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Petaluma's American Graffiti party to recreate street drags

Published: Monday, April 29, 2013 at 5:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 9:03 a.m.

Drag racing isn't legal in Petaluma. But next month, two sanctioned street races will be held as part of the 40th anniversary celebration of "American Graffiti," the George Lucas coming-of-age film shot in Petaluma.

Facts

EVENT INFORMATION

Petaluma's Salute to American Graffiti, celebrating George Lucas' coming-of-age film shot in Petaluma in 1972, will be held May 16 - May 18.
The annual classic car show and downtown cruise is on Saturday, May 18.

One of the pivotal scenes -- a drag race between the character John Milner's yellow 1932 Ford coupe and Bob Falfa's black '55 Chevy -- will be re-enacted on Frates Road on the city's eastern boundary as part of the annual Cruisin' the Boulevard celebration.

Another street racing scene will be re-created on the main drag, Petaluma Boulevard North, where in the movie the drivers sped past downtown storefronts.

"The theme is 'Return to Paradise Road,' " said organizer John Furrer, referring to the fictional race location in the 1973 movie, where the Chevy careens off the side of the road. "But we're not going to flip the car. I can't find anybody to give me a '55 Chevy to roll over."

Almost 400 classic cars are entered in this year's event, May 16-18, including some that were in the movie or clones created by an "American Graffiti Tribute Team."

The white 1956 Thunderbird driven in the movie by the mysterious an unattainable blonde played by Suzanne Somers, will be on display. Candy Clark, who earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress as Debbie in the film, will sign autographs.

This year's stunt harkens to one five years ago when organizers re-created the axle-pulling scene from the police car when it pulls out of the vacant lot next door to the Mystic Theater.

"We figured since this is the 40th anniversary, we have to do something special," Furrer said.

The drag races are to be recorded for commemorative DVDs to be sold to event-goers.

Police Lt. Tim Lyons said since the 35th anniversary scene went off flawlessly, police had no objections to this year's plan.

"They really did a good job with that, so I don't think there will be any problems with them re-creating these two scenes," he said. "They're not going to drive at really high rates of speed."

Through the magic of film-making, the cars will only appear to be speeding through the streets at breakneck pace.

Police will provide traffic control, although at the pre-dawn hours the races are planned, they don't expect many onlookers or cars on the streets, Lyons said. A couple dozen people came out in the early hours to watch the axle scene.

Cruisin' The Boulevard is an all-volunteer nonprofit agency that raises money for schools and art, history and public safety programs. Flowmaster Inc., the Santa Rosa-based muffler manufacturer, is helping defray some of the drag-racing costs this year.

The 9-year-old nonprofit has grown significantly since the event's first year, when expenses were $200 and proceeds $10,000. In the past seven years, Furrer said, the group has given $120,000 to Petaluma area causes.

One of the group's goals is to provide automatic defibrillators so that people in Petaluma who suffer a cardiac arrest can be treated immediately. It already has donated several to the Police Department, City Hall, Lucchesi Park, the Mary Isaak Center and the city's high schools.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com

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