion Cup Award for Best Paint with his factory harvest gold and African ivory 1955 Chevy; while Paul Cochrane's drive back to Matthews, N.C., was more enjoyable in his 1969 Z-28 Camaro after picking up the Concord Concours Award for Best Restoration by Owner.

Other specialty award winners included: Tom Goodman of Cornelius, N.C., winner of the Cabarrus Cup Award (Most Creative) for his red 1965 Chevrolet Corvair convertible; Rod and Elsie Lemke of Forest, Va., winners of the Bob Laidlein Award (Most Original) for their 1954 Dodge Royal; and Harrisburg's Chad Stern who captured the Mecklenburg Strelitz Award (Ladies' Choice) for his 1970 black-and-white racing striped Chevrolet Chevelle.

In addition, each of the 50 car clubs participating in the Food Lion AutoFair was judged individually, with a Best of Show picked for each club.

First-place winners of the Food Lion AutoFair Kids' Car Art Contest included 9-year-old Bryce Thompson and 11-year-old Olivia Armstrong, both of Concord, N.C., and 15-year-old Kyle Anderson of Mooresville, N.C.

Car enthusiasts will again converge on Charlotte Motor Speedway when the Goodguys Southeastern Nationals takes place Oct. 28-30 in conjunction with the Word Short Track Championships at The Dirt Track @ Charlotte Motor Speedway Oct. 28-29. For ticket information, call 1-800-455-FANS or click here.