By Karl Klooster • Staff Writer • 

Grassroots gives GutFest gusto

News-Register file photoBrandon Payne’s 1981 Delorean won the People’s Choice Award at last year’s Dragging the Gut Festival. The annual event draws thousands of car enthusiasts to Third Street.
News-Register file photo
Brandon Payne’s 1981 Delorean won the People’s Choice Award at last year’s Dragging the Gut Festival. The annual event draws thousands of car enthusiasts to Third Street.
Submitted photoRuben Contreras Jr. hitches a ride with 1979 Mac High classmate Mike Morris during the first Dragging the Gut Festival in 2010.
Submitted photo
Ruben Contreras Jr. hitches a ride with 1979 Mac High classmate Mike Morris during the first Dragging the Gut Festival in 2010.

Mass enthusiasm manifests itself many ways. Students turning out in droves to cheer on a winning team. Strong citizen support for a major community event. Fans selling out a concert showcasing a top entertainer.

But when showing up is, itself, the feature attraction, there’s nothing quite like it. Succinctly said, that has been the key to the success of McMinnville’s annual Dragging the Gut Festival.

Participants and attendees don’t pay for the privilege. There is no admission fee, unless, of course, you count the cost of the high-octane leaded gasoline needed to make high-performance, large-displacement automobile engines run their best.

Cash out of pocket notwithstanding, in five years, the all-volunteer “happening” now commonly called GutFest has grown to the point where it rivals the city’s two other major annual outings.

Turkey Rama, the community’s signature event, celebrates its agrarian roots. The McMenamins-sponsored UFO Festival was the outgrowth of a 1950 sighting that briefly put the city on E.T. alert.

GutFest was inspired by a cultural phenomenon that captivated this country’s youth over the course of 40 years. When Star Wars director George Lucas launched his career with the iconic 1973 film, “American Graffiti,” he embedded the term “cruising” in our collective consciousness.

From the late 1940s to the late 1980s, teens regularly piled into their cars, or their parents’ cars as the case may be, on weekend evenings. That was especially true during summer months.

They set about tooling over to the town’s main drag, and for local kids, that meant Third Street. The entire idea was to show up, to be there, to see and be seen.

The cooler your ride, the better. But the motivation that sparked such spontaneous enthusiasm was simply to make the scene.

The possibility of putting together a one-time repeat of those nostalgic times served as the motivation for native son Ruben Contreras Jr., a 1979 Mac High grad, in January 2010. He set about creating the Facebook page, “I Dragged the Gut in Downtown McMinnville.”

Contreras admits he never anticipated the near-instantaneous, online outpouring of response to his posting. But within only a few weeks, more than 2,000 enthusiastic followers were clamoring to make the cruise-in a reality.

With the 5th annual Dragging the Gut Festival scheduled for next weekend, Aug. 23-24, Contreras is a very busy man.

“I have no idea how many vehicles or people will show up this year,” he said. “But all indications are that this is going to be very big, perhaps the biggest yet.”

To outside observers, this might appear to be a one-man show. And the event’s founder does, indeed, have his finger on the pulse of overall activity.

But he is quick to credit numerous organizations and individuals without whom the happening couldn’t happen. Some of them have played important roles from the outset.

Leading the list is the Yamhill Community Action Partnership.

“The 2013 festival brought in more YCAP Food Bank contributions than any other single event, including the U.S. Postal Service drive,” Contreras said proudly. “People really stepped up last year, and I have every reason to believe we will do as well if not better this year.”

The Mac Dance Team has also been a feature of the festival from the outset.

Director Gina Regalado, who works at Linfield College, is a longtime Contreras friend and avid GutFest supporter. And her 50-member team of talented young women adds a complementary element.

Other hometown friends whose assistance is essential include Arlen Pounds, who quietly and efficiently attends to the placement and removal of street barriers and route signs; the Trask Trailrunners, who clean up trash in the wee hours of the morning; and Kirt Amundsen, who hauls it all away.

“We have nearly 40 sponsors signed up this year,” Contreras said. “Some of them have been with us since the start.

“I’d especially like to thank Farnham Electric. Waldo (Farnham) doesn’t expect any publicity for his support, but you can always count on him.”

Mike Elsberry of A&E Security & Electronic Solutions is another local business owner who ranks right up there on the GutFest favorite sponsor list. “Mike has helped out in so many ways over the past five years,” Conteras said.

Among newer sponsors, Contreras cited two other longtime local businesses, Gormley Plumbing and the Blue Moon, whose owners, Ed Gormley and Gary Schroeder, respectively, are as grassroots as you can get.

He also wanted to thank the city, particularly its police department, whose officers can be counted on to maintain an amiable attitude and low profile. After all, this is the one evening they totally ignore the no-cruising ordinance in effect in McMinnville since 1988.

The event’s featured musical group is Nu Shooz, a Portland band whose chart-topping hits of the 1980s earned national acclaim. They will take the stage at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24.

Nu Shooz hasn’t done a live performance in the area since the opening of the Oregon Convention Center in 1990. But it has local nostalgia plastered all over it.

Three other bands will also entertain festival attendees, beginning at noon and extending through the afternoon and early evening.

Contreras said drawing cars isn’t any problem, as both classic and hot rod car clubs have their own communications networks. They know how to get the word out.

Underscoring the enthusiasm of car owners is the Friday Night Kick-off Cruise.

“It’s not even an official part of the festival,” Contreras said. “It’s no host, no frills and no problems. Cars just show up and start cruising. It’s bumper to bumper by 8 p.m.”

For complete details about the 2014 Dragging the Gut Festival, go to You will find something for just about everyone.

And that’s what I found out while OUT and ABOUT – observing GutFest’s founder and, without doubt, its most enthusiastic proponent in action.

Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 503-687-1227.

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