Throwback Thursday – Custom Car Culture Comes to Bowling Green

The new “Car-toon Creatures, Kustom Cars & Corvettes” exhibit at the National Corvette Museum tells the story of how artist and engineer Ed “Big Daddy” Roth changed hot rodding history forever. This week we’re weaving this history into the story of Bowling Green’s own racing and engine-crazed culture, both rooted in the mid-century modern mayhem of the 1950s.

The exhibit features the life of Ed Roth, a gearhead who built custom cars and drew caricatures of monsters riding outrageous cars. His most famous character was Rat Fink, launched in 1963 as an overgrown green rat who rode wild cars and motorcycles. Rat Fink was Roth’s answer to Mickey Mouse and represented the mod California culture that swept the country.

In the meantime, stock car and drag strip racing were all the rage here in Bowling Green, as Beech Bend Raceway ran its first races in the summers of 1950 and 1951, open to suped up cars and motorcycles. The Beech Bend drag strip was running by 1956, and hot rodders from around the region were competing. This planted the seeds that would grow this city into the Corvette capital of the world and hot rodding haven it is today.

Home of the General Motors Corvette Assembly Plant since 1981, Bowling Green hosts more than a dozen national auto shows and Corvette celebrations each year, with well over a million visitors hitting the Beech Bend strip and Corvette Museum Boulevard. 

This culture also grew into the establishment of Holley Performance Products and R.C. Components, two of the biggest custom racing dealers in the world, headquartered in Bowling Green. Couple the auto engineering and manufacturing efforts of Bowling Green Metalforming, along with the addition of the NCM Motorsports Park in 2014, and Bowling Green continues to position itself as an auto powerhouse and Hot Rod City, USA.

The custom car exhibit is on display at the National Corvette Museum all year.