Once nothing more than a few dozen cars nestled together in a small lot situated in Anywhere, USA; the art of the car meet has changed dramatically over the course of a very short time. The idea is about as simple as it gets: Notify friends and fellow enthusiasts to drive to a specific location at a not-so-specific time and put faces to names, share information, and just hang out and enjoy each other's company while surrounded by the very four-wheel obsession that brought you all together in the first place.
Today, the meet is still very much a part of the culture. Jump on any Honda forum or dedicated social media page and you're likely to find at least some sort of get-together happening close by. For as much flack as the modern-day meet takes from race fanatics who are angered by the thought of cars parking in a lot rather than being on track, or those who simply like to push buttons with clever nicknames like "hard parking," the truth is these shindigs aren't going away anytime soon. Almost impromptu meeting times and locations keep them relaxed and free of drama most times, and they serve as a great way to interact with others without the computer screen.
As with anything that progresses, there are a few events that stand out in terms of size and attention. Import Alliance, which takes place in a few different cities and dates throughout the year, has grown into a highly anticipated event that brings people from a number of surrounding states to take part in the fun. The brainchild of Don Napier and his staff, the event is open to all imports, but the Honda badge shows up in massive numbers and the turnout is nothing less than stellar. On the opposite side of the country is the Eibach Meet. What started off as Ryan "VtecVoodoo" Hoegner's vision of a much more organized meet that brought in roughly 100 cars (huge for that time) has transformed into a SoCal staple with more than 600 cars on display and hundreds more flocking to witness the meet firsthand.
Uh, isn't this supposed to be free?
The idea of the meet seemed to be more or less a slap in the face to car shows. Rather than being held inside a venue, unable to leave at your own will, and having to shell out cash to take part, these small gatherings were free. Free to participate, and free to do as you please, leaving whenever you felt the urge. You also didn't need a $3,000 set of wheels or a bass boat paintjob to take part. Truth is, the Eibach Meet during its infancy was in fact free, and it was a blast. I attended the very first, and since the second year, Ryan and I have partnered up (and probably shortened our life span) to make the meet happen every May. Here's where the tricky part comes in. Because the event grew to such a large scale and essentially shut down the roads surrounding the facility, something the authorities aren't too fond of apparently, a new venue had to be found. Eibach was kind enough to lend its entire facility to accommodate the large number of guests, and it wouldn't have been the event that it is today without that help. In moving to a larger venue, a funny thing happens when you ask a company that you're not associated with to use a few acres of their land and potentially shut down the adjoining streets: They require compensation.
You guys must be ballin'!
To set up an event in a proper, legal manner, the city would like you to have a few different permits, which means money. By law, you'll have to provide some portable bathrooms--more money. You're going to need insurance--big money. Don't forget that you'll need to pay the local authorities who will be in attendance for their time as well--yep, more money. As much as I love the Honda community that I've immersed myself in for the last few decades, I love paying my bills and eating to survive even more. Rather than pulling 10K-plus out of my pocket, the money that comes from registration, vendor booths, and parking goes to all of the above-mentioned "extras" that come with throwing a large-scale event.
So how do I do it?
My experience only comes from organizing the Eibach event with Ryan, but if I were to offer any advice, it would be this:
Start small: If you want to build something that will last and continue for years to come, start with a small get-together, take mental notes on ways to improve, then come back stronger next time. Growth comes from a steady jog at first rather than an all-out sprint.
Get permission: Don't bombard your local grocery store parking lot and get angry when the police come to break it up. Plan ahead, make sure you have proper permission or even permits if necessary. It will save you the headache of an early shutdown later.
Thick skin: You're going to hear every complaint you can possibly imagine, and maybe a few you never thought you'd hear. Take them with a grain of salt. If there's an issue that needs to be addressed, then address it. But just know you will never make everyone happy. Complaints about the quality of cars (thought it was a meet, not SEMA), the line to get in, the sun, the choice of the DJ's music, all are fair game and everyone will talk about how they would do it so much better. The fact is, you're the one doing it, not them. Do your best to accommodate, but don't lose sleep over the "love to hate" generation that will be snapping away at their keyboard come Monday morning.
Dates: Plan your event away from big shows, track days, or holidays as they'll take away from attendance. Also, take into consideration your region's weather. With the Eibach event in May, we've always avoided this, though in recent years other events have hovered around our set date. Tradition is everything, so we plan to hold on to that time period for years to come.