Traveling at 200,000 miles per hour, over 100 lightning strikes travel from clouds down to the earth's surface every second of every day. The electrical discharge is brief, powerful, and persistent, much like the enthusiasm for the F-150 hot-rodded by Ford's now-defunct Special Vehicle Team — the SVT Lightning.
It's been a decade and a half since Ford SVT produced these potent sport trucks, and more than a quarter century since the first generation Lightnings created a new category with their performance capability.
Over the years, these trucks, and their Harley-Davidson F-150 cousins, gained many loyal fans, and long served as the primary customer base for few specialty shops dedicated making these trucks faster. There are also still plenty of enthusiasts driving, modding, and enjoying these special trucks to this day, and once a year many of them gather at the Southeastern Lightnings And Harley Trucks meet.
"It is all about the community. We are a tight-knit group. Every member has the passion to be a part of something special. I mean, these trucks are 15 years old from last production, and 26 years old from the first Gen 1 in 1993," the event's coordinator, Thomas McGee, explained.
This year's gathering took place in Daytona Beach, Florida, where plenty of trucks came together for a variety of activities, including a beach cruise, Daytona International Speedway parade laps, a raffle, and of course, a truck show.
"Since I took over the meet four years ago, my goal was 100 trucks and to drive on the 500. We came close with a final count of 89 total," Thomas said. "To have the ability to drive on the Daytona 500, that experience, and to see everyone's posts, comments when they went into the tunnel, to drive into the pits, that is a once in a lifetime experience for some, and that is my goal — a lifetime of memories."
In 2019, you might be lucky to see one of these impressive trucks, so the opportunity to see a large gathering of SVT trucks in one spot inspired us to take a day trip over to the World Center of Racing to observe the trucks and the owners who are still charged up about them after all these years.
There was a great turnout and a wide variety of trucks that attended. We captured the highlights here and most of the trucks in the gallery below. Of course, with this year's meet in the rearview mirror it is already time to start thinking about the 2020 event, and Thomas has his work cut out for him to out-do this year's shindig.
"This event in all of the four years was the toughest one to date, I try every year to one-up the previous year, and I think I did it. So next year will be even more amazing," Thomas enthused. "I was told by a longtime community member that he remembered going to Lightning Fest in 2007, and there were, at best, 80 trucks and it was huge. He told me that 12 years later we surpassed that Lightning Fest experience."
If you love these trucks and might want to attend next year's gathering, you can search for the group on Facebook to keep up with the latest news.
Once a year the members of the Southeastern Lightnings and Harley Trucks group gather to celebrate all things SVT Lightning and Harley Davidson F-150. This year the members gathered in Daytona Beach, Florida, for several events, including a show at the One Daytona dining and shopping complex across the street from Daytona International Speedway.
Spearheading the annual gathering was Thomas McGee. He spends his days working as the Sales Manager at Palm Bay Ford, but his passion for these trucks inspires him to put in months of planning effort into the annual meet. "Yes, eight months of planning is tiring and stressful, but, when I was on track shaking every driver's hand and saying thank you, to see their faces, the happiness, that made it, that made everything worth it," Thomas reflected after the meet.
Fans of these trucks came from far and wide to participate in the weekend's festivities, including Jason Kahles. He made the 1,090-mile trek from Middle Island, New York. His 152,000-mile truck puts down 460 horsepower courtesy of a few bolt-ons, and he was really excited about lapping Daytona International Speedway in his truck.
While it is rare to see any Lightning truck these days, it's exceptionally rare to lay your eyes on a first-gen truck. Mario Flores drove down eight hours from Oneonta, Alabama, in his beautiful 1994 example, which is largely stock save for a camshaft, widened wheels, and a few other bolt-ons. He couldn't make the trip last year, so he was stoked to be in Daytona for the meet.
One of the most striking trucks at the event was Jeremy Glaze's flamed 2004 Lightning. However, this truck has the muscle to back up those looks courtesy of a Johnny Lightning Performance-built motor and a Magnum Powers blower upgrade. He rolled down to Daytona from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, because the he loves the trucks and the people in the group.
