For years, I’ve been telling anyone who will listen that there really ought to be an annual automotive convention in the same vein as San Diego Comic Con. Like comic enthusiasts, car folks come from all walks of life, have widely varied tastes and like to wear their automotive love on their sleeve. I can stop telling people that now, because that is a thing that now exists.
In the way that everyone wants something cool to happen, but has no qualifications or desire to get off their ass and make something cool happen, I would say “They should do that, it would be awesome!” Well, after years of doing nothing about it myself, ‘they’ finally did. And they came up with HooptieCon.
In this case, the ‘they’ is Jay Lamm, the head honcho in charge of the 24 Hours of Lemons series for crapcan racers. While each Lemons race sees well in excess of 100 cars on track, and each car means a handful of racers through the gate, they weren’t getting much in the way of non-racing spectators. Lemons added a few events to their day, post racing, including an engine-heat barbecue contest, and an automotive-themed film festival they dubbed ‘CrapCannes.’ That was just the beginning, though.
Lamm, acting as something of an automotive culture Nick Fury, called upon some people in the automotive world who might be amenable to his plan. “I’m here to talk to you about The HooptieCon Initiative. I’m putting a team together,” he might have said if he was in a Marvel movie with an eyepatch. He asked Lemons offshoots Concours d’Lemons and Lemons Rally to gather their best and brightest, then reached out to Billetproof Hot Rods, the Gambler 500, The Arcane Auto Society and Radwood. A date was set, and a track was readied. Sonoma Raceway in late March.
As one of the four co-founders of Radwood, I was excited to hear Jay’s proposal, and even more excited to take him up on it. By now, you should be well familiar with Radwood, but in case you aren’t, it’s a new kind of car show for ’80s and ’90s cars. In the same vein as Goodwood’s Revival, period-correct attire is compulsory, a period-correct disc jockey plays period-correct jams and there are activities to check out and participate in throughout the day. This collaboration with Lemons was our third such Radwood festival.
By the time the show kicked off, the whole hillside was crowded with incredible cars of the Rad era. As with previous Radwood shows, we tried to provide show-goers with a wide variety of awesome ’80s and ’90s cars, giving some unorthodox cars the limelight for a change, and the community responded in kind.
While we were strangely proud that Canepa Motorsports in Scotts Valley decided to bring one of their Porsche 959s to our show, it was equally awesome to see a mint condition Honda Prelude Si with active four-wheel-steering, or the incredibly clean Citroen XM that Richard Chen (you remember him...) brought. What other show would feature a Z31-generation 300ZX on three-spoke design wheels front and center? Or a technically-eligible 1980 Trabant 601S at the entrance? Or a barn-find Bitter SC? Hell, even the Teslonda was there!
The weather looked particularly threatening throughout the week leading up to the event, so we were pleasantly surprised when more than 200 cars arrived for Radwood at HooptieCon. We were also surprised when the forecast rain stayed away all day, and the clouds parted to shine on Radwood and the rest of the Hoopties at the track. Technically, as Lemons had about 130 cars on track, and each of the other names under the HooptieCon banner attracted a few dozen cars each, Radwood was the largest gathering of cars of the weekend. We’ll call that a success.
When I did manage to break off from the show to check out the other action, I loved all of it. Seeing everything in one place helped reinforce that we’re all enthusiasts deep down. We’ll all bench-race with one another once that shared automotive bond is established. It’s what makes being a part of this community so great.
Even if you brought a homebrew turbocharged MK1 Volkswagen Rabbit, you can appreciate the kind of fabrication work that went into a Billetproof rat rod with parts cobbled together from a dozen different cars. Even if you’re part of a team racing a Vanagon painted like a loaf of bread in the Lemons race, you’ll still get jazzed to see a lifted MGB GT fitted with KC HiLiters.
Perhaps contributing to that sense of camaraderie was the post-show parade laps. If you had a car entered in one of the myriad shows, you were allowed a handful of paced laps on the famed Sonoma Raceway. People lined up by the dozen for it. Many show attendees mentioned that it was their first time ever on any race track, and that even at low speed it was quite exhilarating. The Lemons folks sure liked to hear that, making sure to tout their relatively low barrier to entry cost, and high laps-per-dollar average. I’m not sure any of them were convinced to sign on to enter a Lemons race just yet, but who knows?
Has HooptieCon accomplished its goal, then? Well, according to Lemons folks, attendance of their spring Sonoma race, dubbed ‘Sears Pointless’, was up by at least 25% this year. It would seem, that by offering more things for spectators to see than simply a Lemons race (which is pretty exciting in and of itself), HooptieCon succeeded in attracting more people through the gate. Even with a constant threat of rain, people came out in droves to check out what HooptieCon was all about. Sure, we didn’t get the 170,000 or more that San Diego Comic Con gets, but nearly 3000 attendees is a great start for the event’s first time.
HooptieCon will be back. The at Lemons deemed the event a resounding success and they’re hoping to fit another one in on the Lemons schedule somewhere this year, two more such conventions in 2019. See you there? And if you need your Radwood fix before then, there’s another one coming up on June 24th in South San Francisco.