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Shriners Tucked Into Tiny Cars A Dashing Sight at Annual Parade

Snug inside a miniaturized Corvette, Shriner Ken Hall takes a spin in Alexandria during the annual George Washington Birthday Parade. The cars were first made in the early 1970s as a GMC promotion for the Stingray Corvette.
Snug inside a miniaturized Corvette, Shriner Ken Hall takes a spin in Alexandria during the annual George Washington Birthday Parade. The cars were first made in the early 1970s as a GMC promotion for the Stingray Corvette. (Photos By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

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"So you're not that old," Jones shot back.

"He enrolled when he was 12," McAfee chimed in.

To the Shriners, participation in the Kena 500 is hardly illogical. Messing around with souped-up, five-horsepower go-karts is a not-so-subtle display of childhood reclamation. Jeff St. Onge, senior weapons analyst for a defense contractor and retired Air Force master sergeant, summed it up succinctly:

"What's the best part about this? Going fast!" he yelled.

The Shriners got the mini-Corvettes in the early 1970s when GMC manufactured them to promote the Stingray Corvette, according to Shriner officials. Kena Shrine Temple purchased them and began using them in parades and national Shriner competitions to bring attention to their charitable works. Kena 500 members pay about $1,500 to lease about 20 cars, which can go up to 35 mph.

As yesterday's parade began, newcomers who had never seen the men before were stopped in their tracks. "Surreal," said Barbara Askjear, 31, of Alexandria. "It transcends time."

Maureen Rehg, a longtime Alexandria resident, loves watching the Shriners speed up and down her city's normally quiet streets.

"How tall do you think No. 8 is? And do you think his back hurts?" she asked, looking at Kenneth Hall, the man who choreographs the Kena 500 unit's parade routines.

Down the street, there was Carl Questad, 5, yelling very loudly, under the false impression that the Kena 500 was a speed race. "Go, 29! Go, 29!"

"You like 29?" his mother, Rebecca, asked.

Carl paused before he answered. He wanted to give a measured response. "I like 30 more," he said.


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