The woman who inspired the character Sally Carrera, the blue Porsche from the Pixar movie “Cars,” has been one of Oklahoma’s staunchest supporters and promoters. Thursday Oklahoma returned that favor when the State Senate honored Stroud’s Rock Café owner, Dawn Welch. Her daughter, Alexis Herr, served as a page to the Senate during the first week of the 2010 session, and joined her mother on the floor for the presentation.
State Sen. Harry Coates represents Stroud in the Senate and was author of Senate Resolution 83.
“Dawn has truly been an ambassador, not only for her community but for our entire state. When the movie Cars was released, people came from all over the world just to relive the Route 66 experience and meet the real-life Sally,” said Coates, R-Seminole.
Welch said when the film makers were researching Route 66, they visited her restaurant, ordered one of everything on the menu and asked her to sit and talk to them about her life, the café and Route 66. She then became the inspiration for Sally. After the release of the movie, Welch said business at the Rock Café skyrocketed, but tragedy struck in 2008 when the building was destroyed in a fire. Welch vowed to rebuild the café, and did so with the guidance of a historic preservationist. After learning of her plight, “Cars” director John Lasseter sent memorabilia from the film to decorate the rebuilt café.
Welch said she was extremely honored by the Senate Resolution. “It’s living proof that as long as you love what you’re doing and have passion about it, you can do anything and make an impact on the world,” Welch said. “My biggest accomplishment is to make an impact on my kids and through that desire everything else has happened. And it’s been an amazing trip.”
“I went through so many hard times during the 17 years that I’ve had the Rock Café. It’s a teeny-tiny place, in a teeny-tiny town, on a teeny-tiny road that’s been forgotten. I think it’s so important for people to save that tradition in America. It’s something that we as a people don’t generally look to save…my message to Oklahoma is to never give up,” Welch said. “I’ve tried very hard to teach that to my kids to weave history and modern times together. That’s what I want to teach people I want to say this can work, we can save traditions, and old buildings and old roads, and forgotten towns and forgotten people.”
House member Danny Morgan also represents Stroud and was also in the Senate chamber when Welch was honored. Morgan said Welch’s enterprise has been an economic boon to the area, with a guestbook in the restaurant showing how far away people have come just to eat there and meet the real-life “Sally.”
"Look at that guest book – it is the Who’s Who across the world. Dawn, thank you for putting Oklahoma on the map. Thank you for putting Lincoln County on the map, but particularly, thank you for preserving that piece of heritage that is so important to this region of the country and to Oklahoma.”
This past New Year’s Eve, Welch was named Woman of the Year by the Oklahoman newspaper. The January 2010 edition of “Oklahoma Living” featured a picture of Welch and the Rock Café on its cover, and named the eatery Oklahoma’s best diner. She also received national acclaim after publishing her cookbook, “Dollars to Donuts: Comfort Food and Kitchen Wisdom From Route 66’s Landmark Rock Café.”
Coates said Welch’s perseverance and positive attitude were an inspiration for the community and for all of Oklahoma, especially during the current economic downturn.
“Dawn was promoting Route 66, Stroud and Oklahoma long before she received national and international recognition. Even when she lost her historic restaurant, she never gave up and she never gave in,” Coates said. “She represents that can-do spirit that makes Oklahoma great. What Dawn has accomplished is proof that we can get through the hard times and know that better days are ahead.”