Opinion: How car shows are making themselves irrelevant
On lawn chairs, plastic trophies and money.
From March to September I spend just about every weekend at some sort of car show. These events range from Saturday night cruise ins, in towns a couple of miles away from me to multiple day events as far as 500 miles from where I live. Over the last few years I've noticed a disturbing trend. On average, the attendees are getting older and there doesn't seem to be any younger people coming around. I really noticed that when I attended the 50th Annual NSRA (National Street Rod Association) Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky earlier this year.
The obvious question is, "Where are the young people?", but the more difficult to answer question is, "Why do young people seem to not care about vintage cars?" While the answer is easy to figure out, it can be difficult for older people to accept.
I will freely admit to not being a young person any longer, in fact, this article is set to be released on the eleventh anniversary of my 30th birthday. I grew up at a time and in a culture that cared nothing about new cars. New cars were reviled for their poor workmanship, poor horsepower figures and poor looks. My world and the people in it cared only about vintage cars and Hot Rods in particular.
Because Hot Rods, Customs, Street Rods and even Muscle Cars (to a small extent) were respected in my society, they became meaningful to me. Therefore, I can not imagine staying home and missing out on all the cars that show up to events like the ones I remember from my childhood. Even if those events have become a little silly in my eyes over the last few years.
If you look at it objectively the idea of spending countless hours polishing your car and then driving it for some distance to park it in a field with others that have done the same thing, is absurd. Not to mention just how much it costs to enter and attend these events. When I added up the entry fee, hotel bill, food bills, gas bills and other bills from this years Nationals in Louisville, I was surprised to find I was over $1,500 poorer!
While expense plays a part in young people not being able to participate in the vintage car world, there is an even larger reason why they don't attend these events. They aren't familiar with the cars, because they aren't exposed to them. All of these beautiful examples of vintage tin spend FAR TOO MUCH time setting in garages. More than likely they've all had more dead batteries replaced than worn tires. When these cars are brought out they really are totally foreign to young people. Carburetors, distributors, transverse leaf springs, chrome? These things mean nothing to them, therefore, young people aren't interested in them.
If traditional car shows hope to survive, their promoters will have to start listening to the things that young people are saying about them. I was happy to see that both the GoodGuys Rod & Custom Association and the NSRA have added timed track trials to their schedule of events. That's a good start, but its only a start. Shows need to include people doing more with their cars. A late night cruise would be great, everyone one likes a good burnout contest and organized day trips would add a great dimension to shows, (remember "Poker Runs"?). Lastly, have you ever wondered why hill climbs aren't more of a thing in the US? I wonder about that one all the time!
I'd also like to point out this isn't just a phenomenon in the Hot Rod/Street Rod/Muscle Car world. It's happening to small car Museums, too. Just think about all of the ones you've heard about closing down and having their inventory auctioned off. This is a problem in all of the vintage and classic car world.
I have learned one thing (and that's about it) during my four decades on the earth and in the car world. Popularity is cyclical. Things have a tendency to be popular, then reviled, then forgotten, then revered. Hot Rods will come back into the mainstream one day and I hope I'm there to see it in all of its tire smoke filled glory! Until then I'll..
Keep on Cruisin'!
Art by: Chris Breeden
About the Author:
"Chris Breeden is a Social Media content creator for Custom & Hot Rod Life on DRIVETRIBE, YouTube and Facebook. After spending 5 years in Southern California, a.k.a. Hot Rod Heaven, while serving as a jet engine mechanic in the United States Marine Corps, he moved back home to Tennessee with an even greater love for Hot Rodded Vintage Tin. Since then he has worked in retail sales and the transportation and logistics industry. In 2018, seeing a gap in Hot Rod and Custom Car coverage on DRIVETRIBE, Chris began advocating for their inclusion on the platform. During the summer months, he can be found all over the Tennessee region covering car shows, meets, and cruise-ins. During the winter months, he can be found in the garage working on his custom 1949 Ford two-door sedan and 1954 F100 truck."