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Bellefonte Cruise Chairman Pat McCool Talks History and Return of the Father’s Day Weekend Tradition

This interview appears in The Centre County Gazette’s 2021 Historic Bellefonte Cruise Official Guide.

Since 2010, Pat McCool has served as chairman of the Historic Bellefonte Cruise Committee. When he is not busy at his screen-printing shop, PAMP, in Pleasant Gap, or working to keep “the Cruise” a well-oiled machine, McCool is traversing Centre County on his motorcycle. The man, suffice to say, is all about motoring.

Like many other events, the Cruise had to sit out 2020 due to the pandemic, marking the first June since 1988 without one of Bellefonte’s signature events. McCool and his team worked hard to bring the show back to Bellefonte for this Father’s Day weekend (6-10:30 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m.-5. p.m. Saturday). He took time out of the busy preparations to answer a few questions.

CCG: How did you get involved with the Historic Bellefonte Cruise? What drew you to it?

McCool: I had been involved with the Cruise for many years doing shirts and many things from my business and, of course, I always enjoyed the show myself. I was inactive for a couple years, and then in 2006, I got involved again and worked really hard for it. I really enjoy what it does for the community as a whole. That is really the big thing … the impact it has on the community. On a whole everyone seems to enjoy it.

The ironic thing that most people don’t realize is that we are only taking 12 hours out of your life when we block off downtown Friday night for a while and then Saturday. That is it. So it is not a real big problem there.

As I got more and more active in it, I got to see more and more where the funds go. Nobody on the committee gets paid, none of the HBI (Historic Bellefonte Inc.) gets paid, so all of the funds go directly back into the community.

I am more of a motorcycle guy than a car guy, but trust me, I do enjoy the cars. Unfortunately, I don’t get to see a lot of them, believe it or not. You would think I have a ring-side seat, but I am constantly hopping around down there during the event. But I enjoy the few times I do get to stop and see some things. If something is a little unusual, I will make it a point to stop and check it out on my own.

And there are various bike groups involved in the Cruise, too, that help out with it. So, it is a big event where you can mesh both crowds together, which is good.

CCG: How has it changed since it started in 1988?

McCool: Well, that was a little before my time, needless to say, but it has transitioned quite a bit actually. It started out as an avenue to cruise downtown, which was banned for some time. It gave the opportunity to do that and it transformed more into a sock hop on Friday night … more or less a party-type atmosphere and the car show, of course, which was a well-anticipated event.

Obviously, the crowds have gotten bigger, the food variety has gotten a lot bigger and there are a lot of things that have grown.

Back in 2010, when I became chairman, the committee consisted of about five or six of us who were do-or-diers. Now we typically have 15 of us at a meeting. So, it is like all things, when things are going good, people are there to help.

We do require that if you are going to be on the committee, we expect you to do something. We are pretty blunt with that.

Jeff Young, seated, won the Best in Show award in the motorcycle class at the 2019 Historic Bellefonte Cruise. Pictured, from left, are Centre County commissioners Mark Higgins and Steve Dershem; Young on his 2000 Harley-Davidson; and Cruise chairman Pat McCool.

It has been a juggling act to get our sponsors. As the cost of things has climbed, our sponsorship has increased. This year is a good example of it. We lost a few of our bigger sponsors, but we picked up a few smaller sponsors, which hopefully, it all works out. We are still expecting sponsorships and building relationships for the future.

Jeff Young, seated, won the Best in Show award in the motorcycle class at the 2019 Historic Bellefonte Cruise. Pictured, from left, are Centre County commissioners Mark Higgins and Steve Dershem; Young on his 2000 Harley-Davidson; and Cruise chairman Pat McCool. | Photo courtesy of Bill Pantel

CCG: How do you expect the Cruise to sustain and grow in the future?

McCool: We are hoping we can get some more younger people involved. Obviously, the more we get involved, the better off we are, but we are definitely actively trying to pursue some younger people. I mean, we are all getting older, and it gets harder and harder to do things from the physical aspect.

