If your ride is your pride and joy, perhaps it’s time to show it off at a local car show. Car shows are a great way to have your hard work and dedication to making your car perfect recognized, as well as to spend the day getting to know others who share your passion. Plus, car shows are excellent for picking up tips and ideas for your next improvement to your vehicle. No two car shows are created equal, though, and winning one is no easy feat. There are certain standards that are expected to be met, and knowing what they are ahead of time will give you a major leg up on the competition. At Vamos Wheels, we’ve put together this guide to prepare you for your first car show, so you can showcase your prized possession like a seasoned pro.
FINDING THE RIGHT SHOW
The first step to winning an award at a car show is getting accepted into the car show. Every car show out there has different requirements for entry. Obviously, your small local club car shows will be much more lenient when it comes to entry requirements. Big, prestigious national shows, on the other hand, are going to be a lot more selective in who they let in. Pebble Beach is one of the most exclusive auto shows in the U.S., requiring documentation for everything – every single little modification, repair, restoration, etc. Out of the roughly 700 cars that enter the show each year, only 200 are allowed to show. Your local show, though, is likely thrilled to have participants of various backgrounds, and will welcome cars no matter what the vehicle’s (or the owner’s) history – assuming that it isn’t stolen – is of course. That is pretty much frowned upon everywhere, and will put you in hot water with both the judges and the local authorities. Bottom line: be aware of the requirements of the event you wish to attend before you sign up.
You’ll also want to be aware of the type of show prior to entry. While some car shows have categories for every possible make, model, year, and style of car, some shows are put together only for a specific type of car. Whether it be for a specific style, a specific time period, or for cars from a particular country, you want to be sure that you aren’t trying to enter a show that has nothing to do with your ride. For instance, you aren’t going to sign up your 1969 Ford Mustang up for car show that focuses on 1980’s and 1990’s Japanese street neo classics (yes, that is a real thing – check it out here). The good news, is that with so many different types of shows out there, you are guaranteed to find one that is a fit for your vehicle.
SELECTING THE PROPER CATEGORY
Now that you’ve found the right show to enter, it’s time to register. Here’s where things get tricky: picking the right category to show in. You would think this would be easy – but it isn’t, and it messes a lot of people up. The problem? Every show has its own method of categorizing vehicles, and if the judges come around and see you’ve signed up for the wrong category, they aren’t prone to being sympathetic. Once you put your car in a category, it’s there for good. So, picking the right one from the start is vital to doing well. Research the categories your show is judging ahead of time, so you are prepared come registration time. Some example of show categories are:
DOMESTIC - FOREIGN - MODERN - CLASSIC - CONVERTIBLE - TRUCK ROADSTER - STREET - ANTIQUE - [BRAND] - [TIMEFRAME]
Some shows have as many as 30 different categories to choose from, so do your homework before you arrive. Two categories that almost always make an appearance, though, are Stock and Modified, and it is important to make sure that you are entering the right one. If you enter under the stock category but your engine is from a different year than your car, or you used an aftermarket part to replace your display, you are looking at disqualification. This includes your wheels, spark plugs, wires, caps, filters, etc. Some shows, such as the Super Chevy Show, also thrown in a “Street” classification, as a middle ground between the Stock and Modified. Here’s how they distinguish the three sub-categories:
Okay, so maybe you’ve been to car shows before, and are familiar with attendee etiquette. Competitor etiquette is of equal importance. Here’s our top ten list of rules (in no particular order) that you should follow if you don’t want your first car show to be your last:
1. Don’t burn out in the parking lot. It’s obnoxious, it’s dangerous, and it can get you thrown out (not to mention make you the most hated person at the show).
2. Arrive on time. Arriving late is disruptive, and is guaranteed to land you a spot in the boonies. You can’t complain about where your car is placed if you don’t have the courtesy to show up on time. Plus, shows usually have registration cut-offs pretty early in the day. If you miss your time to sign up, your car won’t get judged.
3. Don’t leave early. Like showing up late, leaving early is disruptive. Plus, it can be really difficult if you leave at a time when the show is swarming with people. If you absolutely have to leave early, let the show’s staff know ahead of time and park near an exit.
