Last year I started up my own publication to cover events and do features on great cars. After a while I found myself in the position to go assist some local clubs in expanding their meets and running events. I stepped away from writing to help build up these organizations for a while. I found it to be immensely interesting work, but ultimately decided it wasn’t for me. I thought I’d share some of the things I learned while running local car meets, and offer some words of wisdom to those thinking they want to try this themselves. I thought CarThrottle was the ideal place to release my first article before relaunching my own site.
Location, Location, Location
So you’ve decided that you want to start your own weekly car meet. Whether this is because of a drought of meets in your area, or quality issues with other local organizations, you are setting off to start your own. The first obvious thing you will need is a location to host this meet. Your first instinct will be parking garages, or remote lots where you and your friends won’t be bothered (or bother anyone). However this can actually be detrimental to your meet.
First and foremost the lifeblood of small weekly meets, is media. People sharing your flyer, posting pictures of your event and tagging you in photos all helps to spread the word about your event. Big jumps in attendance can be made from the occasional photographer wandering through and plugging your meet online. But if you setup shop in a dark lot, you’ll likely find that photos are turning out poorly. Ignoring the media aspect of it, a meet looks much more inviting when you can see the details of a car.
Additionally you need to know what sort of crowd you are catering too. If you have groups of slammed cars showing up each week, and your parking lot is filled with speed bumps and potholes, it will quickly turn those people away. It takes a keen eye to understand exactly what sort of space will work. Keep in mind things like traffic/lot usage during the time you want to have the meet, as well as how easy the spot is to find.
Another aspect you might overlook would be the surrounding businesses. A business park might have excellent lighting and will be clear at night, but affords absolutely no food or restrooms to people who attend. Finding a business that will let people come in from the cold in the winter, take a break from the heat in the summer, grab some food or use the restroom really goes a long way to getting repeat attendance from the local community.
Finally, consider if your neighbors will be happy with you there. Say you setup a meet in a gym parking lot. Every Monday night you and your friends show up in your cars and take some spaces in the back. After a few months the meet grows, and once a week 20-30 cars start taking up spaces in the lot. From the gym’s perspective they have nothing to gain, none of these people are coming into their business, and in many cases they are causing more harm than good. What you need to find is a business that your attendees will give business to on a regular basis. From my experience the ideal location is a fast food place with a large well lit parking lot. The low price point of the food means that people will go in to eat, it provides restrooms and some shelter in the event of bad weather, and they’ll be happy to have more business once a week.
Permission, and Staying
So you have found a spot with great lighting and a business that won’t mind you being there. You may start your meet with the best intentions of remaining above the board on everything. You will contact the shopping center’s owners to get permission to be there, you will make sure the meet does not interfere with normal businesses, and will strive to make sure everyone is happy. Unfortunately the reality is most shopping centers have no interest in allowing this sort of event to take place on their property. They view it as a liability, and may ultimately refuse you outright. This is where it becomes a matter of asking for forgiveness rather than permission. It is far easier to just start showing up and hope no one minds, rather than deal with the potential of being barred from showing up before you even get started. I have successfully thrown events where hundreds of cars show up unprompted. As long as the show is well organized, and you have people helping you police bad behavior, there should be no issue in you being there.
Staying there long term is another matter entirely. It is easy to get kicked out if your group leaves garbage behind on a weekly basis, causes traffic jams coming in and out of the shopping center, or generally disturbs your neighbors. In my experience you’ll want to be the last person to leave, so you have a chance to clean up any trash left behind. You’ll want to make it clear where people attending your meet should and shouldn’t park, and you’ll want to be the face of the meet if someone complains.
This leads to the most important part of establishing any meet. Typically the quickest way to get kicked out of a location, or black listed by the local community, is to not police your own meet. You absolutely cannot allow burnouts, revving, fights and so on. While at first this may not be an issue, as you grow you will inevitably attract the random Ken-Block-Wannabe who drifts his way into a curb. The neighbors hear, they call the police, and next thing you know you are out of a spot. While moving is not a death sentence, it certainly doesn’t help you establish any roots. Nor does allowing this behavior win you any points with the community.
A great way to help curb this problem, is to speak to everyone. Not as a group, but one on one. Hanging out with your friends is great, but getting to know the new people who take the time to come to your meet is far more important. If they know who is in charge, and exactly what the expectations of people in attendance are, they are far less likely to misbehave. Plus, why would you throw your own meet if you have no interest in meeting new people? Too often have I pulled up to smaller meets only to receive the cold shoulder from those who are already “in”. I rarely have interest in coming back, and part of being successful is repeat attendance.
You might not enjoy it…
Perhaps it is a bit over reaching of me to say that everyone will not enjoy being in charge of their own meet, however I think it is fair to say that it involves a lot more work then you might be expecting. There are time commitments to showing up every week, cleaning up, being an outgoing leader of your organization and building a community. And while they are worthwhile endeavors, I find that eventually it kills some of the original fun of going to a meet. People talk about professional chefs going home from work and eating instant ramen, and in a way it is very similar to that. Something that was once a lot of fun to do once a week, becomes very time consuming.
Last year I threw several large scale shows, and I didn’t have the chance to walk to the show during a single one of them. Instead I was running from person to person, making sure everything ran as smoothly as possible. At the end of the day, I put on successful events and was happy with the work I did. But I missed the chance to see the awesome cars that came out, or just talk cars with some friends. It also became something of a full time hobby, as I was always looking for ways to grow the meet and keep things running smoothly.
My advice? If you are dead set on starting your own meet, see if it is for you first. Go to a local meet, find out who is in charge and see if they need any help running the meet. You’ll come to grips with how the whole operation works, and ultimately it might be better for you to just assist an already growing meet rather than create more competition.
Certainly there are pay-offs to throwing these events. You do have an excellent opportunity to meet your local car community, and if done right you offer people a great place to hang out. But it isn’t for everyone, and if you aren’t committed to meet you run the risk of creating issues for your local car community. It is an overlooked responsibility by many, and requires patience at times. And how you treat that responsibility is often the difference between a short lived mediocre meet, and a long term successful one.
Oliver von Mizener | @speedlimitless