“How far away are you?” My phone showed it was Sean Lyle from Forge Motorsport on the other end. “Three hours,” I said. “Well hurry, we’re already set up and there are Dubs all over the place!”
Considering it was early Thursday morning and the title sponsor was already established at the event site, it was clear the excitement for SoWo 2011 was on a whole new level. After all, this was the fifth anniversary of the fastest growing VAG event in the US.
It’s hard to believe five years have passed since Alabama-based H2OTuning dropped their little bomb on the American Dub scene. The original concept was simple enough: find an authentic location, create a festival atmosphere and make it free.
That first year, the modest turnout of a few hundred cars got their first taste of the charming Bavarian-themed town of Helen, GA. By the time the festivities had concluded in 2011, more than 1700 cars had descended upon this little town in the mountains of Northeast Georgia.
One of the most intriguing aspects in the growth of SoWo has been it’s international appeal. Every year, more and more people make the trip from countries like Canada, England and Germany. There was even a ten-car caravan from Mexico City in attendance. One dedicated soldier took leave from Afghanistan to attend!
The multi-national enthusiasm wasn’t just limited to people. More cars than ever from non-VAG brands participated as well. From heavily-modified Evos and WRXs, to a trio of right-hand drive Skylines. However, the most unexpected sight was a couple of late-model Volvos on air-ride spotted near the Forge Pavillion. Once again, we proved that no group provides a cooler vibe than the VW community.
As SoWo has grown, so has its outreach. The fifth anniversary marked the first time the organizers had teamed up with a charitable organization. the American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life” came onboard in honor of H2O member Scott B Taylor, whose battle with cancer was an inspiration to everybody. Sadly, he lost the fight shortly after the event and you can read a tribute on the Letters page of this issue.
The members of Club Syndicate led the charitable charge, thanks to the fundraising efforts of Michael Houck and John Hanna. Forge Motorsport also held a raffle for a unique fixed-gear roadbike and skateboard with intricate artwork. Their combined collections generated a significant donation and set the stage for a continued partnership for this important charity.
Volkswagen of America chose the fifth anniversary to make its debut at SoWo. On friday morning, two semi-trucks rolled up to create a massive display of the latest Driver Gear and several modded Mk6 vehicles. Most notable was the arrival of the only Golf R in the US as well as the New Beetle.
VW’s interactive display featured a hood-taping contest, sound booth where participants had to guess the VW by its intake and exhaust note. There were custom dogtags and commemorative SoWo posters also given away.
One very special TDI Cup car was presented to the Collier Brothers, where it will be sent to their Louisville HQ for what C2 Motorsports promises will be previously unseen levels of performance and economy.
APR got the Friday Homecoming party started with “A Taste of Germany”. Keith Lucas and the APR crew grilled almost 1000 brats, burgers and dogs.
After the Bavarian BBQ, the crowd made its way to the various GTGs throughout Helen. Without a doubt, the most popular was the sequel to “Hugo and Omar go to Bigg Daddy’s” also known as the Mk1 GTG. C2 continued their busy weekend by judging the Golden Bunny award.
As the sun went down, the Forge “Lowdown Showdown” limbo contest got into gear. The crowd at Bigg Daddy’s was treated to competitors who rubbed and rolled to see who was the lowest. The Helen Police even got in on the action, with lights flashing to see how low their Explorer 4x4 could go!
Showgoers awoke to clear skies and mid-80s temps on Saturday morning. By 8am, the line into the event was two lanes wide and half-a-mile long.
After the initial shock of such a massive turnout, the H2OTuning crew quickly got the line moving into the new location. Thanks to the generosity of the Wilkins family, SoWo participants were ushered onto a manicured five-acre private golf course.
The main drag still featured an expanded Vendor Village and display area, while the future growth of SoWo was assured by the massive new property.
Tim Murray from Atlanta once again provided the popular DubKids area, featuring ride-ons, collectibles and inflatable attractions.
During the afternoon, Mayor Helen Wilkins received a special plaque from Forge commemorating the city’s involvement in the event.
As the sun set on SoWo 5, the huge crowds made its way back into town to soak up the atmosphere before returning to Bigg Daddy’s for live music from Atlanta-area band Detroit Mutant Radio.
Sunday morning came too early for most, but for 200 diehard enthusiasts it meant the opportunity to participate in the SoWo tradition known as the “Alpine Experience Mountain Cruise”.
The mountains around Helen provide some of the most challenging, scenic roads on the East Coast. The cruise is divided into two groups, the “Driver’s Edition” and the “Slammed, Stretched and Poked Group”.
The Driver’s Edition looked more like the starting grid for a time attack, with the first three cars sporting cages and track rubber. Forge brought its fire-breathing Audi TTS, while APR brought along its gut-sucking RS4.
As the drivers returned to town from the 40-mile loop, they were treated to a free lunch from H2OTuning.
After enjoying the SoWo weekend, it’s no wonder the crowds continue to support this incredible event. According to the organizers, “trophies can only really be appreciated by a few, but the memories generated by SoWo can be shared with everyone.” As long as VAG fans continue to want a low-cost, laid-back event in an amazing environment, SoWo will continue to be a primary destination.