Vann Beckner turned the key on his bright red 1970 Dodge Challenger R-T and the engine roared to life with a deep-throated rumble, the sound of more than 650 horsepower.

Beckner — along with Steve Perlenfein — is co-owner of AA Towing, which has offices in Albany and Lebanon, and recently expanded into Newport. The business, which started in 1929, has about 25 employees. Beckner and his partner purchased it in 1989.

Earlier this month, the North Albany resident took his American muscle beauty to the massive classic car show, Hot August Nights in Reno and Sparks, Nevada, where the Challenger spoke loud and clear and brought home a trophy, ribbon and a $1,000 gift card.

Beckner’s Dodge won the Summit Racing Equipment Celebrity Choice Award during a show-and-shine event on Aug. 8 in Reno, besting about 1,000 other entries.

“I’m very shocked that I won, actually,” the 54-year-old said. “I’ve never built a car to win anything. It’s more for my enjoyment. It’s fun being around people and the cars.”

Hot August Nights has several contests a day, and in total, more than 5,000 vehicles show at the five-day event.

“You see just about everything you’d want in cars. I’d recommend it to anybody,” Beckner said.

He started going to Hot August Nights in 2002 and entered a car for the first time in 2008.

This year, Summit Racing Equipment representatives wanted a car that looked like it was built out of their catalog, Beckner said. And many of the Challenger’s parts were purchased from Summit, he added.

“They also wanted a car that looks like it’s been driven, and this has been driven. I put 10,000 miles on it in 10 years,” Beckner said.

Beckner purchased the Challenger in 2003 and finished his rebuild in 2005, after about 800 hours between him and his childhood friend Brad Lindsay, who helped with the project.

“There’s about 90 grand in that car. The motor alone is worth $25,000,” Beckner said.

The figure would have been much more if he and Lindsay would have contracted out the work.

When Beckner purchased the Challenger, it had its original black paint job, but the car had been mothballed since the 1980s.

The vehicle was repainted, but Beckner also stripped out the car and added other touches, such as stretching out the rear wheel wells and adding 18-inch-wide tires on the back.

The Challenger has won several other awards, such as best in show and other trophies at the Linn County Fair this year.

Albany is a car town, Beckner said, and he reminisced about growing up here.

“We always used to cruise the gut, which used to be from the Burgerville to the Chevron on Ninth and Hill,” Beckner said. People don’t do that as much anymore, but friends still get together with their nice cars to go out to dinner.

Beckner’s garage also has a stock yellow 1970 Challenger, a silver 2009 Challenger, a blue 1968 Dodge Hemi Dart, and the 1970 black Dart that he bought at 19, and which he still drives regularly.

But he still wishes he had the 1973 Duster he drove as a kid. It’s the one that got away.

“I wish I could find it, but it’s gone. Last I heard it was off to a wrecking yard,” Beckner said.

“Being known around town, you see a lot of car people, and we all wish we could have kept our cars from years ago,” he said.

Beckner’s heart isn’t too broken, however. “As crazy as I am, I’m always looking for another car,” he said.

Kyle Odegard can be reached at kyle.odegard@lee.net, 541-812-6077 or via Twitter @KyleOdegard. 

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