- Bill Antonitis
Car Shows and the People that Love Them
I was really, really looking forward to providing you coverage of the 2021 New York Auto Show this month. As a journeyman auto journalist, it would have been my first chance to take part in a media day, and I would have had first looks at the new Nissan Z as well as the Elantra N. But, unfortunately, for the second year in a row, the show was cancelled due to COVID concerns. A few small, in-person and virtual reveals took place that you have likely already seen, and I hope you enjoyed them from afar, as I did.
While some major events for auto enthusiasts are still hit and miss, one summer staple has thankfully returned to most parts of the US, however, and that is the local car show. While a bit smaller and more spread out in some instances, my son and I have found them to be fun and a great way to connect with the car community.
This isn't news to most of us who actively participate in or just enjoy auto shows. We all love hanging out and appreciating cool cars when we can. Often overlooked is that meeting owners and other people can be just as much fun as checking out herds of Mustangs, schools of Stingrays, or whatever other groups of zoologically named vehicles can be typically observed at shows. Personally, I am pretty introverted; my son is the opposite. Taking him with me has drawn me into more conversations with interesting people than I am otherwise inclined, and I am glad for it. As a fun exercise, we've put together a sort of field guide for those new to the scene or who want to have some fun spotting the usual suspects. You may even see yourself in some of these caricatures.
This auto show attendee knows everything about every car there—years produced, performance numbers, sales figures, and which is most worth your time. Generally a benign presence, The Statistician is likely just very excited to tell you about how objectively awesome their car truly is—or, even more likely, the amazing, barely-street-legal, hotrod they built back in high school. Unlike The Mechanic, the focus is on stats here, not how a pushrod V8 actually creates all of that horsepower, for example. So, the veracity of each claim trails behind joyous hyperbole. It’s fun to talk with The Statistician because their enthusiasm is so contagious, and, like listening to a great fishing story, you can’t help but enjoy the exuberance.
Proud to tell you about the labor of love they brought to the show (rightfully so!) The Mechanic will gladly recount for you all of the blood, sweat, and tears that went into restoring their pride and joy. Each month hunting for obscure, original parts, each weekend spent bolting them together, each hour polishing it all for us to also cherish. The Mechanic is less there to show off and more to get some time out of the garage, savoring a small victory before tackling the next project. You can learn a lot from talking with them even if you’re not willing to give as much time, money, and effort to similar pursuits.
SLR in hand, lenses safely stowed in a backpack slung over one shoulder, The Photographer is ready to catch all the details each car has to offer. My son and I have lost count of how many photos we’ve bombed, and I feel bad because I know how hard it can be to get a good, people-free shot of a vehicle at a show! Sure, there are terabytes upon terabytes of images featuring Hemi Cudas and classic Camaros out there, but it’s special to take home some of your own. As fellow Everyday Drive writer, Scott Murdock, has shown, a lot of work goes into taking great car pictures, and a show is a great place to practice.
These folks attend meets and shows for one thing—to relive their youth. Be the focus 70’s muscle or 90’s JDM, The Nostalgics sit aside their rides, huddling up to listen to music from the era, down a drink and a snack, and wax poetic about their glory days. You probably shouldn’t interrupt them; just walk by slowly, taking it all in. Their chat and laughter adds essential atmosphere to the show, though, if you do catch their attention, they’re the ones most likely to let you sit in the driver’s seat “just this once.”
Unfortunately, not everyone has as much fun at an auto show as some of the others discussed here. The Grump, for example, spent all afternoon detailing their car and does not want you going anywhere near it. Sneering at Photographers, grumbling about Nostalgics, shoeing away Entertainers and Kids (coming right up), this attendee sees it as their duty to present the highest Platonic form of their particular vehicle as a good in and of itself. You are simply not worthy. In The Grump’s defense, sometimes some serious time and money has been spent to attain the paragon in question. When my boy absent-mindedly touched an immaculate GTO a few years ago, I can understand why the owner growled at us. But, at the same time, isn’t the point to invite others to enjoy the fruits of your labors?
At our local show, there is a retired firefighter who LOVES to invite kids (and adults) into his decommissioned pumper truck. He hands out novelty fire hats. He goes on about his old life with cheer and relish. The complete opposite of The Grump, The Entertainer reminds everyone to have fun. You can’t have too many Entertainers or you’ll never get to see all the cars, but no show is complete without at least one.
It’s easy to forget, but this is who car shows are really for. I put myself in this category, even though I’m the one bringing my son along. Having an open mind, learning a little from everyone you meet, taking a moment to be in awe of each machine—this is the way to truly appreciate the cars and trucks on display. Moreover, if we are to pass on the passion we share for automobiles, we need to encourage the young people in our lives to love being around them and driving them as much as we do. With the future of the automobile entering a period of uncertainty, we can’t forget The Kid that lives in all of us.
Did we cover the complete cast of characters? Which one(s) are you? Who would you add? Next time you attend a car show, remember to meet some people and not just ogle all the chrome. And remember to bring at least one kid with you as well—even if you’re going solo.
Bill hosts a blog and YouTube channel that lead him to think more deeply about what it means to drive. The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.