Every year since 1997, Fleet Week San Diego has been a major attraction for our service men and women, and the community around them. Fleet Week was created by community and business leaders as an expression to celebrate, honor, and show support for our military personnel through public events and entertainment.
This year, we attended the Coronado Speed Festival at Naval Air Station North Island (NASNI) on September 21 & 22, and we saw some great show cars, awesome racing, and some of the best that our military has to offer by way of transportation and personnel. From assault vehicles to fighter planes, from sea to land to air, there were some very heavy haulers and flying machines that were proudly displayed on the base at Coronado.
The Coronado Speed Festival is no small venture, either. Now in it’s 16th year, this annual event that brings us hundreds of historic and classic vehicles that race in nine different race groups required special permission to run, granted by the Pentagon because it was held entirely on a military base. The Navy held their open house, and opened the United States Navy supercarrier, the USS Reagan, for tours by visitors and spectators who were able to take a short trolley ride from the festival entrance to the aircraft carrier.
There was even a Military Pit Crew Challenge where enlisted personnel were pitted against each other to see who had the best time changing tires and fueling a race car, and the team spirit was alive and well that entire weekend. It was great to see so many of them out and about, enjoying the cars and the races, and getting to meet and talk with them about the hobby we all love so much.
There were car dealers who brought out new cars to test drive through a closed course, vendors sharing some of their latest and greatest, a huge food court, and an open pit area that allowed spectators to walk through and see some of the incredible machines that were competing that weekend, up close and personal.
The Coronado Speed Festival is more than just a festival of speed, though. It’s a way that we could all share our cars, show our support, and watch classic and vintage race cars do their thing on a track that was laid out on the base.
On Sunday, after the National Anthem and flyovers, the celebration continued with the 40th anniversary of the return of the Vietnam POWs, and four of those men were granted Honorary Grand Marshalls and gave the command of “Start your engines” to the racers who qualified on Saturday.
Those four Vietnam POWs included: Arthur N. Black, whose HH43B “Huskie” helicopter was shot down in 1965; Dennis A. Moore, whose F8 “Crusader” was shot down in 1965; Albert Molinare, whose F-4B Phantom was shot down in 1972; and Jack Ensch, whose F-4B Phantom fighter aircraft was shot down in 1972. It was an emotional, yet proud moment for all of us, as the crowd rose for the National Anthem prior to the beginning of the racing events.
Behind the main grandstands, the Car Corral was another great event where spectators and participants could show off their cars to the rest of us. Hosted by the Mopar Club San Diego, members of the club were there bright and early each morning to direct traffic and get cars parked in specific groups and clubs, and did a great job of keeping the event fun and organized for all to enjoy.
On both days of the Speed Festival, the Mopar Club San Diego had members go through the large corral of cars and judge vehicles from several categories, and then handed out awards to the winners. You could hear a few of the judges comment on how difficult it was to pick a winner with so many incredible cars in the corral. The winners were announced at about lunch time and were all handed their plaques amidst a group of their peers and fellow enthusiasts, who applauded and cheered them on.
As part of the car show, the group of winners from each day got in their cars and lined up to do a lap or two around the racetrack during the lunch break. It was a lot of work to get all the winners together for the parade lap, and the Mopar Club pulled it off and made it an exciting and enjoyable event for all of the winners (and a lucky few who finagled their way into the second day’s parade lap – shhhh!).
While the rest of us were out enjoying the races, car show and the military presence all weekend, the club members worked hard all day to keep it enjoyable. The weekend was a success for the club and the participants, and we couldn’t have been more proud of our brave men and women who have given their lives in order for us to have events like this. Freedom isn’t free, but thanks to our military we get a taste of it every day, and at events like this. Thank a service man or woman the next time you see them, because they deserve it.
If you missed the Coronado Speed Festival this year, it should be back next year and is always a great event to hang out for a couple of days, enjoy downtown San Diego, and to watch vintage racers from nine classes compete in the Race at the Base.
It’s a full weekend of fun, from touring ships to walking the pits, showing off your favorite car to checking out what others have done to theirs. You can find all about it at the Fleet Week Events page, so if you’re thinking this sounds like a nice weekend getaway for next fall, keep checking back and plan your trip! To get your fill for this year’s event, enjoy the massive gallery below.