How to Win a Car Show

If you attend car shows on a regular basis you’ve probably seen it; an awesome car loses to what seems like an inferior vehicle.  You may have even been a victim yourself.  It sends most car show enthusiasts into an assault of boos and jeers, questionable judging style or general loathing of events in general.  It’s important to understand how and why it happens and to admit it’s not the judges fault.

Whether it’s your first of thousandth car show you’re going to make mistakes, it’s just part of the process.  The problem comes when it’s not a simple mistake but a gigantic one that is just easy to overlook.  For instance, ever went to a show and realize your car just doesn’t fit in?  So lets go over some of the basics as well as the small yet devastating things that can guarantee a loss.

The first thing you’re going to need to do is stop blaming the judges.  Judges are told by the person running the show what and how to judge a show.  Even looking at a checklist of what they’ll be covering can be tough to figure out exactly what they’re suppose to be looking for.  Let’s be honest, everyone is biased.  One person may think stance and another lean towards flushed.  If you just got confused by the last sentence, that’s the point.  If you went to a Hot Rod show with a tucked Civic and you don’t win a popularity contest it shouldn’t be a shock.  Put the research time into the show you’re going to and take responsibility for the loss.  The bottom line is you control your success.

Impression
The way people see, feel, and associate you is very important and something I see a lot of people miss.  It’s the show before the show.  It’s also hard to explain.  For example, have you ever went to a show and knew someone would walk away with a trophy?  It’s because they have “presence”.  They have left a lasting impression on people as dedicated tuners and it changed how people thought about them.  It’s a formula.

This does influence how people vote on you.  If you’re on social media your persona can dictate a lot about how people perceive you.  If you’re harsh and unfriendly people will avoid you, but an open an warm personality can lead to acceptance.

Think of this as your business and your car as your store front.  You want people to want to visit and be around you.  That’s the nature of attraction.  People follow leaders and they want you to think highly of them as well.  That means get your name out there, support the culture, be positive and constructive to everyone around you, and associated with good things and avoid drama at all costs.  Much of what we’re about to discuss will be residual for your impression.

Do the Research
Before you even consider an event you should consider the event.  Every show has a picture.  Don’t trust the words either, nomenclature in the car industry can change based on the time of day.  It may say “hot rod” event, but what it means is up for grabs.  If it’s a posted event you’ll see pictures of cars that are going.  Are they like yours?  If you don’t know the answer, contact the host or someone that has attended in the past.  Ask questions and plenty of them.  Try to avoid buzzwords, industry terms, anything that could confuse the understanding of what you’re asking.  It could be as simple as, “I have a 2002 Honda Civic that has body work a wing as in lowered, would I fit in this show?”  Easy to understand and just as easy to answer.

Presentation
It can be tough to describe what presentation is.  Someone may say, it’s a clean car parked correctly and other will explain it as jack stands with mirrors under the car.  It all depends on the show and the competition you plan to face.  If it’s a low-rider show you’ll want to go all out, but at an import show going all out may be too much.  You don’t want to be perceived as comical.  This is one of those “when in Rome, do what the Romans do” moments just make sure you do it a little better than they do and listen to the banter.  Never go to a show, pop your hood, and sit back thinking your car will carry you.

Presentation is also where I see the lesser car win.  If you can show off a vehicle straight from a showroom floor with zero work done to it and win a trophy you understand presentation.

Clean!
Ever heard the line, first impressions are the most important?  You wouldn’t go to a job interview smelling like a gym locker, don’t bring your dust covered car to a car show.  This might as well be a make or break moment.  If it’s dirty, don’t bother showing up.  Just because you cleaned it at home doesn’t mean you can leave it around all day either.  Bring a quick detailer and keep up with it.  You want that trophy, this is where you will put in the work.  The impact you make today can carry over to the next car show as well.

Quality Over Quantity
When is one more modification too much?  When it stops looking like a clean coherent car and starts looking like a hodge podge of parts and paint.  Think of it like a jigsaw puzzle.  Sure, there’s tons of pieces, but when it comes together it makes a solid proper picture.  That picture doesn’t even have to be a Van Goghe either.  Not sure if you’re car is too much or too little?  This is where the critics become the platinum standard.  If you’re too far in one direction or the other they will make noise.

This is where real competitors also have a lot of grief.  We are inundated every day by manufacturers who want us to represent their product, be cutting edge, and if you’re addicted to your car it may be tough to say no.  If you want to keep winning you’ll have to learn to say it though.  Yes, restraint is definitely a learned skill.

Classed Correctly?
Nothing hurts more than finding out that the reason you lost was because you were classed with the wrong group.  You would be amazed at how much it happens. If you think you’re in the wrong class, now’s the time to speak up and clarify.  Be courteous and ask clear questions.  They’ll be quick to fix it unless the trophy is already in someone else’s hand.

The Judge
The inevitable voice of your win is going to be the Judges. This could be a group of people with a checklist instructed to review your vehicle or a popularity contest from the very attendees.  Either way you’re going to need to cater to this group.

When the Judges are at your car, you need to be at your car.  You’re obsessed with your car, they aren’t, so they don’t know that you have bags and coils or that your exhaust sounds perfection in resonance or that your car makes 500 horsepower and you have the dyno sheet to prove it.  Don’t be pushy, but make them feel that you’ve put love into this car.  Hearing after the fact that the judge thought, “if I had known I would’ve given you the win” doesn’t feel good and I’ve witnessed it more than I care to admit.

Remember to always be courteous, friendly, and professional to anyone and everyone while at a show.  That guy you cut in line at the hot dog stand could be the same guy who will make the difference between gold and going home empty handed.

