Nothing combines Americans' love of cars, sports and food like a tailgate party. Trucks and buses specially built to serve as "parking lot party central" will be featured at Charlotte Motor Speedway's Food Lion AutoFair, which takes place on a new date this year - Aug. 26-29.

The Tailgater display will accompany the world's only collection of street legal bumper cars, a 70th anniversary exhibit of 1940 Fords and a visit from 92-year-old internet phenomenon and recent guest on "The Tonight Show," Rachel Veitch, and her 563,000-mile '64 Mercury Comet.

Tailgater and Street Rod in Disguise
One of the tailgaters on display at the Food Lion AutoFair will be a unique vehicle restored by Doug Bean, of Savannah, Ga., who was having a problem with one of his hot rod projects. Always passionate about the unusual and weird in the automotive world, Bean had purchased a retired bread truck at a swap meet five years ago with plans to polish its aluminum body to a mirror-like finish. Such a treatment works great on aluminum-bodied Airstream campers and jet aircraft, but five months of hard labor on his 1948 Grumman Olson Kurbside van only produced disappointment and tired elbows.

Devastated by his discovery that Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp., builder of the Kurbside's body, had not used the same quality of aluminum alloy in its trucks as it had its aviation products, Bean stopped all work on the van for nearly two years while he formulated a new plan.

Because he is a self-described partier, Bean eventually settled on the idea to turn the loaf-of-bread-shaped truck into the perfect tailgate vehicle, but with a twist.

"I'm in the sign business," he said, "and I thought it would be neat to make it look like an old sign painter's truck - a really old sign painter's truck!"

Nowadays Bean enjoys the looks people give him when he parks the sign truck at a football game, race or car show. When he presses a button and both sides of the vehicle electrically lift to reveal a large flat-screen television, commercial-grade grill, coffee maker, serving counter and beverage dispenser, all spotlessly clean and modern, observers don't seem to mind that they've been fooled by the ingenious tailgater.

But it wasn't easy getting the vehicle in the tricked-out tailgating shape it's in today. Bean and friends Dale Bieber and Greg Seamands sprayed the Grumman's aluminum body solid white, then painted vintage-looking signs advertising his company on the side panels and rear doors. He purposely faded the lettering so it would appear aged and weather-beaten, and the phone number comprises only seven digits, as it would have in the 1950s when all business was local.

To this newly restored Kurbside they applied hundreds of streaks of simulated rust stains, the kind one sees on retired delivery vehicles sitting in salvage yards. The roof replicates a painter's supply rack, including ladders, walk boards, tool boxes and a step stool. The walk-in driver's compartment, a real innovation when Grumman Olson introduced it in 1946, is a time capsule of debris from Bean's career. Globs of color are spattered on a rack of paint cans, and the homemade cargo area door appears to have been cut from a sign advertising "Georgia Peaches, Next Exit."

In short, Bean's project looks like something he might sell for $50 to an aluminum recycler, but that's just a disguise. The '48 hides a street rod chassis wearing coil-over front and air bag rear suspension with a 383-cubic-inch four-barrel V-8 engine with a low-restriction exhaust system that puts out more than 400 horsepower. The beast of a powerplant is hooked to a modern automatic transmission. The van rides on desirable American Racing wheels that Bean and his artists treated to appear rusty.

From Humble Beginnings to Modern-Day Phenomenon
Technically speaking, pioneer settlers were the country's first tailgaters, the backs of their Conestoga wagons acting as kitchens and therefore central gathering places during meals. When Henry Ford began mass-producing the Model T in the 1910s, families eagerly incorporated the new contraption into their lives. Attending large social events and sports competitions with a vehicle full of food, drink, games and music was the logical next step in the automobile's evolution.


Today's serious tailgaters have clubs, newsletters, websites and whole recipe books devoted to food that can be prepared across a range of portable cooking surfaces. Tailgating vehicles include everything from small pickup trucks with swimming pools in their beds to full-size buses.


Imagimotive in Magnolia, Texas, manufactures innovative tailgate components and whole vehicles. Mike and Kate Sims dreamed up the company in 2004 when returning from a weekend at Northwestern University, where their son Kevin was playing football. From personal experience with their own Northwestern Tailgating Van, the Simses recognized a need for equipment that could be used on a part-time basis, then stored in the garage. They developed the Removable Tailgating System (RTS), which is similar to the old-fashioned slide-in pickup camper concept, except with a 42-inch flat-screen television, grill, satellite dish and other necessities for modern parking lot partiers.


At the Food Lion AutoFair, Imagimotive will display an RTS fitted to a 2008 Ford F-150, one of its pull-along Tailgate Trailers and the Extreme Tailgating Bus, a 40-foot 1987 International school bus converted to a full-scale party rig with onboard cooker, multiple flat-screen TVs and lounge.


Food Lion AutoFair
Hours for the Aug. 26-29 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 for adults; children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5. For more information on the four-day event, contact the speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.