Grownups become little children again when they catch sight of Fred Keller and Judy Foster driving down the highway in their custom two-seater – a classic red Radio Flyer wagon built to adult scale, complete with pull handle.

The nostalgic roadster makes its debut on the national show car circuit during the April 7-10 Food Lion AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It will share the AutoFair’s Showcase Garage with other attractions, including an assortment of “Beauties and Beasts” from American automakers, high-riding “skyscraper” sedans that roll on 30-inch custom wheels, a Legends of Drag Racing display featuring an autograph session with “TV” Tommy Ivo and a collection of electric and hybrid cars.

Keller and Foster, a retired couple from Wasilla, Alaska, enjoyed Radio Flyer wagons when they were growing up. At a 2009 car show in Oregon, they remembered how much the childhood icon meant when they saw a street rod wearing the familiar red body and logo.

“That’s when Judy and I decided we wanted our own full-size Radio Flyer,” Keller said.

Fabricating parts and whole vehicles holds no fear for Keller, whose skills are legendary in the aviation hobby. He has built five airplanes in his garage/hangar and once took a plane design from the prototype stage to homebuilt kit form for aerospace engineer Burt Rutan.

A faded yellow 1976 Mazda B1600 pickup that once belonged to Foster’s father became the foundation for the wagon project.

“I separated the Mazda’s body and frame and cut two inches out of the chassis so I could keep the wagon’s classic proportions,” Keller recalled. I modified the rear suspension to take the extra weight and added a Class III trailer hitch receiver in case we need to tow something. The four-cylinder engine, four-speed manual transmission and drum brakes only needed cleaning and servicing.”

With the frame sorted out, Keller fashioned the legendary Radio Flyer body from marine plywood, foam, fiberglass cloth, and epoxy resin. The Mazda’s instrument panel found a home in the new dashboard, and Keller topped the reused steering column with a wagon wheel. He crafted the black pull handle from fiberglass-wrapped PVC pipe and made it detachable. The wagon’s wheels wear narrow Goodyear tires and are covered by flat white hubcaps with red plastic centers. Keller added the lights, horn, mirrors and windshield required by Alaska’s Department of Motor Vehicles for street-legal status.

“Judy and I picked out a set of racing-style bucket seats because we wanted to be as comfortable as possible,” Keller said. “That turns out to be a good decision because the wagon feels like an open sports car, and it’s fun to drive on a curvy road.”

Keller’s Radio Flyer, which took 11 months to build, is 3.63 times the size of the original child’s toy. It measures 13.5 feet in overall length (the same as a Honda Fit economy car), 5.5 feet in width, and 4.5 feet to the top of its Lexan windshield. In the raised position, the pull handle reaches 8.5 feet above the ground. Cruising speed is around 50 miles per hour.

When Charlotte Motor Speedway officials offered to transport the Radio Flyer by truck to the Food Lion AutoFair and fly its owners to the event, Keller and Foster said they preferred to tow it behind their Dodge motorhome. Their plan is to leave four weeks ahead of the show’s start on April 7 and enjoy the 4,300-mile trip at a leisurely pace. Four Canadian provinces and nine American states – that’s a long way to pull a little red wagon.

Radio Flyer History
There was a time when every boy and girl had or desperately wanted a pull-along wagon. Some kids used them to politely help Mom and Dad in the yard; others turned them into gravity-powered rocketships that frightened neighborhood pets. The little red wagon was as important to 20th century America’s youth as Santa Claus.

Antonio Pasin, an Italian immigrant and skilled cabinet maker, fulfilled millions of children’s transportation dreams by bringing the auto industry’s mass-production techniques to his Liberty Coaster Manufacturing Co. His 1923 introduction of the wood-bodied No. 4 Liberty Coaster gave the country a new must-have toy, but it was a move to stamped-steel bodies in the late 1920s (and a name change to Radio Steel & Manufacturing in 1930) that led to the simple but astoundingly successful Radio Flyer model.

Contrary to our collective memory, there was no single Radio Flyer design or logo. The size and shape of the bed, wheels, and famous graphics changed on a regular basis to reflect what was popular in the marketplace. Although the company continues to produce many different wagon lines and toys today, the red Radio Flyer symbolizes the innocent thrills of childhood. It is one of 46 products that have earned a spot in Rochester, New York’s National Toy Hall of Fame.

Food Lion AutoFair
Hours for the April 7-10 Food Lion AutoFair are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. Ticket prices are $10 per day for adults or $25 for a four-day pass; children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5.

Fans can also purchase the Car Show Season Pass in advance for just $89, a savings of $45 per person, to attend Charlotte Motor Speedway’s three car shows: the spring and fall Food Lion AutoFairs on April 7-10 and Aug. 25-28 and the Goodguys Southeastern Nationals on Oct. 28-30. The Car Show Season Pass also includes a personalized hard card and lanyard, VIP parking at each event and 10 percent off all merchandise purchased in the Charlotte Motor Speedway gift shop.

For more information, contact the speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.