Club Mentality
Clubs can be excellent resources if they really are a club.  A couple of friends that you hang out with who drive around and park in malls does not a car club make.  Find people that have your same dedication and motivation.  A good club that brings stanchions to close off their area of the show and come equipped with detailing equipment that they share and give each other input and assistance is a club.  If the club is all about insulting other brands and other attendees it could be guaranteeing bad results.  Ultimately you’ll have to be the judge.

It’s important to note that if you’re good the line of interest will form to the right.  Think of it like being a model.  Everybody wants to hang out with her, but how many are actually successful agents?  Some can even be scam artists!  The same is true in the car world.  Never send anyone money to be part of an organization or sponsorship and always ask to “attend some club events” before you make a decision.

Community
Think of community as a resource.  These include forums, groups, anything that has like minded people sharing ideas.  These are great spots to show off your vehicle and get involved in conversation and get your name out there.  One thing about community you’ll be doing naturally is attending shows.  During a show you’ll probably discuss the next show with people parked with you or receive a flyer to another event or see a shop that is doing something you would like done, maybe cheaper or more cutting edge.  Be proactive in asking where online people share ideas or talk shop with local merchants.

Try, Try Again
We know, it’s your first show, you’ve put tons of money into your vehicle and taken a loss.  You’ll probably bounce back, but what happens after the fourth or fifth loss?  The trick is not to get back up until you find out what put you there in the first place.  Sometimes it will be evident and other times it can be difficult to find.

When the show is over ask the judges what prevented you from winning.  Remember again to be courteous and professional.  Use this input as constructive criticism, not a personal slight.  In fact, if they made a mistake don’t argue, own that mistake.  Whatever happened is indeed your fault and trying to change someone else’s opinion won’t help, especially if you start yelling at them.  Nobody ever won an argument with a judge and if you’re at a car show you will see it happen.  Judge’s don’t take criticism lightly.  Many judges are volunteers, a valuable and hard to come by resource, and could care less what you think but they can control if you’re invited back.  If you feel that show made all the mistakes it’s still your fault for not doing the research.  Just make sure you don’t make that mistake next time.  If it’s a conflict of personality you will never, and I repeat that, never fix it.  Some shows are lost causes.  Don’t take it personal.   Get it, got it, good.

The trick is to have fun.  If you’re not having fun you can get discouraged and miss out on the constructive side of what’s going on.  If you’re having fun this is going to be a great learning experience.  If you’re doing this for Instagram and Facebook likes you’re probably in the wrong line of work.  The only reward for car shows is what you bring with you.

Sponsors
The simple fact is sponsors are not coming to your rescue to win shows.  In the future they won’t have any problem jumping on your success train, but the intention of our article is to help you win and sponsors just aren’t going to do that unless you have a track record with them.  If you want to consider a sponsor you’ll need at least a year of busy car shows with a record of success and advertisement that will help them get their product out.  They’ll also want to know you return phone calls and will respect them once you’re on board and won’t just forget them once you get some discounted stuff.  Don’t expect anything for free, it doesn’t happen for new guys.

Can I Make Money Doing This?
When people ask me if they can make money doing car shows I cringe.  It’s not a question I like to answer because the answer isn’t a simple yes or no and it also has to do with what you consider making money.  If you just want a couple of bucks here and there from a win or to make a living off of car shows it means something completely different.  The reality is I’m asked the question so much I feel like I need to include it.

The simple answer is yes.  Winning a car show that includes money in the payout does make money, but it probably won’t even pay for a tenth of what you put into the car to earn that money and even those are rare.  Chances are your $50 entry fee went to pay for the trophies.  Welcome to the car world.

You could end up with a sponsor that pays for you to be at a show, but chances are they are just supplying you parts to do what you like doing.  Businesses struggle in this arena all the time so they’ll want a lot of dedication from you to get a little in return so their deals will need to parallel yours and that can be a tall order you may not be ready for, such as touring the US car show circuit.

Where the rubber meets the road for money really comes from being a shop that goes to shows to get exposure and sell products.  If you run a business and want to show off how great someone can look wearing your product a car show is the place to be, but even then shops will argue about the value of displaying at car shows.

The moral of the story is your first and foremost goal should be doing this for fun.

What Isn’t Important
Notice that at no point in this article did we say, drive a particular vehicle, buy the latest and greatest or make it loud and powerful.  Why?  Simply put, it may not be you.  This vehicle has to be an extension of your personality and what you do best.  It should be an extension of you, your art, and something you enjoy driving and showing.

When you do that even the bad things will be fun.  How many sound guys laugh at the speaker they blew out… again, or someone riding low bragging about their 5th oil pan they’ve replaced?  Let’s be honest, it’s fun!  But if that’s something you don’t like it will tear you apart and it will show in your results and attendance.

Conclusion
Whether this is your first car season or your 50th, every year can be a rewarding experience of ups and downs.  Who doesn’t want to drive around in moving art?  We love to hear when someone is having a fun and successful time.  We know if the experience is rewarding you’ll keep doing it.  The more people having fun and being competitive the more fun we’re going to have.  Respect other’s vision of what their car should look like as you would expect them to respect your vision.

Legality of the Aftermarket World
Remember that our environment is controlled by the law that surrounds it.  Our hobby is continually being choked out by bad press, inaccurate reporting, and the associated blame game.  Some modifications may already be illegal.  Be aware of all your laws and be actively involved in protecting your craft by joining SEMA’s Action Network or any local organization that protects you from unfair laws.

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One thought on “How to Win a Car Show

  1. Pingback: How To Get A Car Sponsorship | Aggressive Design

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