by Angela Johnson

Gentlemen, start your engines..." This weekend's gasoline-powered event has evolved quickly. What began as a gathering of 200 hotrods in the parking lot of the Hot Rod Caf & eacute; in Post Falls has now turned into a major undertaking. This year, more than 1,000 cars and Harley Davidson motorcycles will be sparkling under the hot sun.

The Fourth Annual River City Rod Run is all weekend at the Greyhound Race Track, in Post Falls. The three-day event attracts participants from all over the Inland Northwest and Canada. But one of the weekend's main draws has been changed.

Bubba Blackwell, famous motorcycle daredevil, was originally scheduled to hurtle over 20 Dodge trucks on Sunday. Unfortunately, Blackwell was badly injured in a motorcycle accident on July 4 in Del Mar, Calif., where he attempted to jump 22 cars at the Del Mar Fair. That would have been a new world record, but Blackwell didn't make it. His Harley Davidson XR-750, landed just short of the ramp. Blackwell is still in critical condition at a local hospital.

But the world is not short of daredevils, so instead of Blackwell, car and motorcycle fanatics will get to enjoy "Deathwish" Dan Elders' stunts and jumps. Elders returned early from vacation to perform in Blackwell's place, and he'll jump over cars, yes, but also over a Scorpion helicopter, with spinning blades and-- as if that's not dangerous enough -- he'll be landing on a wall of fire.

But the Hot Rod Run is about more than daredevils and wild stunts; it's about cars and having a good time with friends.

"Last year, we had over 25,000 [in attendance]," says Rob Elder, owner of the Hot Rod Caf & eacute; and founder of the Rod Run, adding that this is an event for the whole family.

Several events are scheduled just for kids on Saturday, such as the Lil' Rodder Balloon Toss and the Lil' Rodder Tricycle Racing. Adults may enjoy the Miss Hot Rod 2001 competition, which rates the contestant's talent, personality, figure and involves a swimsuit competition and a bikini interview.

There are a variety of hot rod events ranging from the car show to the flame-throwing contest, where bursts of flames fly out of the tailpipes of specially equipped cars. On Friday night, fans can enjoy Screaming Demon's Fire Burn, a favorite with the crowd.

"That is a huge, huge part of the event," Elder says.

The musical entertainment this year includes Starship on Friday night. Chubby Checker performs at the sock hop on Saturday followed by headliner Eddie Money later that evening.

The Bop-A-Dips will take the stage during the day. This is the second year these '50s style musicians have played at the River City Rod Run.

"They are out of Missoula," Elder says. "They are a great band."

A firework display closes the show both Friday and Saturday night. Sixty different trophies will be distributed to winners of the events on Sunday.

Many of the car and motorcycle owners are regulars who not only attend the Rod Run every year, but also meet at the Hot Rod Caf & eacute; for the slow drag races and other smaller events.

When it comes to restoring cars and bringing them in tiptop show form, the whole family is often involved in the project. Claude Freund's family is like that, and they have been a part of the Rod Run right from the beginning.

"My wife and I have been involved with cars for 30 years," says Freund.

Freund and his wife Susan own an orange '32 Ford Coupe and an orange '32 Ford Roadster. They drive their cars to events all over the country. Street Rod Builder magazine even did a photo shoot of their hot rods.

"My husband and son totally built the Coupe from a bare frame all the way up, except for the upholstery," says Susan Freund. In addition, they also built the majority of the Roadster. The Freunds' son Russell, who's about to graduate from EWU with a marketing degree, competes in hot rod competitions with his father.

The first year of the River City Rod Run, the Freunds received the Hot Rod Cafe's "pick" for their roadster. The following year, it appeared on T-shirts and other promotional materials.

"That was really quite an honor," Freund says.

The rod run is not the only car show they've won. In Lincoln, Nebr., one of their hot rods received the prize for the best Ford out of 2,300 cars.

They have several trophies, but out of all the events they've been a part of, this one seems to be special. "The Rod Run should be unbelievable," Freund says.

The River City Rod Run will be held July 13-15 at the Greyhound Race Track west of Post Falls, Idaho. Friday hours: 6 pm-midnight; Saturday: 10 am-midnight; Sunday: 10 am-4 pm. Tickets: $10 per day for adults; weekend passes, $25; Students, ages 7-16, $5 per day; kids 6 and under are free. Ticket prices include admission to the various concerts. Call: 325-SEAT.

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