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  • Writer's pictureDean Hempel

Car Shows have changed

If you’re a car person, you’re probably noticing that there are a lot of car shows showing up in your neighborhood. The culture of car shows have changed dramatically over the past few decades. Like everything else, change is part of growth. Good or bad let’s see how car shows and cruise ins have evolved to what they are today.

Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane. The good times of the 1950’s were a time when buddies from the neighborhood got together at a garage (somebody’s home or the corner gas station) to work on a hot rod. Most of these were built from what they could afford, usually from a junk yard. Once a project was operational, the weekends became a time to ‘show off’ by cruising around town. Fridays were ‘date night’ and guys and gals took to the drive-in theaters or roller rinks. But serious car guys would be cruising around with hopes of finding a challenger to a street race. Tree shade mechanics and buddies bonded around common interests, often being a special project.

With the many local groups and movies that encouraged cars, the concept for car shows was born. Most of these were annual events. Sometimes they included cars that travelled from city to city that were featured in HOT ROD magazine. Local car clubs got a chance to help promote and display their cars to help fill an indoor facility for a weekend. The admission fees helped cover expenses and profit the promoters. As these became more popular around the country, more shows and specialty shows popped up. Many of these shows would have 150-200 cars packed into an auditorium. Most of these annual indoor events with paid admissions have peaked and are not as well attended as in the past.

Outdoor car shows are a different style of event. Often sponsored by established car clubs, these are annual events and usually a multi-day event held on the same weekend every year. Until the COVID shutdowns, many of these shows were held annually for the past 30-40 years. These include a car show with awards for different classes of cars, automotive sponsor exhibits, swap meet sales, and food vendors. Car registrations are normally paid and cover a variety of expenses for the event. The sponsors help fund the event and often will have exhibits to promote their businesses. Typically, spectators admission is minimal or free to help attendance. The exhibiting cars are encouraged to park and stay for the entire event, helping assure a ‘showing’ of as many cars as possible for spectators. These shows can be local or regional, sometimes drawing 500 or more cars from several states away.

Now we’re seeing more and more ‘Cruise-Ins’ where car enthusiasts can bring their cars in and out without registrations or awards. While these are becoming more popular, they offer an opportunity for everyone with a ‘driver’ to participate in an event and come together for the fun of it. A cruise-in is a great way for a local business to attract attention while enjoying the cars. They are typically a local event with neighbors coming together. In a 50-mile radius of a city might see a regularly scheduled ‘cruise-in’ set for Thursday – Friday – Saturday evenings May through September. Clubs also might host a ‘cruise-in’ monthly or quarterly. Depending on the schedule of other car events, there could be 25 cars show up or 125 cars cruising through. These are typically for the enjoyment of cars and not profit.

Local non-profits seem to be coming up with fund raising car shows hoping to bring large groups. Some of these are expecting higher registration fees or raising funds for their cause. These shows are not normally well attended unless they are backed by a major car club that can bring a crowd of cars. Large car shows have always had a ‘benefit’ aspect to them, but more and more small non-profits are holding their own car shows/cruise-ins.

Depending on your interests in car shows, you will find choices in shows to attend. We often have as many as 5 or more shows to consider on a single weekend. Of course, some people want to go to an event every weekend. Some have other interests and will have their fill of shows with one a month. So, whatever your level of interest. You’ll find more choices to shows with the advent of the internet and groups that track shows and special interests. So, happy showing !

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