HOT RODS, HOT DOGS AND A COOL CAUSE: Island Cruise-In set for final summer show

The delicious smell of burgers and dogs grilling over charcoal wafted over a sea of shiny hot rods and cool classic cars, spread out and glinting in the warm late afternoon light.

The delicious smell of burgers and dogs grilling over charcoal wafted over a sea of shiny hot rods and cool classic cars, spread out and glinting in the warm late afternoon light.

For just a minute, it’s as if you’ve stepped back in time to the Bainbridge of yesteryear; a simpler time of sweeping fins, shiny chrome and American muscle.

Where is Brian Setzer when you need him?

But then, into this nostalgic fantasy sneaks the peripheral sight of cell phones — folks taking photos and posing for selfies with ‘Stangs and Chargers — and the more modern models speeding by on the nearby highway.

Even as the momentary illusion shatters, it’s hard not to love a summertime car show.

A true time machine it is not, but the monthly Bainbridge Island Classic Car Cruise-In remains the next best thing around — and you can’t beat the price.

This particular flashback fiesta, organized by brothers Aaron and Micah Strom of Modern Collision Rebuild & Service, is free to attend, and has transformed the intersection of Highway 305 and Madison Avenue into a popular gathering spot for both families and more serious gear heads alike for more than a decade on the last Tuesday evening of every month from May through August.

The aforementioned burgers and dogs are for sale, prepped by the Strom brothers and other volunteers. A $5 donation per meal includes a water or soda as well, and all proceeds from the event benefit Helpline House’s Project Backpack, a program which provides school supplies and new clothes for Bainbridge students in need.

It may not be the typical cause for a car show, but, then again, the whole atmosphere of this event is unique. There is none of the insular tribalism and exclusionary tech-speak that so often drives away the less devoted driving machine disciples from such gatherings.

Instead, amidst the snatches of engine stats and carburetor queries, kids run and play — no doubt repelling the thoughts of the quickly approaching school year — and friends meet, catch up and swap the latest gossip.

“It’s what I call a kind of ‘street show,’” Aaron Strom explained. “The community comes, enjoys it, and you don’t have to really even care about cars. You can have fun talking to people here that you know and you can skip the cars and still have fun.”

Advertising for the show has always been kept to a minimum, Strom said. The show has grown through word of mouth, by putting the word out to local car clubs, and its sheer proximity to the heavily traveled highway.

New to the show this year are Cruise-In shirts available for purchase, which have undoubtedly spread some awareness as well, he added.

The show has come a long way from its early days, even if it hasn’t actually come very far.

The island tradition began in 2003, and spent its first season in its nearby original location at Strawberry Hill Park, explained event co-founder Jim Peek.

The new location has surely helped grow the event exponentially, he said, though, at first, it was actually a bit of a problem.

For the first three seasons that the show was near the highway, Peek said, there was at least one fender bender on the main road during each show as passing drivers craned their necks to check out the display.

“No one was hurt,” he laughed.

The sight seems to have become more expected now, as the show shifted from novelty to island tradition, and the accident rate has dropped to nil.

What has not slacked off, however, is the show’s lofty goals. Even from the start, the show was about more than just cool cars.

“The theme of the car show has always been to create smiles,” Peek said. “There’s never been any pressure. Just enjoy the cars. It’s always been that way.

“It’s low key and people like that,” he added. “There’s no drama going on or anything.”

At first, Peek remembered, the show was held every Tuesday through the summer. It quickly became apparent that such regularity, however, diminished the overall excitement surrounding the show, so it was decided after that first year that it would be held once a month instead.

The recipient of the show’s fundraising efforts, though, remains the same.

“I’ve always had a passion for Project Backpack,” Peek said. “For me, when I was in grade school, I just remember how nice it was to start the new year with all my supplies. It’s kind of like renewing [and] getting a second chance to do better at school.”

Though some may have been surprised to learn that a number of island students need assistance in affording basic school supplies when Project Backpack was founded, both Peek and Strom said that the word is out now and support has been continuous.

“In 2003 people were surprised,” Peek said. “I think there’s a lot more awareness of it [now].”

In addition to the $5 meals at the Classic Car Cruise-In, islanders looking to chip in can buy a backpack and fill it with needed supplies, just donate some supplies, or consider making a cash donation at the event.

Donations are also accepted in the form of gift cards.

There remains no fee or advance registration required to bring a classic or special interest vehicle to the show, which often sees more than 100 cars in attendance.

The final show of the season, slated for Tuesday, Aug. 25, has historically been the most attended, Strom said. This year, he expects nearly 200 cars to be on display.

Visit to learn more about the Cruise-In and Project Backpack.

Those looking to showcase their cool ride are encouraged to show up early, he added, as show space is typically filled within the first 30 to 60 minutes.