Each summer during Mountain Festival weekend, the Thunder on the Mountain car show roars into town, bringing with it hundreds of tricked out, vintage and custom cars as well as gear heads for miles around.
During the day of the show in 2014, the event took a tragic turn when its chairman, Ralph Kermode, passed away. Some say the show hasn't been the same since his death.
The 2019 show will, however, see many new changes, including a new chairman. Mike McHenry has taken over the reins and said he is looking for new blood to help coordinate next year's event by forming a new committee for TOTM.
"After this past year, the majority of the committee has stepped down," McHenry said. "Most have been involved for the majority of the last 21 shows, and we are all deeply grateful to them for their service."
As the new chairman of the committee, McHenry has sent out mass emails to all participants, vendors and former sponsors to inform the public of the new changes in management, and in the show itself.
Sharron Letson, a former committee member of 11 years who stepped down at the close of last year's show, said she felt bad for not continuing, but the size of the committee continued to diminish over the years and it was becoming increasingly difficult to recruit new members.
"The committee was shrinking, and we were getting older ourselves," Letson said. "You can't put on a car show with over 300 cars with only seven people. We needed young people who could run around and judge those cars."
Letson said she made the announcement that the committee would be stepping down during the check distribution following this year's show.
"We told them that we would not be standing here, doing this, next year, and it's not because we don't value the work that the charities were doing," Letson said. "It's just that we couldn't keep doing it. We ran our course."
Unwilling to let the vastly popular car show fall to the wayside, McHenry decided to act and keep the roar that is heard rumbling into town every August.
"I'm not going to let it die," McHenry said. "Our annual little hot rod rumble in the mountains has grown to what is arguably one of the best summer shows in not just Kern County, but the rest of southern California."
According to McHenry, the committee works from February to September to present each year's show, which lasts several hours and raises upwards of $25,000 for local scholarships and nonprofit organizations.
Dixie Coutant, chairman of the scholarships for the past four years, said she would like to continue her work with the TOTM committee.
"Personally, I would be very happy to continue to work with Mike, and I am hoping he will find a place where he can use me," said Coutant. "I really like the car show, and I love the fact that it gives scholarships to our students. I think that is really important that we show that support for the high school students."
Besides building custom cars professionally and at home, McHenry says he has been involved with TOTM for a few years now, including building the pedal cars raffled off for the last couple of years.
One of the changes McHenry said he will implement starting with the 2019 show will be regarding the classes for awards.
"Every year we award over 80 trophies and awards," said McHenry. "Unfortunately, some classes have had no competitors for a few years and some have 40-plus cars competing versus classes with two cars competing for two trophies."
To even out participants' chances of receiving awards, McHenry said many new classes will be added while others will be dropped. In addition to the 300-plus cars that are featured, McHenry said he hopes to feature about 50 motorcycles next year.
"The most important facet of this show isn't the cars, the beautiful weather, the gear-head camaraderie or just enjoying Mountain Fest weekend in downtown Tehachapi. It's truly the charities we donate to and scholarships that are awarded to local students," said McHenry.
In past years, all monies raised during the car show are later distributed to local charities, including Kern Honor Flights, Tehachapi Senior Center, Salvation Army, VFW, local humane societies, Shop with a Cop, C.E.R.T., and many others. In addition, selected students of each graduating class at Tehachapi High School receive scholarships to further their education.
"We are going to be selecting new charities each year, and spread the money around more," said McHenry, adding that an emphasis will be placed on mental health groups for veterans.
One of the changes that McHenry is most excited about is the addition of a pinstriper's panel jam auction.
"In addition to the 50/50, small raffle, large raffle, $1,000 cash prize and whatever other goodies arise, there will be the opportunity to watch a group of pinstripers paint unique works all day to hang in your garage that night. This is an incredible art form that is sadly near extinction. Many of these artists will be traveling a few hundred miles on their own dime for this show and donating all materials and supplies," said McHenry.
McHenry said the 2019 car show will feature new participants, but returning favorites as well.
"I have attended the Thunder on the Mountain car show for many years, and it is always a fun day with the cars, band, food and vendors," said Tom Youngblood of Youngblood Customs. "In fact, each year, I bring my customers and their cars to the show and it is an enjoyable experience for us all to share."
In addition to volunteer committee members, McHenry said he is looking for sponsors for next year's show as well as comments from the community as to what direction they would like to see future shows take.
"We want to liven up the event, but at the same time, stay true to how it should be," said McHenry.
Mike McHenry can be reached by calling 432-8975 or email at email@example.com.