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Autos, antiques to draw thousands to festival

The roaring of engines and rapping of an auctioneer will reverberate at the 16th annual Auto and Antique Winter Festival on Thursday through Sunday in Zephyrhills. All events will be at Festival Park in Zephyrhills at 2738 Gall Blvd., also known as U.S. 301 S. All 209 acres of the park will be jammed with vendors and an estimated 40,000 customers throughout the four-day period.

"We have a mailing list with addresses outside of the country from Europe down into Central and South America. They come from all over for this," said Michael Sierra, who purchased Festival Park and the rights to the Winter Festival three years ago.

The center of activity at the Winter Festival will be an automobile and antique flea market with more than 2,000 selling spaces available to merchants.

Shoppers have a chance to buy items ranging from classic juke boxes, cash registers and phonograph equipment to practically any kind of replacement part for cars, trucks and motorcycles. In addition, a general selection of antiques, including china, silver and furniture, will be offered for sale. The flea market is open from 8 a.m. until sundown each day.

"It will have anything you might imagine that would be antique or collectible," Sierra said.

The weekend's highlight at Festival Park is a collector car auction beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday and noon Sunday. Hundreds of autos will go on the block, including some with interesting histories.

One item for sale is a Studebaker Avanti, one of only 109 manufactured. Others range from modern exotic cars to a 1917 Model T. Another vehicle, a 1936 Ford, was once owned by country-and-western legend Tammy Wynette.

"It's all documented, no question about it," Sierra said. "We have tons of very interesting cars. One guy just called and is bringing a 1929 Ford Phaeton, a four-door convertible touring car. It will probably start out at eight or ten thousand (dollars) and go up from there."

Between 250 and 300 autos are expected to be sold. The auction is open to the public, but hopeful buyers must obtain a bidder's paddle or number at the bidder office on site.

For people who prefer racing to buying, the Winter Festival will present an antique open-cockpit auto race from 11 a.m. until about 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. These vehicles from the first half of the 20th century will zoom along the half-mile oval dirt track at Festival Park.

Drivers come from throughout the United States and include octogenarians who used to race the cars. Before and after the races, patrons will be allowed into the pit area for a closer inspection of the vehicles and racing talk with the drivers, mechanics and pit crew.

"It's supposed to be exhibition racing, but these guys come a long way to get in that car and play," Sierra said. "Sometimes they want to get into the race a little harder than they should."

Other offerings are both historical and entertaining. A flywheel exhibit, celebrating the one-cylinder engines that powered the world through the Industrial Revolution, will be displayed. The engines will be operating and rigged to perform a variety of tasks for the memories of older patrons and the education of younger ones.

"It's difficult to say what the centerpiece is of the festival," Sierra said. "It's a multifaceted sort of thing."

Barney Barnhardt and his Dixieland Band will perform under the entertainment tent starting at 11 a.m. each day. Concession stands, including vendors from Steak n Shake and Pizza Hut, will serve sandwiches, snacks and beverages, including beer.

Admission to the festival grounds is $5 per adult for each day, and a four-day pass is available for $15. Children 12 and younger are admitted free. There is no charge for parking.

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