George Glover says that if he had a dollar every time someone asked to take a photo of his 2002 Lightning, he would never have to work again. That's because he put a decal that replicates the one seen in The Fast and the Furious movie, which was supposed to come off after a week or two. Two years later it remains and helps his daily driver attract attention wherever it goes.
Another potent pickup on the One Daytona property was Kurt Kennedy's 2003 Harley-Davidson F-150 which features a built engine topped with Kris Starnes-ported heads and custom cams. A stock blower boosts it, but a nitrous kit is on hand for special occasions. He made the quick drive over from Palm Coast, Florida, to enjoy the meet.
A Lightning fan for years, Chris Gerari from Jacksonville, Florida, switched to its cousin, the Harley-Davidson F-150 to make more room for his family. His 2002 truck is no stocker, however. It has a built motor and upgraded trans and makes the most of 16.5 pounds of boost.
Ed Hainline bought his 2003 Lightning when it was just two years old and only had 12,000 miles on the clock. These days it has over 109,000 miles, and runs 12s thanks to a smaller pulley, headers, and a JC Customs mid-plate. He made the trip up from West Palm Beach, Florida, and he says attending the show gives him continued motivation to keep his truck in tip-top shape.
Brian Veltri, who drove own from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is the proud owner of the 3,166th 2002 Harley-Davidson F-150 build. He turned up the stock engine with an overdrive lower pulley, a single-blade throttle body, a Joker's Performance ported blower, and a Bassani cat-back.
A show dedicated to his truck, is what brought Wes Schaefer and his 2001 Lightning out to Daytona. Dropped 2.4 inches and rolling on 20s, his truck also benefits from an overdrive lower pulley and an electric fan.
A serious unit, Chris Mohr's 2004 Lightning stuck to the turnpike to have the steady supply of E85 it needed to make the trip up from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. An MPR-built 5.4 topped by a set of Slawko Racing Heads-ported PI heads, and a Whipple on his 730-horsepower machine. Tuned by Kevin McDonald and build by DPM Racing's Peter Delpino, the truck showed Chris what a supercharged truck is all about and, as you can tell, he went crazy. He plans to turn it up beyond 800 horsepower in the near future.
Twenty-three-year-old Colton Shaub is Lightning enthusiast through and through. He fell for the trucks as a kid and wanted one as his first truck. That didn't work, but when this one came up for sale 15 minutes from his house, he struck a deal for a cherry 2003 example and quickly had its flawless paint ceramic-coated. He and best pal Tyler Thanscheidt trailered the 62,000-mile truck 1,200 miles from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to the meet.
A veteran of the NMRA's Truck and Lightning class, Marco Ponce rolled from Alexandria, Virginia, in his 10-second 2002 Lighting. It features a built engine, stock blower, Jesel valvetrain, and more. It rocks the dyno rollers to the tune of 820 rear-wheel horsepower, which propels the 5,210-pound truck (with driver) to 10.20s at 127 mph.
Eric Gray loves metal and trucks. His truck wears a "RIDE THE" vanity plate, which ties in the truck's name to Metallica's sophomore album, Ride the Lightning.
Thanks to the efforts of show-runner Thomas McGee, attendees of the Southeastern Lightnings And Harley Trucks meet had the opportunity to enter the hallowed ground of Daytona International Speedway.
The majority of the trucks in attendance took advantage of the opportunity to lap the historic track.
The Lightning and Harley fans in attendance also took the opportunity to honor a fallen comrade, James Blackham, who passed away just weeks before the meet. Thomas set up a raffle to help his family with the medical and funeral costs, which raised over $2,500, courtesy of products donated by several group members and companies including, BG Racing, LMR, Lightning Force Performance, MM Customs, and Power Surge Performance. Here several of members signed a shirt dedicated in his honor.
Photography by Steve Turner