Claremore by choice: The Mid America Ford & Shelby Nationals confirmed

Mar. 19—Applause reverberated throughout the Rogers State University ballroom, much like revving engines, when City Manager John Feary announced the annual Mid America Ford & Shelby Nationals had chosen Claremore as the site for its 50th Anniversary Cruise In.

More of the same can be expected June 19-23, when hundreds of cars and car enthusiasts roll into town with Fords, Shelbys, Mustangs, Broncos, Raptors, Ford GTs and more.

"This year, the Ford & Shelby Nationals fall on the same date as the AAA Route 66 Road Festival," Visit Claremore Executive Director Tanya Andrews said.

This coincidence is expected to boost participation and attendance.

"We're expecting 500-700 cars, two to three people in each car, and that's just the participants. I don't know what to anticipate spectatorwise, because there are car enthusiasts from all over the region, all over the United States that follow this event," Andrews said. "We could potentially see thousands of individuals that weekend."

Town merchants and businesses all along and around Route 66 in Rogers County are literally gearing up, putting a little spit and polish on their welcome signs. Some of those are business owners and merchants who gathered for a planning meeting at the Claremore Main Street office.

Andrews told the group the trip down Route 66 to Claremore from Tulsa has been a long four-year drive for the organizers of the Ford & Shelby event. Andrews told them it all started back in 2020, when the first hints of the COVID pandemic began to close doors and separate families and friends.

"I like to share the story behind this event coming to Claremore," Tanya Andrews, executive director of Visit Claremore, told a gathering of Main Street business owners and merchants. "It's a story of family, cars and a caring community."

In the early days of COVID, the Roberts family, of Owasso, were experiencing their own form of separation from family that, at first, had nothing to do with the pandemic.

They learned their son, Air Force Staff Sgt. Marshal D. Roberts, 28, was one of three soldiers who died in a March 11, 2020, rocket attack on Camp Taji, in Iraq during Operation Inherent Resolve. After waiting four months for their son's body to be returned to Oklahoma, the Roberts family hoped to honor him with a full military ceremony befitting a fallen hero.

This is when Andrews said she learned the family had been denied that opportunity in Tulsa due to COVID restrictions.

Sgt. Roberts was assigned to the 219th engineering Installation Squadron of the Oklahoma Air National Guard's 138th Fighter Wing. He was the first Oklahoma Air Guardsman to be killed in action since Sept. 11, 2001, and the 20th Oklahoma National Guardsman to die while deployed since 9/11.

Claremore businesswoman Susan Gephardt, owner of 320 on Main, has daughters who also serve in the Air National Guard with Sgt. Roberts. Gephardt began the conversation about the possibility of holding his service at the Claremore Expo.

"Gephardt reached out to us," Andrews said.

Sgt. Roberts was not only known by Gephardt's daughters, but also by other Claremore Guard members.

"The city of Claremore opened their arms to the family of this young man who sacrificed so much for us. In May 2020, we had a service for him [at the Claremore Expo], a 21-gun salute and all the things that go with a military service," Andrews said.

Then a portion of State Highway 20, between Owasso's North 145th East Avenue to the intersection of South 4080 Road in Rogers County, was renamed the "Tech. Sgt. Marshal D. Roberts Memorial Highway."

Andrews learned Sgt. Roberts and his father had a shared hobby rebuilding classic Mustangs.

"They were working on a Mustang before he left. So, that Mustang was on display at his service," Andrews said. He paused, then continued: "His father [Randy] is the coordinator of the Ford and Shelby Nationals. They had been in Tulsa 49 years and Tulsa just wasn't really rolling out the red carpet for the event anymore."

So after two years of discussions, they were serious about moving it to Claremore.

"Randy, Marshal's dad, told us, 'If this is the only way I can repay you, the Expo, the city of Claremore, then we want to move it to Claremore, and we want Claremore to be the home for this event,'" Andrews said, relating the decisive conversation. "I can now confirm the Mid America Ford & Shelby Nationals have now signed for the next two years."

Specific dates are still under discussion.

Running through the itinerary for this year's event, Andrews said many participants will start arriving June 19. While many events are private, registered participants only, there will be multiple opportunities for the public to view the cars, meet and visit with car owners, and a possible unveiling.

Andrews said she has not confirmed it, but it is rumored a new Shelby Mustang will be unveiled.

"[Maybe they will be] rolling in some other high-dollar cars in the Expo Center, which will be under lock and key," she said. "Currently we have three hotels that are full already and have already added two more. That does not include those staying at Catoosa Hard Rock. We have reservations at the RV Park at the Expo ... and I know of six-to-10 Vrbos, airbnbs reserved. We are seeing great traction."

The event lineup includes: — Thursday, June 20, 6-10 p.m., a public street party at the Expo with live music, food trucks, a kids zone and cars out in full force. — Friday and Saturday, June 21-22, event participants take part in the Road Course Action at Hallett Motor Racing Circuit in Tulsa. — Saturday, June 22, around 160 cars travel to Woolaroc as part of a planned cruise tour. — Sunday, June 23, around 10 a.m., another public event called Coffee and Cars will take place at the Expo parking lot. This will be followed by the awards ceremony.