BARABOO, WI. – The "Fall Ford Fest" is a celebration held at the conclusion of each year for the fundraising efforts by Dan and Linda Neve in support of cancer research. It is held during the first full weekend of October each fall in the Wisconsin Dells area. Each year, the duo attends Ford events across the country and asks attendees for support in their mission of beating the terrible cancer disease by selling tee-shirts and chances to win a special Ford Mustang.
“I never planned or ever thought that I would have done this longer than one year -- let alone 13,” said Dan Neve. But in 2010, after his wife Linda and his mother were diagnosed with breast cancer just one month apart, it changed all of their lives forever. Initially it started by buying his 2010 Shelby GT500 and having it displayed at SEMA that same year to raise awareness, but he’s since taken that idea and created a fundraising mission that spans the country and beyond. And it all culminates with "Five Days of Fall Ford Fun."
On Day 1, the 2023 version of the Fall Ford Fest kicked off on a Wednesday at one of the most iconic racetracks in America - Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. This full-day event offers track time for the beginner with instructors, all the way up to the most advanced divers running times that are on par with some NASCAR qualifying. The newly paved course gave 95 participants a very smooth surface to drive on as well as to learn on. And it of course it gave those with experience some of their fastest runs ever. Road America is not just a track to drive, but a track to experience. So driving on the same track as some of Ford’s most iconic drivers is really special – including the likes of Carroll Shelby, Jack Roush Jr., and Steve Saleen. In fact, Steve Saleen himself was on hand this year giving rides around the track most of the day for $100/lap donations to support the cause.
Thursday was Day 2 – and it was cruise day. This year the drive was to the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin, which was followed by a cruise-in and a grilled pork-chop lunch provided by Middleton Ford/Motorsports. Chuck Polley, General Manager of Middleton Ford/Motorsports is a big gear head, and just to prove it he ran a 2:16 lap at Road America in his 900-plus horsepower Shelby GT500, as well as having a dyno installed at the dealership. Yes, a local Ford dealer with in-house dyno. So that afternoon, dyno runs were offered and, of course, all of the fees collected were donated to fight cancer.
Thursday evening offered a special Fireside Chat with special guests Steve Saleen, Bob Smith and Fred Blum, the latter both long-term employees and team members with Saleen. The evening was a relaxed event where the trio talked about the early years of racing and their journey to their first championship, as well as answering questions from attendees.
Things got busy on Day 3, as Friday started off with hot laps at the Dells Raceway, a paved oval where participants get to go out and run some laps for a few hours. This controlled setting gives everyone a chance to experience what their car feels like on a paved oval. The other highlight was that Steve Saleen didn't give rides in one of his cars for charity – he instead would drive your car with you as a passenger for a donation. This turned out to be very popular with everyone who had Steve get behind the wheel of their Mustangs and show them what it was capable of. It was all followed with an afternoon of cruises – four in fact. Tour #1 took participants on a scenic ride to southern Wisconsin to the Cave of the Mounds after a stop for lunch followed by a scenic ride back. Tour #2 is the annual Wine and Brewery, ride sponsored by Griffin Ford of Ft. Atkinson, which included visiting some of the area’s wineries and breweries for just a little taste-tasting. (Yes, everyone was being responsible here!). Tour #3 was purely a couple-hour scenic ride through the Baraboo hills checking out the fall colors. With such a great turnout this year, a 4th Tour was added and named “The Mystery Tour” so no one knew the destination except the tour leader.
Those who went on The Mystery Tour were pleasantly surprised as the ride stopped at the famous Ring Brothers shop in Spring Green, Wisconsin. No photos were allowed inside as they were completing three of their SEMA builds for this year. Also on Friday, an 18-hole golf tournament was held for those in the event who are not Ford owners but just may want to be one after seeing all of the beautiful cars on the roads. Friday night is the time for the Welcome Party, with fellowship, entertainment and a reveal of all the raffle and silent auction prizes. Over 200 feet of tables were filled for those wanting to win some great items and help make a difference in fighting cancer at the same time.
The big Saturday car show came on Day 4, when more than 220 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles were on display at the show that started off a little cool but turned out to be a good day. With a DJ playing music, food trucks serving hungry showgoers and JD and Suzi selling Ford Merchandise from the big rig, everyone had a great time. Some 22 award classes were presented with custom awards that were handed out by Steve Saleen. During the show, other activities included the 300-foot speed runs to beat the clock as well as autocross school in the afternoon following the judging. After the awards, all the cars took a parade lap through Baraboo and over to the local state park – a cool thing to witness in person. The event banquet on Saturday evening has become the can’t-miss part of the weekend. Not only are there great guest speakers each year, but it’s an experience that lets everyone know that we are all doing something special for charity here.
It's hard to pick a favorite from the plated dinner that no one has ever gone hungry from, to the amazing raffle and silent auction drawings. The live auction offers many items that are one-of-a-kind and things that most people have never seen before. This year was the first time that the winner of the sweepstakes car was drawn at the event. Tension and the excitement level ran very high when Dan drew the winner’s name -- and announced that the winner was in the room! The lucky winner of the 40th Anniversary Saleen Mustang was Betty Parnham of Stevens Point, Wisconsin.
The final day is Day 5, when Sunday starts off with a couple of cruise rides yet again in the early morning hours so that both are back in time to take part in or watch the All-Ford Autocross session. This event continues to grow, with over 40 participants taking part this year.
Dan Neve will tell you that his Fall Ford Fest is not the largest Ford event you can attend in any year -- but it is the event that he feels does the most in supporting cancer research. With participants attending from New Jersey to Colorado and just about all states in-between, you’re invited to join the fun next year. The final tally from this year’s event totaled approximately $80,000 raised during the 5 days of the Fest – all in support of cancer research . . . and that is a WIN-WIN for everyone!
FORD PERFORMANCE PHOTOS / COURTESY DAN NEVE