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The cars that go boom

The hot pink 1964 Impala stood propped up on its left side, the driver's side suspended four feet into the air.

The paint job reflects everything _ even the lipstick on owner Courtney Mullins' lips.

The 22-year-old St. Petersburg resident loves her SS, or Supersport, with the pink and purple leather interior, three hydraulic pumps in the trunk, 13-inch Dayton rims and rebuilt engine.

"I paid $6,500 for it and it was all grandpa, you know? Nothing like this. No pink, no wheels."

Mullins and several hundred car aficionados came out Sunday to the Funkmaster Flex Celebrity Car Show and Concert at Vinoy Park.

They came to see the cars that go boom.

Later, several thousand bounced to hip-hop artists 50 Cent, Lil Jon and the East Side Boys, and others.

It was hip-hop heaven.

"It's great," said Manny Bonilla, 29, of Tampa. Bonilla showed up at 1:30 p.m. to see the cars. He was still at the park at 7:30, watching the concert's headline act, 50 Cent.

"I'm into the cars. I'm into the music. And we have great weather," said Bonilla, sitting on a bench under one of the park's palm trees. ". . . This couldn't be better."

On the edge of the park all day Sunday, there were rows and rows of high-riding, low-riding, spinning-rimmed, chrome-engined, flashing-paint, strobe-lighted and big-wheeled vehicles. All of them souped up, none of them for sale and their owners smiling as girls in short shorts posed to take pictures near an open hood with an engine devoid of typical car crustiness.

One of them was a 1973 Impala redesigned - or tricked out - by David Harraghy, 24, of DC Customs in Largo.

Perhaps the car's most interesting asset was its seats.

"You see," shouted Harraghy over the car's sound system. "They're bucket swivel seats and a wraparound couch rear seat all done with Louis Vuitton fabric."

Several young men with disposable cameras came around to snap a picture of the Impala's wet-looking red paint job, spinning 26-inch rims by Dub and the Louis Vuitton insignia on the trunk.

Harraghy's not sure how much the ride is worth, but he has put more than $40,000 into it.

Other cars on parade included vehicles that security guards claimed belonged to ultra popular hip-hop producer and artist Missy Elliott and rap stars Ludacris, Nelly and 50 Cent.

"Hey hey," said security guard Charles Virgil Jr., of Bradenton. "Don't put your nose so close to the window."

Inside, Elliott, who was scheduled to appear but didn't perform, was nowhere to be seen. Instead, other artists told stories set to music while fans jumped, waved and shook anything they could.

The bass boomed 10 blocks on North Shore Drive, and the music had fans dancing a quarter-mile from the gate.

Bonilla, who sells insurance, said most people can't appreciate what artists like 50 Cent have been through to make it big.

Every night he raps, 50 Cent, who has been shot nine times, performs chapters from his autobiography, Bonilla said.

"As angry as it all sounds, it's the truth," he said. "It's what happened. It's their life's story. And if you don't understand that, then you've obviously not lived in their shoes."

Bonilla and John Harris, 22, of Tampa, both said hip-hop artists rap about realities most mainstream artists won't touch _ namely drugs, guns and death. It may end up being lewd and obscene, but that's life, they said.

Anything else would be a lie, Harris said.

"It doesn't get more real than hip hop," Harris said.

Robin Cummings gets that.

Cummings, a 44-year-old St. Petersburg resident, sticks out among the crowd of teenagers and 20-somethings wearing baggy shorts and sports jerseys. Cummings stands in the back next to her neighbor who's planted in a lawn chair. She's wearing a simple black dress with a white floral print.

Bouncing to Lil Jon and the East Side Boys, who talk about a "do or die way" in their songs, Cummings said she came to the park when the car show opened at noon and stayed for the music. She loves the beat and the rhythms, she said.

She also understands the message.

"They're just talking about what they've been through," said Cummings, while the rappers on stage talk about "representing" their hometown. "We've all been in tough times. Everybody has."

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