Every year for three days in July, the Syracuse Nationals brings thousands of vintage beauties, candy-painted hot rods and eye-catching makes and models of yesteryear to my neck of the woods – Syracuse, NY. At night, the car owners cruise the streets, and places like Erie Blvd and the Liverpool streets become a treat for spectators. But during the day, the Syracuse Nationals events at the NYS Fairgrounds is the place to be to see the real action…and my mother, nephew (and later my brother), and I had the pleasure of taking in the scene for the first time on opening day this weekend.
Cars, Cars and More Cars
The real stars of the Syracuse Nationals are the cars, which deliver a rainbow of colors, creative expressions, deafening sounds, and mesmerizing detail. Some of the paint jobs are so clean and inviting, they look good enough to eat.
Purple was a popular color at the show.
…but I tend to gravitate to the cars that are green (my favorite color)…
…and those that have interesting features, like the chain/brass knuckles steering wheel shown below.
It belonged to a car that had a 3-D skull emerging from the tire cover.
I love striking paint jobs…like this vibrant orange/yellow/green display with demons and zombies hidden in between.
As a dog lover, I went crazy over this white car with a massive hood decorated with Fred the dog.
The pink 1974 Monte Carlo below gives me a Barbie doll kind-of-feel.
Flames are definitely a popular design for cars, and there were plenty of them to see.
This truck actually came with a matching Go-Kart – ha!
And, who could resist taking a picture of a giant roller skate on wheels?
Free Tram Rides, Yes Please!
Tram rides are free at the Syracuse Nationals, and I can’t stress enough how helpful and convenient they are. I was at the car show for 5 hours, and nearly 20% of my time was spent on a tram…mostly because just 15 minutes after we crossed the gates, we got soaked from drenching rains during our first tram ride. The rain mixed with wind sent water flying everywhere, and as we looped around the entire event about three times, I got a good idea of where to go next. We never had to wait for a tram, and the people hopping on and jumping off was constant.
By the end of the day, we hopped on one to take in our last views of the cars, and get dropped off right at the gate where the car was parked. Above is my brother and nephew relaxing on the tram.
Food Trucks, Ice-Cold Beverages and Deep Fried Oreos
The Syracuse Nationals offers the usual event food, like grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, cotton candy and ice cream, but also introduces you to a few local food trucks, like…
It’s a Utica Thing (where my Mom got delicious tomato pie for $2)
Sarita’s, where we all tried Deep Fried Oreos for the first time.
I almost declined because of the calorie-horror stories I’ve heard about them, but they were WELL WORTH IT…and they were nicely-priced at 6 for $5 or 2 for $3.
I also meant to double-back and snag a Wine Slushie before leaving, but forgot.
Free Refills All Day Long…
When you purchase a Limited Edition Syracuse Nationals collectible mule from Wild Bill’s, you get unlimited refills of old-fashioned soda throughout the day for free, AND for $5 on any other day of the car show (AND I do believe, the guy said $5 refills for Syracuse Nationals in the future). He had already convinced me by the time he said ‘unlimited’ and ‘free’ that I wanted to buy one.
The Barrel is $17, and the Double Barrel (which is insulated) is $20-something.
We tried all six flavors off soda (Sarsaparilla Six Shooter, Vintage Vanilla Cream, Rocky Mountain Root Beer + Diet, Outlaw Orange, Black Cherry, and Birch Beer). I counted at least three Wild Bill’s spread across the grounds, so you won’t have to walk miles for a refill.
While at the car show, other things we checked out included:
Ol’ Skool Roundup: You get your usual hodge-podge of car memorabilia and collectibles, like Mustang pins from the 60’s to 90s’, vintage toy collectibles beyond Hot Wheels, lighters, old license plates, pins, patches, and stickers. And then, there are an unusual number of animal skulls, bones and teeth that kind of gave me the creeps, but intrigued the heck out of my nephew.
Various vendors: There are people selling and advertising all sorts of things, such as car parts, motor oil, sparkplugs, mini-tanks, paint jobs, apparel, jewelry, and Syracuse Nationals swag. They even had traveling Motorcycle Hall of Fame onsite, and services such as a catering company called Barbeque Party in a Box.
Despite the downpour, beating sun, heat, sunburn and sore feet, we all had a blast. I believe the car show was well-planned and executed. My Mom noted that the scene had a festival feel to it. There was a friendly, laid-back vibe, and it just seemed that everyone was having a really good time; car owners were eager to explain things, identify cars and share information; and even cars on their way out of the show pausing so that people could take photos of their rides.
I can see why people go crazy when the Syracuse Nationals comes to town.
One Thing I Wished…
The map in the program was tweaked just a bit. Sitting under a rest stop in the middle of a sea of cars, there was one point where we really didn’t know where we were since you can basically hop on and off the trams where you like. Studying the map, we made educated guesses, but couldn’t pinpoint an exact location. After walking for a bit, we eventually found a sign pointing towards the Car Corral/Swap Meet and followed it to an area where we came across a section with food and drinks. I must have said a million times that I wanted to check out the Women’s Building, but we never made it there. If just a few names of the main Fairgrounds buildings were added to the map, it would have made it much easier to navigate the event and find gates.
Tips for Attending the Syracuse Nationals
If you’re thinking about going, there are a few things that I learned for next time, and other tips:
- Wear sensible shoes. Between walking to and from the parking lot; browsing rows of car displays; wandering about swap meets and food trucks; and making allowances for getting turned in the wrong direction – you will cover a lot of ground and you’ll enjoy yourself even more when you don’t have to worry about sore feet. I barely made it through the day wearing heels (with Euro-soft comfort), but didn’t have to slip into the pair of sandals in my bag.
- Bring a few drinks, chewing gum and snacks. We brought bottled waters with us, which really came in handy, but I had wished that we had a bag of nuts with us too. You’ll work up an appetite, and having something to give you quick energy definitely helps.
- Buy tickets in advance. It really pays to plan ahead and purchase your tickets in advance. The regular-priced ticket for an adult was $18 (online price was $13).
- Bring an umbrella. If there is even a chance of rain for this event, bring an umbrella.
- Bring cash. Not everyone can take credit card payments, so avoid ATM fees and bring cash.
- Have a small notepad and pen handy. If you’re taking pictures and want to remember the make, model and year of vehicles, you’re going to have to jot a few details down. Some car owners have identifying signage on or close to their vehicles (so helpful), while others do not.
What car shown above is your favorite?
Disclosure: I received complimentary tickets to attend this event, in exchange for sharing my honest opinion.