4. Don’t argue with event staff. Most shows are staffed by volunteers – people who are passionate about cars and are just taking directions from the show’s host. Go where they tell you, and be respectful.
5. Don’t be a sore loser. If a judge makes a call that you disagree with, don’t cause a scene. Instead, graciously ask what improvements they suggest so you can score better next time.
6. Be prepared to talk about your car. A car show is a social event. People come there to learn. If someone is admiring your car and has questions, be prepared to answer them. Basically, don’t be a jerk.
7. No aerosol. Don’t bring your aerosol tire dressing or detailer to the event. It can get on someone else’s car, possibly making you even less popular than if you had burned out.
8. Check restrictive policies. Some shows have really strict regulations. Some of the regulations are common sense, but some are strange. Whether practical or seemingly ridiculous, make sure you aren’t bringing in restricted items to the show. Be aware of the show’s guidelines before you make the trip.
9. Park straight. Don’t take up more than one space. The other people at this event feel just as passionate about their cars as you do about yours. Respect everyone’s space.
10. Don’t freak out. Not everyone attending car shows have any clue how much money, time, stress, and sweat you put into your vehicle. If some kid (or worse – some clueless adult) can’t resist the urge to run up and touch the shiny object in front of them, your initial reaction may be to let loose a whirlwind of rage and shaming on them. That’s natural. However, like we hope folks will fight their tactile urges, you must resist your urge to give them a tongue lashing. Instead, explain how much your car means to you. Bring them out of their ignorance gently, and everyone will be better off.
WHAT JUDGES LOOK FOR
Do you remember that old phrase that your mother used to always spout – Cleanliness is next to Godliness? Well, when it comes to gaining points at a car show, your mom was spot on (as she likely was about most things). The number one advice that any judge or past contender will give you is: CLEAN, CLEAN, CLEAN! This doesn’t mean taking your car through the car wash at your local gas n’ go. This means hands, on, elbow to the grind detailing with just the right products and tools. It means making sure that every single inch of your vehicle – inside and out – is perfectly spotless. If you’re engine is grimy or there are insect carcasses crusted onto your grill, don’t even bother showing up. A layer of dust behind your rearview mirror? Rust or burn marks on your ashtray? Forget about it. You may think, who on earth would care about the cleanliness of my gas tank latch or my trunk? Judges, that’s who. In order to place, your vehicle needs to shine better than it did when it rolled off of the factory floor.
Here’s some areas that you may want to pay attention to that many people tend to forget:
Undercarriage: If a judge gets down to inspect your car’s undercarriage and finds that it’s dirty, don’t think you can get away with the “I drive it all the time” excuse. Of course you drive it. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be spotless. Some people will even go so far as to trailer their cars to shows in order to keep their undercarriage in mint condition. Another (perhaps more practical) option is to thoroughly detail your undercarriage the day before the show, and then bring a small detailing kit with you to the show. Arrive early and touch up any spots that the drive over may have blemished before judging begins.
Engine: The engine is one of the main things that judges inspect. Yes, they are inspecting for condition, modification, and how original it is to the car, but they are also inspecting for cleanliness. If a judge walks up and sees a gunk-filled, grease-covered, smelly engine, you can kiss that trophy goodbye. The folks at DucCutters even recommend spraying a little lemon-scented Pledge on your engine after cleaning to give it a nice smell. Judges will find it appealing, and it is sure to set you apart from the crowd. Tip: clean the engine compartment first, to avoid splattering grease on your car’s already cleaned exterior.
EVERY Aspect of Interior: Yes, this sounds repetitive, but it is so important! It’s also important that it is done right. Use an automotive carpet cleaner to clean every nook and cranny of the floor, being sure to take out floor mats and wash them separately. Don’t just clean the front of the seats – the seat backs need attention as well. Did you wipe behind your rearview mirror or the back-side of your visors? Is the ashtray shining and every plastic part smudge-free? You may have cleaned the outside of your windows, but did you use an automotive glass cleaner on the inside of the glass as well? Is your trunk a visual ode to all of the cargo you’ve transported over the years? When you whip out that carpet cleaner, make sure your trunk sees some of the action. Look at your car from every possible angle. If there is even one spot that isn’t clean enough to eat off of, it isn’t clean enough to be in a car show.