What we are hoping to do is take on a few younger people and sort of mentor them through it. Basically, start to turn things over to them.

Probably the biggest thing for the committee is the relationship with the sponsors. That is oxne of the biggest things right there. A lot of the sponsors have business or a personal relationship with me, and that is also one of the reasons I hang in there. Sometimes I say, ‘This is it; I am done with it.’

But lo and behold, I would sooner be known as the guy that grew the Cruise and not the guy that killed the Cruise.

It is definitely getting to be more and more people, more and more cars. The variety is much bigger. As far as exact plans on how to make it grow, we have almost reached maximum ability without looking at having to look at different avenues of areas to encompass within the town. Unfortunately, with Bellefonte and all of its hills, that sort of limits you on what you can do.

It is one of those cases where we are definitely open to ideas. One thing that helped was we brought on a second stage a few years back. We put entertainment there. We have been having entertainment on the main stage throughout the day, whereas we didn’t used to. We mainly just kept that for announcements. But Charlie Breon will be up there again this year and he is well liked in the community. He does a great job for us, and of course, the radio station as well.

But, we are looking at avenues of improvement, and we have to keep our mind on the idea that it doesn’t matter what we think we are doing right, there may be a better way of doing it.

CCG: Even with restrictions lifted, the pandemic is still an issue. What can people expect at the Cruise this year in relation to what’s happening around us?

McCool: A lot of announcements referencing spreading out, that is definitely one thing people can expect. We will have face masks, we will be handing out face masks. We are doing everything we can.

We did put in our contracts with our vendors that they are required to have face masks. They are also required to have hand sanitizer at their stands. That is something that I emphasized to both committees, the food court and the marketplace, that you need to tell those people that the chairman is coming around to check.

We can’t require anybody who comes to the event to do anything, but we are asking people to err on the safety side — preferably to get spread out, but the crowd is there.

CCG: What are some things that people can get excited about this year?

McCool: We have some really good entertainment. We have Deuce Coupe playing Friday night. They play all of our theme stuff. Then Saturday we have Boned Jack. That is a little more of a modern-type thing. They will be playing on the secondary stage.

One thing that is new is that we are going to have a face painter/arm painter. That will be free to the kids.

CCG: What is your favorite Cruise memory through the years?

McCool: That is always a tough one. It is always a big relief ever year when the awards are done, but there are so many of them that are memorable and stick in my mind.

About the actual event, I wouldn’t say there is one thing that sticks out. What I relish is the experience of meeting people that actually haven’t been here for years, but grew up in Bellefonte and came back specifically for the show. I have even run into quite a few people who actually take their vacation to come here for the Cruise.

It makes me feel proud to know that we are doing everything to keep this show going because people look at it as tradition. I mean it is a Bellefonte mainstay.

One thing that surprises me, because I am in town a week prior to the Cruise, and I will run into strangers in town, and I will typically have a Cruise shirt on, and they will stop me and tell me they were coming to the car show. They tell me they came to check out the town because they heard how interesting it is.

Also, many of the merchants have told me about the people who come in to town and check out the stores during the Cruise and tell them they are going to come back next week.

So you know, it really works out for everybody as a whole.

BELLEFONTE CRUISE
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS

Friday, June 18

6-7:30 p.m.: Open Cruise — Cruise the Car Show circuit, open to the public 

7:30-10:30 p.m.: Sock Hop on the Diamond Featuring Deuce Coupe (live band) and The WOWY Crew

Saturday, June 19

7 a.m.-Noon: Registration — Registration starts promptly at 7 a.m. and not before

7 a.m.-5 p.m.: Car, Truck & Motorcycle Show

10 a.m.-2 p.m.: Bone Jacked (live band) and The 95.3 Crew on the second stage

Noon-5 p.m.: D.J. Troy Breon and the WOWY Crew

1:30 p.m.: Bike Games by the US Vets MC

5 p.m.: Car Show Awards (promptly)

Free facepainting throughout the day

Marketplace — Want to shop for unique items from unique vendors? Check it out Friday night and Saturday all day in front of the courthouse.