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How To Organize A Car Show

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So you want to host a car show, eh? Line up a bunch of cars in a parking lot, give out a few prizes, badabing badboom, right? Not so fast. Setting up a car show requires a lot of planning, so be prepared to gird your loins.

Nearly four years ago, I started a car club at my school. Now it's time to graduate, and I figured the best way to go out with a bang was to host a car show. Little did I know that setting up a car show would require tons of advertising, many calls to my local parking and transportation office, over $400 in food and lot reservation costs, and countless hours making signs, drafting paperwork, and clearing the event through the appropriate channels. Let me break down the basics of how to organize a car show.


1.) Set a Date


The first thing you've got to do is set a date for the show. You've got to be pretty strategic here. Figure out what other events are going on that weekend. You can learn about other events by reading the local paper, talking to local community members, or just asking local car clubs. Get a feeling for what date is most convenient for everyone. Be sure to set the date well in advance.

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2.) Determine a Location

There are lots of great venues for car shows. Golf courses, airfields, parking lots, drag strips, empty fields, convention centers-they're all fair game. When choosing a location, think about how you'll manage the vehicles. How will you ensure smooth vehicle inflow and outflow? Also, be sure to consider where you'll set up things like tables, tents, and food stands. Figure out how much it will cost to rent out each venue. If the venue doesn't have a public bathroom, factor in the cost of renting porta potties. Perhaps most importantly, choose a location that is convenient for your intended audience.

Photo Credit: Adam Hinett

3.) Get Permission


Chances are, you'll need permission from two primary sources: the venue owner and the police. Make arrangements with the venue owner and make sure he or she provides you with some sort of proof of permission, in case someone asks. Once you've got the venue owner's permission, call up the local police department. Just letting them know about your show can help them respond to you in the case of an emergency. The police can also tell you about other events going on that might conflict with the car show.

Photo Credit: Bart Heird

4.) Advertise!


The most important thing is advertising. If you can't get the word out, the show will be a flop. Make some flyers that convey where and when the show will be held, the cost of admission, and where the show's proceeds will go. Be sure to include contact information in case anyone has questions. Post these flyers in public places like church bulletin boards or ask local parts stores and shops to tape flyers to their doors. Many shops and car parts stores are happy to advertise for car shows.

Use social media. Create a Facebook event page that contains all the essential information pertaining to the show. Include a QR code or URL on your flyers to encourage people to learn more about the event. Whatever you can't fit on your flyer should be on this event page. You might include a Q & A section in the event description to clarify things that people have asked about. The goal is to make information readily available to all.


You could also talk to your local radio station and newspaper. Many radio stations and newspapers will gladly help you advertise a car show, particularly if the show is for charity.

Local car clubs and classic car shops are the best resources available to car show organizers. Their networks span far and wide. Look for the local Cars and Coffee group. Figure out when they meet and show up to an event. Talk with them about your show and ask them for advice on who else to contact. Chances are, they know people in other clubs who can help you spread the word.


Photo Credit: Acid Pix

5.) Call Local Dealerships


This is something that sounds odd, but actually works. Some dealerships are run by genuine car enthusiasts who are really in touch with their buyers. I called up a Porsche dealer and ended up on the phone with a die-hard Porsche nut who called up all of his Porsche club friends.

Not only can dealers help you get in touch with car owners, but they can also bring new cars from their dealerships. Sure, they're getting some cheap advertising out of it, but if they bring awesome cars, it's a win-win.


Photo Credit: Marlonolram

6.) Registration and Other Paperwork


When cars start to roll in, be sure to have a registration table in plain sight. At the registration table, ask entrants to write their name, vehicle, and possibly contact information. This log helps you know who is at the event and who is responsible for which vehicle. It will also come in handy when advertising future automotive events. Note that you should consider asking entrants to preregister. Maybe provide an incentive for preregistration. This will help you gauge how many cars will show up so that you can plan accordingly.

Provide entrants with placards that display the vehicle make, year, model, owner, and modifications. Spectators use these placards to learn about the cars, and judges use them to identify award winners.


Photo Credit: James Tworow

7.) Food and Entertainment


Car shows and food go together like peas and carrots. There are a couple of ways to go about offering food. You can contact a local food vendor and ask them to come to the event. Alternatively, you can take care of the food yourself. Set up a barbecue and grill some hot dogs and hamburgers, and you're all set. The latter option will require a bit more coordination, but it could provide more revenue for your cause. Even if you decide not to offer food at the event, be sure to have water available, particularly if it's a warm day.

As for entertainment, the sky is the limit. You can hire a live band or you can just play some music from a loudspeaker. You can also ask dealerships to provide prizes for raffles (dealership t-shirts or caps) or door prizes. Some car shows have fun events like engine blowups and burnout contests.


Photo Credit: Rodny Dioxin

8.) Parking


Before the cars start trickling in, you need to figure out how you're going to organize the cars. If they've preregistered, you can organize them by year, make, model, country of origin, etc. But if people are registering the day of the event, it'll be difficult to group the cars. Whether you decide to group the vehicles or not, be sure to have a plan for how you'll direct parking. Have event staff wear bright, distinguishable colors and have them direct each vehicle into its spot. Think about asking people to show up at different times, so as to avoid a rapid influx of vehicles.

9.) Prizes


Determine who is going to judge the event. I chose to have Matt Hardigree judge our show. I figured he has the creds, and I like his taste in cars.


You need to come up with some categories. Feel free to make up silly categories like "most sticker horsepower" or "car most likely to understeer into a tree." These silly categories are a lot of fun, and a couple lols never hurt anyone. As for the "best in show" awards, you have some options. You can have a "best import" category and a "best domestic car," or you can break up the prizes by age and have a "best antique" and "best late model car." It's really up to you.

When it comes to trophies, you can either buy or make them. You can get a "best in show" trophy from a local trophy shop or you can buy one online. My club decided to make our own trophy out of a rusty piston and connecting rod. We used a dremel tool to engrave a plaque, which we then welded to the connecting rod. Our second place prize was an old Packard hubcap with "Best in Show Runner Up" sharpied to the back. Our show was obviously pretty low budget, so if you are holding an extravagant show, consider purchasing a trophy.


At the end of the show, gather up the vehicle owners and spectators and present the trophies at a central location. If your show is large, you might want to use a megaphone to get everyone's attention. Alternatively, you can tell the entrants up front what time you plan to present the trophies.

10.) Emergency Preparedness


Letting the police know about your event is very helpful in the case of an emergency, but there are still a few things you can do to make the environment safe. Have a first aid kit nearby in case someone gets hurt. Also, older cars tend to leak all sorts of fluids, so be sure to have a fire extinguisher and oil spill kit on hand. In addition, bring a gallon of gas, jumper cables, and some basic hand tools just in case.

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk

Top Photo Credit: Otis Blank