Morris Cruise Night stirs up memories in 2024′s first show

Ralph Tosti (left) with Timothy Airney behind the Celebrity's Choice award-winning 1950 Oldsmobile 88.

The drizzle and gentle breeze didn’t deter 466 cars from entering into the first Morris Cruise Night of 2024 on Saturday, where over $10,000 was raised for Special Connections of Grundy County.

One of those vehicles was Ralph Tosti’s 1950 Oldsmobile 88 that caught the eye of the celebrity judge for the night, Timothy Airney.

“I was born in 1951 so I could of been riding in the back of these cars when I was a kid,” Airney said. “I call these the original muscle cars. As far as hot rods, there’s a lot of hot rods around here. But this was the first overhead valve, the eight.”

Airney was a teacher at the Grundy Area Vocational Center from 1973-86 and an automotive teacher at JJC for 22 years following that, and drove as a drag racer during that time as well. His time racing is part of why he chose the car: The Oldsmobile 88 dominated during its time.

Keith Giordano's Beneficiary Choice award-winning 1951 Chevrolet Suburban.

“Doc Hudson’s were really, really the hot race cars back then, and had a big inline six cylinder. Well these V8s came out with overhead valves and dominated as far as, I think the Daytona 500, and they were running on the sand that Dayton had back then,” he said.

He also shared memories from riding in these cars when he was a kid.

“Across the back of the seat, there used to be a chain from the factory, but it had like a garden hose on the chain, and it was either green or gray,” Airney said. “Then this nice fabric, that was around the rope. So it was nice from the factory, but in a couple years that cloth would shrink so you could start seeing the chain on one end. Then it would start shrinking a little more. You could see the garden hose. That’s why I knew it looked like a garden hose in there. And me being a little kid, we would grab that and we would stand up on the back floorboard so we could see what’s going on out the windows. Well, when we sit down, being a little kid, I’d be chewing on that garden hose. I could taste the plastic right now.”

The other big winner of the night was Morris resident Keith Giordano’s 1951 Chevrolet Suburban, chosen by the Special Connections of Grundy County.

Morris Cruise Night founder Herb Wyeth's home-built truck preparing to leave as Cruise Night comes to a close.

“I saw it last year, and I thought that it was special enough and rare enough, Chevy Suburbans of the 50s, they don’t exist because they rust away or get beat up,” Gary Bettega, who picked the car for the organization, said. “You can’t see them unless you go to like a Chevy or truck show or something like that, or have one come out here. That is a special, special thing, the way he did it up and everything, even though it’s not quite original, it’s just a beautiful vehicle to have out here.”

The beneficiary of the night, Special Connections of Grundy County, is a self-funded and almost all-volunteer organization that provides sporting and social events for the disabled population. They provide services for more than 160 people in Grundy and surrounding counties.

Morris Cruise Night raised $5,986 from the 50/50 raffle, won by Tad Nelson. It also raised $4,660 from the vehicle entry fees, and more from food sales.