In addition to the car’s cleanliness, judges are going to look at any modifications you’ve made. How original are they to the car? Do they match the car’s style? Again, this depends on the type of show you enter and what classification you register in. Typically, though, judges like to see modifications that keep with the car’s original design and time period. A good idea is to have a showboard with the car’s history and a list of all modifications made clearly visible for the judges and the public.
How you display your car also counts for the judges. Remember, judges can only judge what they can see, so make sure that you have your trunk and hood open and visible, to avoid missing points. Having a well-designed showboard will also aid your chances of winning. Make sure that it is informative (listing history and mods), easy to read from a distance, and visually pleasing. Include pictures of the car’s restoration, and if you have any memorabilia related to the car, you may want to include those as well. This little extra bit of effort makes a difference to the judges, as it shows not only your pride in your vehicle, but also that you take the competition seriously.
Shows are scored in a variety of ways. To give you an idea of what some judges are looking for, though, here is a show scorecard for the Import Face-Off Car Show:
Having a theme at a car show enhances the entire quality of your display. It can be a permanent paint job, like Hot Wheels, or accessories around the vehicle. If the show already has a theme, making an effort to participate makes you more likable, and increases your chance of winning. It is also a way to encourage the people visiting your display to engage in conversation.
Choosing a theme for your car starts in advance. Thinking about what you might want to do in the future will affect design decisions you make now. When choosing paint, consider the make and model of your ride. For a timeless restoration, you can choose one of the colors that was available at the time. A clean slate like white or black will allow you to switch it up for different shows. Avoid anything too trendy to avoid having it look outdated in a few years. If you’re more adventurous, you can plan a design around anything you like. Look to your favorite movies or games for inspiration.
In addition to flawless airbrushing, you might consider using music to enhance the atmosphere. Playing music on your stereo system can tie the theme together. Are you at a classic car show? Play tunes from the decade your car is from. If the concept is summer, here is a list of popular beach-themed songs. Of course, if there is a DJ or band present, don’t distract people by blasting your own tunes. To enhance the experience, have friends or models dress in character to take photos with attendees. If you have a group display, don’t line each car up next to each other. Work with the space to make it easy to navigate and cohesive.
You have a few options when it comes to telling a visual tale about your car. Storyboards, or showboards, are printouts that highlight important talking points. Judges and patrons want to know about the engine, past ownership, special features, and who did the work. The simplest option is to create a basic poster (at least 18″x24″) with stats and photos in a digital program. Print it through a large format printer or shop on high quality photo paper, and place it in a sturdy stand. If you want to share more information about the history and restoration process, you can place showboards on either side of your vehicle. To make a big impression, place a trade show size display behind your car. Whatever you do, make sure the signage is both wind and waterproof.
When photographing your ride, make sure it is on one surface, like grass. It is best if all the images have the same lighting, unless they are restoration photos taken at different times. You will want both full-size and close-up shots. When capturing the repair process, try to tell a story. Include original snapshots from when you got the car, or even before, if you can find them. Show old and new parts, as well as dates. Make sure to credit any professionals whose help you enlisted.
WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU
On show day, you will want to be comfortable and increase your opportunity to win. Some of these items also affect how favorably you will be judged. Make sure you bring all of the following supplies:
- Folding chair – At least one for you, possibly more for others
- Sunscreen/sunglasses – If this is an outdoor event
- Snacks – There may be food vendors on site, but bring backups in case you need to stay with your car
- Polish – Touch up before judging.
- Interior wipes – For spills, dust, and fingerprints
- Cards with your contact information – To hand out to new friends and business connections
- Lights – Use as part of your display to feature the best parts of your car.
- Owner’s manual – Some judges like to see this
- First aid kit – In case of an emergency
- Fire extinguisher – Often another car show requirement
- Towels- Protection for the floors and seats on the way there and back
This is just a general list to get you started. For the best idea of what to haul with you, check out information on the show you are planning to attend. Required items will be included in the literature as well as any suggestions.
Alright, now that you have a better idea of what to expect from your first car show, it’s time to break out the wax and buffer and get to work! Get that baby shined up and ready to show. Whether or not you place, the most important part is to have a good time. Each show is a learning experience, and will better prepare you for the next one. This is your moment in the spotlight – enjoy it!