A few years ago, the SOWO initials had no relevance because nobody knew what Alabama-based club H2OTuning was brewing. They were planning a US tribute to the Austrian epic that became known as Southern Wörthersee.
As a result, SOWO has become one of the most eagerly-anticipated events on the east coast. Its growth has been explosive - the original '07 meet drew less than 200 cars, but in 2010 that number mushroomed to over 800!
What is it about SOWO that makes it popular? Let's start with what SOWO isn't: a competition. Yes there are awards, but not the typical judged classes. At SOWO, the participants decide their favorites. There's no politics, no drama and every car has a chance.
The organizers are quick to point out it isn't a show at all; it's more of festival. And it's a breath of fresh air for all those enthusiasts who go to shows to watch because they don't feel they can participate. SOWO is an event for everybody, no matter what their budget or building skill.
For many Dubbers, the big draw is the town of Helen, GA. It's the ideal backdrop for an authentic Wörthersee tribute - located in the North Georgia mountains, it's a faithful reproduction of a German Alpine town. What's more, amazing two-lane roads and immaculate scenery surround this tiny mountain community.
The town's small size and close proximity to both the event site and lodging allows visitors to immerse themselves in all the activities. No doubt this is another reason so many people return to SOWO year after year.
What's more, the entire event is free, with no charge to park or display your car. You even receive a free shirt if you register online thanks to the efforts of the H2OTuning members and generous support of the event's sponsors.
This year's festivities began as usual on Friday night with the Helendorf Homecoming. More reminiscent of a Mardi Gras street party than a pre-show GTG, the Helendorf Hotel becomes an amazing mix of crazy cars, cool people and beverages. One of this year's most popular mods was first spotted at the 'Dorf - a Mk4 Jetta with a pressurized beer tap mounted on the trunk.
The evening was made extra special thanks to the surprise presentation of the Bynum-built Blueberry Smoothie Mk3 VRT to H2O regular Scott Taylor. Scott was recently diagnosed with cancer, so Jeff and Wayne Bynum along with lots of donations and help from the VW community, combined to complete Scott's dream Dub.
Saturday's Show & Shine got underway at the beautiful Helen City park along the banks of the Chattahotchie River. Atlanta local Tim Murray provided inflatables for the kids as the record crowd gathered to polish their rides and visit the expanded Vendor Village before several inches of rain unexpectedly fell on the grounds.
With so many cars at SOWO, it was extra difficult to pick a favorite. But after the votes were counted, the Bynum Builds People's Choice Awards were announced. First place went to Adam Staley for his ultra-clean '99 GTI; Benjamin Bishop's carbed Mk1 Jetta Coupe 16v took second, with Sean Landregan's Corrado in third.
H2OTuning's coveted Club Choice went to Kayla Colbert's Mk3 GLI coupe. If you've never seen a hot girl hittin' switches in a ridiculously cool car, you just haven't lived!
Title sponsor Forge Motorsport presented a billet aluminum bier stein for their Best of Show - Michael Savko's super-detailed Mk4 GLI on M3 rollers with pink-chrome engine bay originally featured et 9/08.
WagenWerks Atlanta introduced a new motorsport-themed award, which went to Pedro Castillo's track-prepped '84 GTI widebody.
The Club Spirit award was taken by Stateside Euros from Jacksonville, FL. While the long-haul awards went to David Gomez for driving his Lupo from Mexico City, and Ryan Tracy for his 9000-mile journey from Queensland, Australia!
On Sunday morning, more than 100 Dubs arrived for the Alpine Experience Mountain Cruise. The roads surrounding Helen are some of the most challenging anywhere in the US, offering an opportunity to experience these cars as they were intended. Subsequently, this is the highlight of the weekend for many people. The cruise is split into two groups, so drivers who want a more moderate pace can enjoy the incredible scenery without white knuckles.
Southern Wörthersee has become an important part of the VAG community. Its unique mix of concept, location, low cost and laid back vibe are the reason for it's success, and with 2011 marking the fifth anniversary, the organizers are hoping it will be epic. Make plans now for the three-day event on May 20-22 (southernworthersee.com).