Wednesday, Jul 31 2013 05:04 PM

Custom cars set to put in a bounce for their visitors

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Cars sit parked on the grass at the Kern County Fairgrounds waiting to be scored by judges and admired by spectators at the 15th Annual Lowrider Nationals in 2012.

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Alejandra Cortez and Edith Oliveros pose for a photo in front of the Lowrider Magazine truck at the Lowrider Nationals in 2012.

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    A spectator records video of a rotating car indoors at the Kern County Fairgrounds at the Lowrider Nationals in 2012.

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BY ASHLEY FISCHER Contributing writer

This weekend at the Kern County Fairgrounds, the kids in the bounce house won't be the only things hopping.

On Sunday, Bakersfield's annual Lowrider Nationals Car Show returns for its massive "Sweet 16" celebration. The largest urban car show in the country, Lowrider Nationals will showcase hundreds of cars, trucks and motorcycles that have been lifted, lowered and customized in ways that often defy imagination.

Which is why, according to Rick Munoz, director of live events, these aren't so much cars as they are mobile works of art.

"What makes this different than a hot rod show or a classic car show," Munoz said, "is that there, the goal is typically to restore cars to the way they originally looked. The biggest focus of the urban car scene is to make every car unique and to match your style. They'll paint it bright colors, they'll etch the name of the car in the window, and when they open everything up -- it's phenomenal; it's like a transformer. It almost looks like a totally different car."

There are countless categories for contestants to enter, and cars for the 10,000 people who flock to the fairgrounds to see: Dubs (cars with at least 20-inch rims), Euros, Imports (think "The Fast and the Furious" style), VWs, Mini-trucks -- the list goes on.

And the prizes are nearly as glamorous as the cars on display; Lowrider Nationals awards the largest amount of total prize money of any urban car show ($25,000, with up to $1,000 for top winners), a seven-diamond, National Champion Super Bowl-style ring -- and all the bragging rights that come with it.

"The National Champion ring is another thing that makes us unique," Munoz said.

"I mean, trophies are nice and everything, but a ring -- that's something you can sport with you wherever you go."

For the less mechanically minded, there are plenty of other activities: concerts (Stacy-Q, The Mary Jane Girls, Kurupt and more), a "Hot Model Contest," and the hop contest, which is just what it sounds like: a battle to see which car can leap the highest off the ground.

There are plenty of activities for the kids, including face painting, water slides and bounce houses, because, according to Munoz, for all its flash, urban car culture is also very focused on family.

"This is definitely a family event," he said. "A lot of people who build cars, have been building them for entire generations. When people bring their cars, the dads will bring their cars, the sons will bring their cars, and then they'll bring their kids, and their grandchildren."

In keeping with the family-friendly, community-minded spirit, Munoz explained that with every Lowrider Nationals event, they try to find new ways to give back to the community. So for those who miss the tickets at their pre-sale price ($16 for the 16th anniversary), four cans or other nonperishable food items will drop the door price from $25, back down to $16.

"It's something we're always trying to do -- give back to the community here," Munoz said. "Each year we get thousands of people from all over: Oxnard, Delano, Fresno, Los Angeles. But this show only happens once a year, and it only happens in Bakersfield."

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