The 2017 Season Opener – Wisconsin’s way of celebrating Spring.

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks since we got back from the West Coast, which meant that the Bandit quietened down for a bit. Time to change that…

“You have got to be there.”

This was the gist of a Facebook conversation between Alex Martinez and myself a few weeks back. Who is Alex Martinez? Where did he want me to go? How does this matter anyhow?

All valid questions which I will answer systematically.

The Wisconsin Car Enthusiast Club is the single largest auto enthusiast organisation in the state. Boasting numbers in excess of 40,000 people, they host shows, meets, and everything in between, doing their best to foster car culture across Wisconsin. The brainchild of Alex and a few close friends from Eau Claire, the WCEC has in a few short years, grown from a few people meeting up with cars in a parking lot to … well, thousands of people meeting up in a parking lot.

Due to the brutal winters, automotive events usually take place on a seasonal basis. Enthusiasts wait eagerly for the first days of spring, as the industrial salt gets washed off the roads by rain. The storage lockers and garages open and the cars get some sunshine for the first time in three or four months. With so much positivity in the air, it only seems right to hold an event to officially declare the arrival of car season. That is what the club has been doing for the past couple of years and having attended both, in terms of numbers alone they were worth it.

This year was a little different. I had a busy week ahead and needed to catch up on work, meaning I wouldn’t be attending. Alex managed to convince me otherwise and a late Sunday morning in April found me in a pack of cars heading east to West Bend, WI. I was riding shotgun with Jesse Bates (an ‘Admin’ at WCEC) in his Subaru Impreza, leading a pack of cars driven by Jesse’s friends.

A fuel stop and a quick car wash along the way placed us at West Bend close to 11 a.m. Following a warm greeting from Alex, I wandered around a bit, seeing what the sponsors had to offer at their stalls and watching people place their cars within the warehouse-style show space.

The show was scheduled to begin at noon, and at quarter past, it became apparent why the WCEC is known in Wisconsin. In every direction you looked, there were cars waiting to enter! The queue stretched for miles, but an orderly entry system ensured that within half an hour, every parking space available was taken up.

I started with the cars within the show space. These cars had been selected based on the work that had been done to them, essentially they had to be of a certain calibre and they were. Two early 1960s aircooled VW Beetles shared space with a Dodge Viper, an Acura NSX-R, a Toyota Celica, an MR-2, a Ford Focus RS on air, a heavily modified BMW M5 and a couple of Mk6 Golfs among many others. The cars shone, having been polished, waxed and then wiped down for the show. It was clear that the owners of these cars took pride in their machines.

Moving back into the afternoon sunshine, I started walking through the throngs of cars that filled the outdoor space. In recent years, a lot of people have lamented the decline of diversity within the automotive scene. They say there has been a movement towards loyalty to one’s own brand while disparaging others.

While I honestly can’t speak to these claims, I can certainly say that this was not the case here. A lowered Miata was parked shoulder to shoulder with an E46 BMW M3, both owners admiring each other’s machines. Looking for American muscle? How about a Dodge Charger done up like the General Lee? Or perhaps a 1970 Camaro?

Perhaps you like German cars? No fear. Possibly every iteration of VW was present, backed up by a healthy selection of BMWs, Benzes, Audis and Porsches.

After Queen and Country? A Jaguar F-Type, an XJ-S and a MG Midget flew that flag.

Nevermind all these, where’s the JDM stuff? Two NSXs, scores of Nissan ‘Z’ cars and Subarus of every shape and size, with Civics and Accords stuffed in between. Good enough for ya?

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a diverse selection of cars in one place. A supercar club turned up later with Huracans, a Dodge Viper and a tuned GT-R, representing the high-dollar section of the show.

So the cars were certainly there. More importantly, I found some really good stories in the crowd.

A young lady, who’d brought her new-to-her bone stock BMW E92 M3 Competition Package with 22,000 miles to the show, was only too happy to talk about her car.

The nice gentleman who showed up from Madison with his aircooled Andial 911 Targa, dog in tow, who told me how his significant other had pushed him to get the car in the first place.

Finally, I stopped by a sponsor’s booth to admire a British Racing Green Lotus Exige and a Dodge Viper GTS. The owner was a lawyer who was advertising his services and was only too happy to talk about his cars, letting me get a peek at the interior of the Exige too. In the course of the conversation, he told me that the previous owner was some rock’n’roll star. Who you may ask? AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson. Just like that.

As the afternoon wore on and my tan got deeper, I began to realize the logistical challenges that the WCEC team had faced in putting this event together. Finding a space like this, organizing the cars, marshalling unruly attendees, it all takes a tremendous amount of effort. It’s a credit to them then, that the whole event went off without a hitch. Even local representatives of the law enforcement community seemed to be genuinely enjoying the show!

Even when I lined up at the exit to watch cars leave, everyone left in an orderly manner, even the Mustangs. A friendly toot of their horns and they were gone.

As the herd of cars began to thin around 4 p.m., Alex announced the three awards to those who had placed their car indoors. Everyone was then directed to leave single file from the warehouse space. Positioning myself so as to photograph the cars leaving, I looked up from my camera in surprise to see the blue VW Bug being pushed by Alex and Jose, the owner. A few minutes later, it puttered to life and got back on the road, followed by the rest of the pack.

Come 5 p.m., it would be extremely hard to say that a show of this scale had taken place. No garbage, no cars, no tyre marks and no angry neighbors. A quick group photo later, and everyone was on their way home.

It truly is a testament to the dedication of the people behind WCEC that events like this take place with the blessing of local authorities and can be enjoyed by one and all. Taking an idea and turning it into a reality of this magnitude is no mean feat and the tired yet proud expressions on the faces of the WCEC admin reflected that.

You were right, Alex. It was more than worth it.

A big thank you to Alex Martinez and the WCEC admins for putting together a spectacular show. Sincere thanks also to Jesse and Alyssa Bates for their hospitality. 

Bonus images

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *