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The woman behind Peggy Sue's All-American Cruise isn't a life-long car buff.

Until a few years ago, Peggy Williams' passion was planning weddings.

But that was before she and her husband Rich bought a neighbor's old Chevy and focused their efforts on creating a classic car show in Santa Rosa.

Nine years later — instead of helping couples tie the knot — she's bringing together 800 car lovers from across the West.

"I wanted to create an event where people could come together with good friends and relax," Williams said. "When people go back to work on Monday, I want them to have something positive to talk about. It's a feel-good thing."

Judging from the reaction to Saturday's downtown cruise, motorheads everywhere should be raving.

Hot rods and original machines built before 1976 — many of them with open exhausts - rumbled along Fourth Street as thousands watched with mix of wonder and nostalgia.

Even kids got into the act. Leading off the procession of American machines was a group of youngsters in pedal cars.

"Aw! I love it!" said Tim Madura of Santa Rosa as a black &‘66 Chevelle roared by similar to one he had decades ago in Southern California. "It brings back memories."

John Muro, also of Santa Rosa, said what he likes most about the cruise is being able to run his turquoise&‘64 Ford Galaxie without a muffler.

"They love the car," said the retired carpenter as he popped the hood to reveal a 427 high-riser V8. "They want to hear me rev it. So I let them have some noise. You can hear it five blocks away."

Kathy Maffia of Petaluma sat beside her shiny black &‘60 Chevy coupe. She and her husband Romeo were taking part for the first time, but it could easily become a family tradition, she said.

"We have not had this much fun in a weekend in a long time," said the retired store clerk.

The cruise had an unlikely start.

Although Rich Williams raced stock cars and motorcycles, Peggy Williams said she wasn't much of an enthusiast.

She grew up in 1960s Reno where she said she did some cruising, but it "was nothing fancy."

She married Rich, a truck driver, in 1979, and the coupled moved to Santa Rosa in 1982.

Peggy Williams taught preschool, opened a daycare center and launched a wedding consulting business, A Personal Touch, which she ran for 12 years.

Her life changed in 1997 when she spotted a for sale sign on her neighbor's &‘31 Chevy. She'd been eyeing it for some time and envied the fun he had in the butterscotch, black and orange sedan.

She called her husband and walked across the street to hand the man a check.

"It's a clean little car," Williams said. "We drive it all the time."

After doing a few rallies, Williams got an idea. Why not re-direct her considerable organizing and event planning skills on starting a classic car show in Santa Rosa?

"It was a natural extension," she said.

She got to work. She even came up with a name that harkens back to days of white-wall tires while making a sly wink to herself.

Her middle name is actually Kay, but friends have always known her as Peggy Sue.

"I was sitting with a musician friend and she said, &‘Peggy Sue, you gotta come up with something,'" she recalled. "Then she said, &‘Why not call it Peggy Sue's?' The movie Peggy Sue Got Married was filmed here so I figured why not?"

The cruise launched in 2003 with 350 cars and has since grown beyond anything she imagined. The four-day event held at A Place to Play Park now has 800 cars and features bands, a chili cook-off and a poker run.

Most cars come from California, but she gets entries from Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Arizona. An awards ceremony will be held Sunday afternoon.

Money from ticket sales all goes to children's charities. She's donated about $190,000 so far, not counting the custom &‘71 Nova she's selling to raise money for the daughter of a local soldier killed in Afghanistan.

The tangerine muscle car has been appraised at $70,000.

This year she hopes to expand her giving to a program for homeless teens.

The event website is www.peggysuescruise.com.

"I work year-round on this," Williams said. "We don't take a paycheck."