Custom car show at Battleship Park expected to draw thousands

This weekend, the “Battle in Bama” custom car show will bring hundreds of vehicles and thousands of people to the first major event at USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park since the onset of the COVID-19 epidemic.

Organizer Craig Rowley said the epidemic has shaped the fifth annual event in a variety of ways — even aside from the fact that it forced a postponement from its original May dates.

On the one hand, he said, it’s part of the first wave of major public events taking place after months of near-total shutdown. “I’ve gotten a lot of interest from people just looking for something to do,” Rowley said.

On the other hand, the epidemic brings new aspects to planning, such as the need to encourage social distancing and to comply with a state health order on mask use. It also affects people’s willingness to come out and their ability to travel. “We actually have registered vehicles out of Canada, but they can’t get across the border,” said Rowley.

That problem hints at this relatively young event’s reputation and drawing power. Rowley said he moved to Mobile in 2011 and quickly saw potential. “I noticed the car culture was really good around here, but there weren’t any really big shows other than Cruisin’ the Coast,” he said. (That event, which brings fleets of vintage and custom cars to the Mississippi Coast, will open its 24th year on Oct. 4.)

Battle in Bama started with a bang. Street Trucks magazine picked the inaugural 2016 show as its “rookie of the year” event. A year later, Truck Trend, a part of the Motor Trend network of publications, reported that the show had doubled in size to more than 700 registered cars and 4,000 visitors. Rowley said it’s not unusual to have visitors from other countries, and that industry news sites have come to love the show for the unique backdrops that Battleship Park gives its photographers to work with.

“Obviously the battleship is where it’s at,” he said. “You can’t beat the venue.”

He said that if not for the epidemic, this year’s show might have had 1,500 registered vehicles and 7,000 to 10,000 visitors. Now, “If we get 3,500 to 4,000, that’d be great,” he said. Even at that reduced level, he said, the show’s participants have booked up some area hotels and RV parks.

Battle in Bama isn’t a vintage car show: You might see a few classic vehicles restored to their original specifications, but they’ll be surrounded by hot rods with engines, bodywork, paint and interiors limited only by their builders’ imagination and skill. Billed as a “hot rod, truck and bike show,” the Battle showcases a range of subcultures.

That’s by design. “Our goal in the five years we’ve been doing this, we want to bring every part of the custom car culture together,” Rowley said.

Visitors will find a major show-within-a-show thanks to C/10s of the South, an event focusing on several generations of pickups that Chevrolet built from 1960 through the ’80s. “It’s really the big thing right now,” Rowley said of the level of interest in tricked-out Chevy pickups.

Attractions include “Million Dollar Row,” a showcase for some of the most elaborate custom trucks in the world. “It’s the best of the best sitting in one place,” Rowley said.

Thanks to the sheer acreage of Battleship Memorial Park, the car show can coexist with the regular traffic of Labor Day weekend, which Rhonda Davis, the parks’ director of sales and marketing, described as “traditionally the close of the tourist season.”

All the park’s attractions, including the battleship, the submarine Drum and the aircraft pavilion, are open. While tours of the ship and sub inevitably involve enclosed spaces, Davis said that “because the tours are self-guided, they can tour at their own pace and comfort level.” The visitor parking lot has been reserved for guests, with parking and display areas for the car show set up elsewhere on the grounds, she said.

Admission to Battle in Bama is free for children 12 and under, $10 for a day pass, $15 for a weekend pass. The show opens at noon Friday and continues Saturday and Sunday.

In a recent Facebook live session Rowley reminded participants that rowdy behavior wouldn’t be tolerated, be it of a personal or vehicular nature. Anyone who decided to “get stupid” would be escorted out, he said.

“It’s very family friendly, very family oriented,” he said.

Davis said she expects the show to help Battleship Park close out its busy season on a positive note.

“Given the history of Battle in Bama, we think it’s going to be a well-attended event,” she said.

For more information on Battleship Park, visit www.ussalabama.com. For more on Battle in Bama, visit www.battleinbama.net.