In early October, hot rodders from far and wide set their sights on Bartlesville, Oklahoma, for The Gathering at the Roc. Although it’s only in its third year, the show draws the country’s highest quality cars to the historic Woolaroc Wildlife Preserve for a weekend unlike anything we’ve ever experienced.
As soon as we heard the dates for the show, we began putting the pieces in place. Our plan? Pile into early Ford hot rods, barrel towards the Sooner State and see what happens next. The events that unfolded over the next six days became the basis of stories that we’ll tell for as long as we live.
Chapter I: On The Road
It all started in Lansing, Michigan on a silver-skied Tuesday afternoon. Off in the distance, we could hear Colton Leigeb and Dave Gray rolling our way. Colton, a long-haired, 20-year-old from Michigan, had just finished his 1932 Ford five-window weeks prior. “No better way to break it in than with a 2,000-mile road trip,” he said with a smile.
The all-steel coupe has been sliced, diced and re-worked in every way possible. It’s chopped hard and punched with plenty of louvers. Although he may be one of the younger hot rodders out there, there’s no doubt that he knows these cars inside and out.
Dave Gray’s 1934 Ford roadster is the perfect companion to Colton’s coupe. Originally hot rodded in 1968, the Model 40 is one of many noteworthy early Fords to come out of Dave’s shop, Gray’s Garage in Midland, Michigan. Dave’s known for giving his cars unforgettable monikers, like “The Goldchainer,” “Eldorodder” and “The Chemical City Coupe,” but this particular green ’34 remains unnamed—for now.
Named or not, there’s no denying that his car is dialed in. Highlights on the full-fendered Ford include a chopped windshield with brass stanchions, perfectly patina’d two-tone paint and a smooth-running smallblock backed by a Powerglide. This year, Dave has logged more than 10,000 miles behind the wheel.
After a few minutes of catching up, we hit the road. For the first stretch, Andrew Ukrop joined in his 1972 Buick GS. The trio made quite an impact cruising the side streets as we made our way towards highway. When we finally did, a soft rain started to fall.
Out on the freeway, the cars are right at home. Peering out the mail slot that is now Colten’s passenger side window, I see the front tire spinning, the wishbones moving and everything working in concert. Orange traffic barrels whip by.
The cold fall air feels good on my face. I can feel the excitement in the pit of my stomach. I scan the horizon, watching the trucks, the trees and little pieces of the world all slip away.
The first night brought us to Tim Traylor’s house near Fort Wayne, Indiana. Tim, a longtime hot rodder, has been building these cars for most of his adult life. Peering into his garage, we get a glimpse at his nailhead-powered 1932 Ford five-window and his son Logan’s in-progress Model A coupe.
The latter rides on a complete Steadfast chassis with vintage Cadillac power, Ridetech Hot Rod Shocks and a quickchange rearend. Much like his machines, Tim’s garage is spotless.
In the morning, we all leave Fort Wayne with our sights on Missouri. The cars are comfortable in the cool morning air. Traffic flows. We flow with it. The mile markers come and go. Indiana. Illinois. Missouri. The Arch. Coupes. A roadster. Four hot rodders with a common goal: making it to the Roc.
After spending the night south of St. Louis, we gunned southwest on Interstate 44. All three cars sounded healthy out on the seemingly endless stretch of highway.
Riding shotgun in Tim’s five-window, I watched him study the road from behind his horn-rimmed glasses. He’s a master of the highway who has driven hot rods across the country more times than I was able to keep track of.
Bonneville, Los Angeles, you name it, he’s been there in an old car. “Life on the road,” he said. “That’s when you find the best stories.”
Chapter II: Only in Oklahoma
The sun was bright, and the air was warm on Thursday morning as we crossed into northeastern Oklahoma. About 100 miles later, we reached Bartlesville. We were instantly greeted by hot rods of all shapes and sizes. A ’32 roadster here, a custom Plymouth there, they swarmed the city like bees in a hive.
Soon after arriving, we were introduced to Jason Smith and Brandon McCullough. Jason runs The Hot Rod Garage out of Sand Springs, Oklahoma, and Brandon is a devout hot rodder with a diverse skillset. With the help of their families and friends, the duo is responsible for bringing the Gathering to life. From the moment we met, they treated us like we had known each other our whole lives. Massive respect for both of them.
For the next two days, Jason and Brandon invited us to be a part of the Gathering at the Roc experience. On Friday, they organized a Reliability Run through more than 100 miles of rolling Oklahoma countryside. Rather than simply tagging along, they gave us the opportunity to drive Todd Stamm’s 1932 Ford sedan.
Chopped, lowered, and outfitted with a Grancor-equipped flathead and a quickchange, the Midnight Blue Tudor blends traditional components in a fresh way. It was a blast to drive on the winding backroads, and it sounded sinister echoing off the old brick buildings as we cruised through small towns.
The Gathering at the Roc celebrates both the local landscape and community. At every stop, we enjoyed chatting with folks from here and there and telling them all about our time on the road. We peeked into shops, walked the streets and even saw a cowboy on a horse walk into the bar. When he did, people raised their glasses and cheered. “Only in Oklahoma,” a bearded man said with a smile.
Chapter III: Live from the Roc
Once the machines had returned to Bartlesville, the party kept rolling into the night. The host hotel sparked to life, and the parking lot and surrounding streets became a carousel of colorful cars and people. Bands, beers, banter—it was a hot rodder’s paradise.
We woke at dawn Saturday morning to the sound of engines rumbling to life. Flatheads. Hemis. Cadillacs. Smallblocks. Y-Blocks. Big Blocks and more. Before we knew it, we were on our way to the main event: the show itself.
The cars filtered into single file lines that wound into the Woolaroc Wildlife Preserve like rattlesnakes on the Great Plains. Named after its three main components—woods, lakes and rock—the 3,700-acre preserve was the brainchild of Frank Phillips, founder of Phillips Petroleum Company. The ranch was set up as his retreat in 1925.
And on a clear Oklahoma morning, it was the perfect backdrop for a car show like we’ve never seen before. All day, people of all ages walked the grounds studying everything from homebuilt speedsters and ground-scraping customs to survivor hot rods and the 2022’s America’s Most Beautiful Roadster winner.
Speaking of winners, Jason and Brandon go overboard (in a good way) when it comes to trophies. Every year, they push things even further than anyone could imagine. That means full-size propellers, custom-painted skateboards, a hand-painted guitar, and even a V8 crown for King of the Hot Rods. The wildest, however, very may well have been the cowboy hat made 100% out of polished aluminum by Cory Taulbert. As you can imagine, the crowd loved every second of it.
Before we knew it, the show was winding down. Everyone was exhausted, but couldn’t be happier. As we rolled out, we waved to the heard of buffalo and let them know that we would, without a shadow of a doubt, be back soon.
Thank you everyone who made this trip possible, especially Jason and Brandon for being so good to us. This show is a must-attend, and we’re already planning our return trip. If you’re looking to find out more about the event, check out the website here.