For most people the answer to this question is one in which their car received an award. It's just human nature to want others to appreciate and recognize the time and effort you've soaked into restoring and maintaining your special ride. If you're experience has been like mine, there have been plenty of shows where your car didn't receive an award but you still thought it was a good show. So let's take a moment to examine the ingredients that I think make for a good car show.
1. All makes, models, and years welcome
For good reasons, most shows focus on classic American cars. However, some of my favorite shows have been those in which a wide variety of cars participated. Owners of late-model muscle cars enjoy showing off their cars as do those who own exotics like Porsche, Ferrari, McLaren, or Lamborghini. By welcoming all makes, models, and years, a show increases its potential to attract the largest number of participants and a broad range of cars that will be of interest to spectators.
If a show only wants classic cars, it should clearly state that requirement in all advertising. I always appreciate shows that are upfront about what years of cars they want to participate. It keeps me from wasting my time and gives me the option to look at other shows. Just know that welcoming all makes, models and years gives a show the best chance to attract the most participants.
2. Ample Parking
No one enjoys a parking area so tight that it feels like your car is in a can of sardines. The best shows have enough parking space to handle the anticipated number of cars. Being able to open your car door without risk of damage to your car or the car next to you is a big plus in my book.
Shows with parking on grass can also be problematic. Ruts and roots are a menace to cars that sit low to the ground. And no one enjoys picking grass clippings off their car from a field recently cut. Although cooler than asphalt, the disadvantages of grass never make it my preferred parking surface. Equally as bad is an asphalt lot in poor condition. And parking areas on dirt or gravel should never be considered.
3. Food, food, and more food
Food and cars go hand in hand. The best shows have food readily available by way of commercial restaurants, food trucks, or on sight cooking. The greater the variety of food the better. Not everyone likes Mexican food so that single taco truck may have no appeal to a good percentage of participants. Chicken soup on a 90-degree day can also be a real turn-off.
Ideally, commercial restaurants should be within convenient walking distance of the show. And while hamburgers and hot dogs are the staples for cooking on sight, no one enjoys a dry meat patty between two pieces of bread. A good variety of condiments to dress up that burger or dog is always good.
And did I mention drinks? Readily available water and soda pop is a must on hot summer days.
4. Prizes and drawings
A show that doesn't offer door prizes has never been a deal-breaker for me. The reputation of a given show can often rest on the quality of its door prizes. The best prizes are those geared to car enthusiasts. Tools, car care products and gift cards are always a hit. Prizes that look like they just came from a garage sale or someone's basement don't offer much appeal. The last thing I want to bring home from a show is more useless junk.
I like shows that offer a package deal at a reduced cost for registration, door prize, and 50/50 tickets. And shows that wait until the very end to give out the door prizes drive me crazy. After 4-5 hours, the last thing I want to do is spend another hour watching door prizes given out. It's ok to do the 50/50 drawing at the end, but for goodness sake, give out the door prizes throughout the show!
Now let's talk about the primary elephant in the room -- judging.
We all know judging is extremely subjective. What one person likes, another person can hate. Judging is usually the biggest factor that determines whether you think a show was good or bad.
Judging on a point system is by far the fairest method to evaluate each vehicle. It removes much of the subjectivity, bias, and favoritism. My favorite shows are those that use multiple judges to award points for exterior, interior, engine compartment, wheels, and overall cleanliness. Vehicles with the highest point total receive awards. This method gives each vehicle a fair shot to compete. A show that has the participants pick their favorites is on the opposite end of the scale of subjectivity, favoritism, and bias. I tend to avoid shows with this type of judging.
Nothing can be more frustrating than registering for a show and have no one ever look at your vehicle. Equally frustrating is a show that isn't prepared to judge the volume of registered vehicles. I have never been disappointed at not receiving an award when I know my car has been fairly judged. Again, judging is subjective. Most people understand that. They just want their ride judged.
The second elephant in the room is the awards.
The number of awards presented can influence how good or bad a show is perceived. Like I mentioned at the start, we all want to be appreciated for the time and effort we've put into our ride. And of course, we all think our ride is award-worthy.
I much prefer shows that have more registered vehicles than then they have awards. It makes receiving an award feel a little more special. Shows that give out awards to everyone have much less meaning to me.
I also prefer shows that give out awards for multiple categories over those that just give out favorites and best of show. Examples of these categories include awards for the best car from each decade or generation. Best manufacturer (GM, Ford, Mopar) awards, and awards for best paint, best interior, and best engine compartment. People's choice and DJ's choice are also fun to receive.
The type of award, trophy versus plaque, is usually of less importance -- although I think we all enjoy receiving awards that are unique in appearance.
Nothing kills the reputation of a show more than someone receiving more than one award. It usually doesn't sit well with the other participates when the same car receives both a favorite award and an award for the best car from the '50s. The best shows make sure there is only ONE award per car.
Along the same lines as giving out door prizes at the end, the awards presentation should start at the advertised time and not take half the day to complete. The best shows give out the awards on time and as quickly as possible.
So there you have it. My six ingredients that determine a good versus bad car show.
Let me know what you think in the comments. If there is another ingredient on your list, please let me know...