BY LEANN DILBECK –
Hundreds of people will once again enjoy an annual tradition… and what some refer to as a ‘family reunion.’ They will pour into our community from all parts of the country and all walks of life to share a passion. They will cruise into our community this week to proudly display their meticulously restored antique street rods and muscle cars… to enjoy our people, our hospitality and our scenery. For locals, it’s also ‘tradition’ and has become one of the most popular local events hosted each year… and it’s all been made possible by the vision of one man… one man with a passion for car shows and a desire to promote our beautiful area. That event now appropriately carries his name… and his family now carries the peace of mind of knowing that his legacy will be continued.
The 41st Annual MARK CAMPBELL Rod Run event will be held this weekend. His wife, Lisa, and a crew of devoted friends simply known as the ‘Mena Bunch’ worked alongside Mark each year hosting the event that during its peak in the mid-90’s brought in over 300 cars to the area. Mark passed from pancreatic cancer in 2015 just before seeing his 40th Rod Run event.
When sitting down to interview Lisa for Citizen of the Week, I explained my regrets that I didn’t ever feature her and Mark as a couple before he passed and that I hoped it would be ok if we laced Mark throughout her feature. Lisa said simply, “It wouldn’t be my story if it weren’t for him,” a testament of the love and respect she continues to hold for him.
Lisa helped to host the event for 35 years and shared that Mark’s sudden diagnosis and passing made it difficult to consider doing it without him. “Mark made us promise we would host the 40th so we knew no matter how hard it was, we had to… it was for him.”
The couple met on a blind date after being “set-up” by a mutual friend. Lisa spent her childhood in DeQueen before moving to Hatfield in 1973 and graduated. Mark’s family moved to Mena from California. In fact, Mark drove a Model A Roadster that he had rebuilt at the age of 14 from California to Mena. A car that was later sold and then repurchased and restored again, so that the couple’s son, Cobry John, could drive to the 40th Annual Rod Run in honor of his dad.
Mark’s love affair and knowledge of cars led the couple to opening Street & Performance in 1985. With Mark’s knowledge and connections in the industry, the company soared and during the mid-1990’s became global and employed just over 100 people. “We went to conventions and shows all around the country, and everywhere Mark went, he was promoting Mena. He was a great ambassador for Mena,” said Lisa.
The 40th Rod Run was huge with many pouring in to memorialize Mark. Lisa said you could tell that everyone seemed a bit anxious, wondering if it would be the last. During the Sunday morning memorial service, Lisa explained that the Rileys were getting ready to announce that it would be the final event. Lisa said, “I saw the look in everyone’s eyes… and I knew how important it was to Mark and I just couldn’t do it. I stood up… sort of surprised the Rileys and everyone else because we thought it was our last… and announced that the family would continue [hosting the event.]”
Lisa then began actively seeking partnerships and community support that would ensure that this 40-year tradition would continue, even beyond their family’s time.
She expressed her gratitude that the Mena A&P several years back began hosting a Saturday night event on South Mena Street for spectators and participants. She’s also very grateful that the Mena/Polk County Chamber of Commerce has stepped up in partnership to assist with the entire event. She is also excited that for the first time in the event’s history, cars will be allowed to line a portion of North Mena Street on Friday night, “That’s something Mark would have loved to have seen.”
From watching years of hard work by her husband, family and friends, Lisa said she just couldn’t bear the thought of a ‘last’ Rod Run. “It meant so much to Mark. It was something he loved… and it is so good for the community.” With Lisa’s tenacity to secure the future of the event, and thus, a part of the legacy left behind by her husband, the Rod Run will forever bear his name and be an annual event for generations to come.