Driving down Broadway Avenue in Maple Heights, Rich Krawczyk spotted a group of cars parked at the Sub Shop. The Sub Shop was a drive-in restaurant with a canopy extending from its small building out to the sidewalk, with spaces for several dozen cars in the front parking lot. The lot was full, and that caught Krawczyk’s eye. Rich spun his Corvette around, pulled in among the muscle cars and started asking questions. A small group of men were meeting there weekly. Rich soon met with Chuck Vella, a guy who was very savvy about cars, trucks, and clubs. Chuck had a custom 4×4 show truck and was very involved with a truck club. In his garage sat a mid-sixties Mercury Meteor that was in the midst of restoration. The two men sat at Chuck’s kitchen table for an hour and a half, talking about cars, cruising, and clubs. That night the wheels were put in motion for what we have today.
In August 1986 Chuck Vella organized a core group of people; Chuck was the president, Sal Russo the vice-president, Sam LaNasa, secretary, and Lou Stefano, treasurer; they started a newsletter with Rich Krawczyk as editor. This was the beginning of our Club. New members were drawn into the Club from the cruisers at the Sub Shop; Chuck signed up over a dozen people there one night just by asking; friends, neighbors, and school buddies also joined. The first meeting took place at the Garfield Heights City Hall in September 1986. A lot of work had to be done before we became a real Club; first, we needed a name.
Tri-City Street Machines was one name we debated; the three cities were Maple Heights, Garfield Heights, and the Bedford area. Chuck didn’t like that name; he must have been a visionary, for that name would not have served us well today. In 1986 Cleveland was in the planning stages of becoming the Rock-n-Roll Capital; the Hall of Fame was in both the national and local news. Adding “Street Machines” to the Rock-n-Roll Capital was too good to pass up. Now our name would encompass the entire Cleveland area.
We would need a logo so, Lou Stefano’s wife, Phillipa, and club member, Robert Cochrane, designed one; it was then copyrighted in Sam LaNasa’s name (to keep outsiders from using it or tampering with it).
A Constitution along with by-laws was drawn up, a dress code was established, jackets and shirts were chosen and dues were collected. Getting started was no easy task but Chuck managed to get the ball rolling. He had a way of getting people to pitch in and get the job done. With hardly any money in the treasury most of our jobs would have to be done by volunteers.
Volunteers cleaned up the parking lot at the Sub Shop, cut the grass and pulled weeds. Tuesday was chosen as the ideal cruise night, because it was a slow night, but because of that we got better service from the car hops. Tuesday night has served us well ever since.
Louis Stefano knew the owners of a drive-in diner on Aurora Rd. in Bedford Heights; it was a small building with part gravel and part asphalt parking lot. They sold burgers and ice cream and there were tables and seats outside. Pal’s Drive-In became our new home in 1987; we remained there until the end of 1991.
In 1987 we moved our meeting site to the Bedford Heights Community Center. The 3rd Sunday of the month, at 6 pm, was our regular meeting date. The Club hit the ground running in 1987; we started the year with a club display at the Auto-Rama.
The theme was a drive-in diner. We received many awards including Best Club Display. To raise money for our near-empty treasury we held a swap meet on April 15, 1987. Club member Jack Leventry was employed at Hern Oldsmobile in Bedford, and was able to make the arrangements for our Club to use the dealership.
Thanks to Connie LaNasa we held our First Annual Car Show on Memorial Day 1987. Connie worked for the School Board and was able to get permission for our Club to use the school property behind Pal’s Drive-In. A lot of work went into those car shows; we would attract a little over a hundred cars in those days.
At that time, that was considered a fair turnout. Our profits for all of the hundreds of man hours of work were never that great. We would make only a few hundred dollars but I think most of us had fun. We were also learning to work as a team. Some favorite memories are from the Garfield Heights car displays in the city park.
Rich Krawczyk, a city employee, was always able to make our car club the center of attraction at all the city events. You really get to know your fellow members while sitting in the shade of the trees on a summer day and sharing food and thought. The same can be said for the countless picnics we had at Tinker’s Creek and other parks.
One memory that lives forever in my mind is that of Rich Krawczyk cooking on a propane grill; I have a video of Rich trying to put out the flames; the smoke signal he was putting out read “call 911″. We started another tradition in 1987; we began hosting Test and Tune events.
Our first Test and Tune was held at Norwalk Raceway Park. The park had many competitions, some not as obvious as others. One centered around two brothers-in-law; one thought he could drive the other’s car a little bit better. The yellow Chevelle convertible and the blue Barracuda lined up; Sam LaNasa was behind the wheel of Mike De Foor’s Barracuda; Mike was driving Sam’s car. The engines began to scream. The open exhaust blasted your ears but nothing could drown out the sound that followed when “Slick Shift Sam” dumped the clutch on D-4’s ‘Cuda. It was that unmistakable sound of good parts gone bad. Under the car lay a twisted drive shaft.
Our first Christmas party took place on Dec. 5, 1987. Rich Krawczyk was able to fix us up with a party room at the Garfield Heights City Hall where I videotaped that party. There were door prizes from all the sponsors that Chuck Vella had gotten for our club.
We had some food from local merchants and club members supplied the rest. There was a sense of being more than just a club; we were becoming a family. My daughter Janice, and her husband, Phil were in the club at that time; it was something special for my wife, Ilsa and me. I remember Donetta being pregnant at the time with Chad; Chad is the young man now making a name for himself driving race cars.
There are many things that happened that first year that are now forgotten; what I have written is what I remember along with the help of the original members who remain in the Club. I felt that writing the history of our club was long overdue; it should be done to honor those that laid the foundation for the club that we enjoy today. A small group of people has impacted the lives of many.
Your fellow cruiser, Joe Artale, member since 1987.