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Glitz, glam and billowing smoke: A car show like no other at Myrtle Beach Speedway

A bike does a burnout during the 2015 NOPI Nationals at Myrtle Beach Speedway.
A bike does a burnout during the 2015 NOPI Nationals at Myrtle Beach Speedway.

For all the glitz and glam that comes with the arrival of the NOPI Nationals, last year’s event at Myrtle Beach Speedway is most remembered for an unplanned, fiery spectacle.

“For probably like an hour there was a billowing black smoke in the middle of the infield and we had to get the firetrucks out there,” speedway general manager Steve Zacharias said. “It was entertaining for everyone. It was quite a picture to see.”

All the commotion started when a car caught on fire while participating in the drifting event that is included in the NOPI Nationals festivities.

While it was a shame to see one of the event’s many impressive cars burned to the ground, the incident highlighted one important fact about one of America’s most unique car shows.

“You never know at the NOPIs,” Zacharias said. “There’s a lot of cool things going on.”

The gates open for the 2018 event at 4 p.m. Friday and the festivities continue until 6 p.m. Sunday. Included in the event will be drifting, a glow-off – in which vehicles light up the track with lights – a car show, an audio showdown, burnouts, truck games, a vape contest, a tattoo contest, swimsuit competition, train horn, exhaust soundoffs, a graffiti wall, DJ performances and more.

“It’s a car show that is going to be everything across the board,” said Mike Neff, former MBS Director of Sales, Marketing and Announcing who now serves as the fundraiser for the Raising Brotherhood Foundation while remaining involved with the track in an unofficial capacity. “It’s more of a vibe or an experience than just a car show.”

The NOPI Nationals came to fame in Georgia, “where it consumed every acre of Atlanta Motor Speedway,” Zacharias said.

“It’s now consuming every acre of Myrtle Beach Speedway,” he added.

While the event is known largely for its wild competitions, it is at its base a car show – one unlike the ones you often see come to town displaying old-school rides.

“They kind of exhibit ‘Pimp My Ride’-style kind of stuff,” said Jennifer Hawk Willard, in her first year in Neff’s old role.

Indeed, there will be vehicles set up mostly for show aligning much of the track. One guy, Zacharias said, has a truck that “looks like it’s 30 feet tall and it’s got TVs in every single crevice of it.” There’s TVs in every head rest and the rear-view window is a 52-inch TV on the inside and appears as a regular window on the outside, Zacharias said.

“There’s just a lot of unique things that people wouldn’t normally see at a car show,” he said.

That includes the competitions as well. Neff fondly recalls an underdog performance from the burnout event last year.

“We had a guy come out there last year in basically a grocery-getter,” he said. “It was like a Lexus family car, but he had tuned it up to where it was a real high-performance car and got into the burnout competition and put on a show with a car you wouldn’t expect to be out there in that type of competition.”

And then there’s the train horn competition, which employs horns mostly used as audible warning devices. Not in this case, though.

“You always get these people with more money than sense that put giant train horns on their cars and they want to see who can be the loudest, so that’s always an interesting development,” Neff quipped.

Zacharias said the event had 2,600 people in 2017 and included 1,000 registered vehicles, and he expects big numbers again in 2018.

“It’s a full house,” Zacharias said. “It’s worth the effort to come and at least poke your head in and check it out.”

Said Hawk Willard: “We do anticipate it being a big show this year – very, very busy.”

For Neff, it will be another weekend filled with opportunity to see something you’ve never witnessed before.

“I just love seeing people’s creativity with their cars,” he said. “You just see people do things that you don’t expect and you see them do creative things that just blow your mind – whether it comes to dropping cars down super low … we had a guy last year who had a fog machine inside of his car, which it’s just crazy stuff like that you see that you don’t expect.”

Three-day spectator tickets are $15 in advance and $20 on-site, non-judged car and driver entries are $35 in advance, judged entries are $40 in advance, drift entries are $75 in advance and a single-day spectator passes are $10.