When championship-winning racecar driver Al Young first heard about The Power Big Meet on NPR a few years ago, he knew one day he would visit Sweden to attend the annual gathering of American vintage muscle car enthusiasts. “It was a ‘driveway moment.’ I had to go,” says Young.
From July 3 to 5, Young and his wife, Vicki, who are both retired schoolteachers from Seattle, attended and exhibited his “murdered out” 1973 Plymouth Roadrunner at The Power Big Meet in Vasteras, Sweden, where Young was awarded the prize for travel from the longest distance. Kjelle Gustafsson, the founder of the event, touted Young’s arrival in his newsletter and the local newspaper. Stockholm television also provided media coverage of Young’s arrival.
At the gathering, the former competitive racer was mobbed by showgoers. “It was non-stop visitors at the Bardahl booth for three days,” says Young. “They loved the look of the car and made a big deal that I was once a drag racing world champion.”
Over his 25-year career in racing, Young won the American Hot Rod Association’s World Finals three times and in 1981 took home the World Championship in the “Super Street” category. In 1976, Young initiated a partnership with Bardahl Manufacturing Company in Ballard, one of the largest petroleum additive companies in the world at the time. Bardahl’s enduring support of Young has continued throughout the decades, with the company putting its support behind Young’s recent European tour.
Young approached his old sponsor at the end of 2013, with a proposal to logo Bardahl on the rear quarter panel of his classic Plymouth Roadrunner and drive it throughout Europe promoting the Bardahl brand through 14 countries and over 8,000 miles. In addition, Young offered to stop at Bardahl’s many European Distributorships and display the car during the tour, as well as help them set up a display at The Power Big Meet, the largest classic car show in the world.
“Bardahl responded in the same fashion that they have in the past 38 years of my involvement with their company,” says Young. “With an enthusiastic ‘yes’—with no stipulations other than what I had offered.” The company put Young in touch with the managing director of Bardahl Europe, who arranged the car appearances at a dozen locations throughout Europe.
Bardahl Vice President Mary Davis says there was no question of Bardahl’s support: “We knew from experience that Al was the person for the job. Over the years, Al has proven to be a winner not only on the racetrack but in all aspects of his life.”
Young’s Roadrunner shipped out of Tacoma on May 3 and arrived in Rotterdam on June 16. Al and Vicki flew to Rotterdam on June 18 and traveled through the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, Monaco, Spain, Portugal, and England. Along the road, they were stopped numerous times by police in Belgium, Austria, Spain, and France. But all the police wanted to do was look at the car’s engine and listen to the motor.
“With the exception of the Belgian police, they didn’t even want to see our passports,” says Young. “We had a great time talking with them.”
In Germany, Young drove the country’s legendary Autobahn. While he appreciated the experience as a competitive racer, driving as a road-tripper differed. “You have to give the road and the other cars 100 percent of your attention,” says Young. “People follow too close, drive too fast, and don’t leave much margin for error. Trucks go 75 mph in the slow lane, with cars up to 110 mph in the fast lane.” Despite the pressure, Young’s muscle car excelled. “My engine was at peak torque at 80 mph, and that torque curve doesn’t lay down until 110 mph. Which means the car pulls hard whenever you put the ‘hammer down.’”
Bardahl distributors originally thought Al planned on bringing his green 1970 Challenger race car, which is now in the permanent collections of the Museum of History and Industry. Though initially disappointed by the matte black Roadrunner, “when they saw the reception it was getting by the crowds of people swarming around, they realized how unique and cool it was and took full ownership and responsibility for its arrival and appearances,” Young says. Each distributor invited the press to cover the display of the car. “I signed a lot of autographs and gave away Al Young Racing t-shirts that Bardahl had made at the Horse’s Cut Shop in Fremont exclusively for the trip.”
Over the 45-day tour, the Youngs racked up 8,200 miles, burning through 576 gallons of gas. The pair returned to Seattle on August 2. “It was a trip of a lifetime,” says Vicki. “Six weeks and all of those countries!”
Young and Bardahl have already begun to plan the route for a return tour in 2015. For Young, the experience of exhibiting his car and meeting with vintage muscle car enthusiasts in Europe has left a lasting impression. “If you judge me by my car, you will probably be 80 percent correct about who I really am. They did, no conversations just about Chinese food.”