The story of the annual Eibach Honda Meet - arguably the largest Honda enthusiast gathering on the West Coast - is one of success from the ground up. Seeds planted by organizers Ryan Hoegner, the Private Label and Motorcycle Manager for Eibach Springs USA, and Matt "RodRez" Rodriguez, Editor-in-Chief of Honda Tuning, back in 2005 have today blossomed into one of the few events you must go to if you're a serious fan of sport compacts and the big H.
What started off as just a couple hundred Honda and Acura at that first show this year exceeded 800. The Eibach Honda Meet's popularity grew in part because the motives of its presenters remain fairly pure relative to the gaudy, over-the-top nature of other import car shows. Hoegner and Rodriguez just love well-built cars, but more than that, the event is a platform for honoring the automaker these guys most admire.
We caught up with Hoegner and Rodriguez after this year's event and asked them to comment about the past 10 years of running the Eibach Honda Meet.
In 2007, back when the event was still in the parking lot at Eibach's U.S. headquarters in Corona, Calif., you guys were interviewed about the meet, and on the topic of growth Matt mentioned that "bigger isn't always better." This year's event you guys hosted almost twice as many cars - some 800 - as you were hosting back then. Is there anything you guys miss about doing this event at Eibach?
RYAN HOEGNER: The only thing I miss about holding the event at Eibach was the ability to walk attendees through our manufacturing plant. We really like to show enthusiasts how our products are made and are very proud that they are all made in America. Now that we are in a much larger location the show is actually easier to manage.
MATT RODRIGUEZ: My comment in 2007 was in regards to simply running out of space. The event was growing year after year and the Eibach facility wasn't able to accommodate the growth.
I really didn't see us moving the event out of Corona, but things were getting frustrating. People were upset they couldn't get in. Even after incorporating pre-registration, the streets were a mess. We'd tell people not to get there early, and every year they were camped out at 2 a.m. We'd tell everyone to drive in two lines, and every year there would be seven lines of cars fighting to get in.
It was just getting out of control and it wasn't fun anymore. It was a thankless job that we were doing for free. I do miss the early days and filling that lot felt like a huge accomplishment, but the stress that came with pushing 300 cars through that gate was getting old.
You guys had to move from Eibach headquarters in Corona due to the size of the event, and spent one year (2012) at Irwindale Speedway. How did you find and ultimately decide on Storm Stadium in Lake Elsinore?
RH: Troy Adams from Adams Motorsport Park tipped me off about the venue, so I took a trip down there for a meeting and tour. The layout of the place is just ideal for what we do. There is plenty of room to stage cars/vendors and the lot itself is huge so there is room to grow. Also, it's an easy drive from Orange County, Riverside, San Diego and Los Angeles. Josh Ferguson at Storm Stadium is fantastic to work with, as is the City of Lake Elsinore and the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.
MR: We figured a bigger venue might be a way to sort of reset the event, get more people in, and make it what it was originally: a meet for likeminded enthusiasts. Irwindale had a huge lot and an overflow section so it seemed like the perfect match. Huge nightmare with unregistered cars busting in and blocking the registered cars from getting through, as well as crowded streets, unhappy cops; it was the one event I wish I could forget. I didn't sleep well for quite some time after that and couldn't get the whole thing out of my mind.
I figured that was it, we were done with the Eibach Honda Meet. One of Ryan's friends suggested Storm Stadium and on paper, it didn't seem like it was big enough. When we saw it in person, we knew it was. The fact that it had a separate spectator lot off to the side with its own street and the area isn't heavily populated made it a no-brainer. Me, Ryan, and our friend Kimball, who is a car show/meet genius, came up with a roll-in procedure that seemed much more efficient than anything we'd done in the past.
Basically if it had ended up like Irwindale, I was done. It was all or nothing on that first event at Storm.
What's the furthest you heard someone travel to this year's show? What's the furthest ever someone has come to attend an Eibach Honda Meet?
RH: We had a multiple people drive from the East Coast this year - Boston, North Carolina, Florida, etc. We have attendees that fly in from all over the world just for this event every year too. It's not uncommon to get enthusiasts from Japan, Australia, England, Greece, Mexico, etc.
MR: Probably the father and son from 6Two1.com who traveled from England.
What about Eibach Meet are you proudest of?
RH: I'm very proud that we have kept it going for 10 years now and it keeps getting bigger. How many shows can say that? I think we'll be doing a similar interview in another 10 years. You will eventually see attendees who took their 10-year-old son to the show and now the kid is driving his own car in with his pops riding shotgun.
MR: It's going to sound corny as hell, but just the fact that we were able to get that many Honda enthusiasts together in once place, at one time, for the same reason, is satisfying to me. It's a cool vibe, especially this year. People think it was this corporate event that was all funded, but it wasn't. Eibach was kind enough to allow us to use the facility (in the past) but everything was grassroots.
Ultimately, has this been and does it continue to be a rewarding thing to do for you guys? Putting the show on is clearly a lot of work, but do you consider it a "chore"?
RH: I'll be honest, it's a chore the last two weeks leading up the show. It's a ton of late nights and answering hundreds of redundant questions. It's all worth it though.
MR: I don't think I considered it a chore quite as much for the first six or seven years. Now that it's grown so much bigger, January through May feels like I'm working a second job. Is it still rewarding? Absolutely - I love it. If it wasn't, I'd save myself the stress.
Besides your own hard work, is there anyone/anything you'd like to acknowledge for believing in your vision and the event?
RH: Eibach, for allowing us to throw the first seven events at the office. Ben Howard, for all his help with the meet over the years. All of our friends who donate their time to staff the show and help us promote it. All of our vendors who attend year after year.
MR: Definitely want to thank all of the friends that have stepped up to volunteer and help out on the big day; really couldn't do this whole thing without their help. Still blows me away to think that they'd stand in the sun all day just to lend a hand. My wife has been a huge help with the logistics prior to the event and even controls the entrance gate the day of the event. Also, a big "Thank you" to all of the vendors that have supported the Eibach Honda Meet; we appreciate them putting their faith in us every year.