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Hosting Car Shows – How to Plan a Car Show?

Hosting car shows can be a tricky animal. In this post I will explain the planning process for hosting a successful event as well as cover trophies, marketing and some other key areas in this post. I will also touch base on defining the difference between car meets and car shows.

Car Shows versus Car Meets

Times have changed over the years and car meets are starting to take over car shows. What is the difference? Car meets are really no different than a cruise-in. However, cruise-ins are usually associated with classics and the hot rod community which, have been going on for years.

On the import side of the house more and more meets are popping up and are more tailored to the stanced community / genre. There are no trophies involved, just an organized get-together that may have vendors in attendance as well. There is usually no requirements to attend a meet, as long as you have wheels (and they don’t have to be straight) you are welcome to attend. Some meets offer VIP parking which is a method used to charge a higher price for “premium” parking.

Car shows are organized usually on a higher budget with judged competition to essentially earn a cash award or trophy. There are requirements to enter your ride into car shows which, usually requires custom modifications but, there are stock classes that usually tailor towards classics.

Be Prepared

Business Plan: Hosting car shows does not necessarily mean you need a business plan. Some may say this is overkill but, at the end of the day you want to be prepared. A show that once had 100 cars, may grow to be 1000 or more; you want to be prepared for that day. Which brings up a good point, most people hosting car shows want to get the most participation as possible but, you have to structure yourself and your team for scalability; to be able to handle all aspects of the “business.”

Identifying partners in this plan is very important. When money starts getting tossed around, greed gets the best of some people. It’s not always rainbows and unicorns, so be sure you have a well defined business approach, plan, and agreement(s) in place.

In this business plan you will define your target audience. Classics, Hot Rods, Imports, Trucks, etc. and essentially figure out what kind of genre show you would like to host.

Charity, For Profit or Both: Determine the cause of your event. If it is to raise money for a cause or you are looking to make a profit. Charity car shows will go a long way with car people. Depending on the cause you will get folks come out of the woodwork to help you raise money. The key to this is to be honest. You want to let the people know where the money is going and how much you have raised. There are shows out there that deceive people and only look to make money. Do not be one of them. Even if you are not doing it on purpose, this is the point of outlining a strong business plan and budget up front so everything is accounted for.

Staff: It is important to identify key players that will help with the planning process of your event when hosting car shows. Defining roles and who is able to take care of what and being able to depend on those people to hold up their end of the deal. Planning a successful event can be mentally and physically draining, having a strong support system of people around you who can hold up their end of the deal is very very important!

It is also recommend that you only pull in the people you need for certain tasks. For example, you do not need to have everyone in attendance when planning your budget. I have found the more people you have involved it makes it more difficult to come to a common ground. People have their own agenda most of the time and it makes it difficult to get everyone on the same page.

You can structure your staff almost as a corporate organization chart. This chart does not have to be published or seen by your staff but, in the back of your mind you have a team that has a structure and you know who answers to who when it comes down to it.

Here are some recommended roles for your show:

  • General Manager – Oversees the entire operation and coordinates between the different team leads, if necessary.
  • Marketing – You need several people to help with marketing. Having a key person on the team to head up this effort and to coordinate with partners, etc. will help your marketing plan go smoothly.
  • Judging – This is probably THE most important role of the entire show. Without a knowledgeable, experienced, very thorough judging staff your shows reputation could go down the drains. Be sure to select dependable people as well. There’s nothing more upsetting than a judge not showing up to judge.
  • Event Staff – Parking, Registration, Traffic Flow, Security are all examples of staff members you will need the day of your event.
  • Sponsor / Advertising Coordinator – To help alleviate some of the budget strains you will have by hosting your own event, seeking sponsors and / or advertisers is an important driving force of hosting your own show. Some examples of what you can look for from sponsors:
    • Money – To help with your overhead burden you can seek sponsors who are willing to contribute monetarily. Please note, most sponsors will want a receipt for tax purposes, so please make sure you have your ducks in a row and are not running an underground car show to just get some “free” money.
    • Goodie bags – Giveaways for the first 100 competitors who register. Koozies, t-shirts, hats, coupons, etc., the skies the limit. Car folks love FREE stuff!
    • Services – Depending on the businesses you reach out to, perhaps they have a service they can provide during the show. Entertainment, security, trash removal, whatever it is.

Budget: Sit down with the key players of your Staff that you have identified above. Not all members need to be in attendance. Outline some of the key functions that you want to be apart of the show. Obviously the items you list will have a monetary value, that could potentially turn into your initial overhead for show planning. For example:

  • Insurance
  • Rent / Lease of property
  • Entertainment
  • Food
  • Vendors
  • Staff
    • Registration
    • Parking
    • Security
    • Cleaning Crew
  • Communication – Walkie-Talkies

Outlining the budget in the beginning is important for later on, especially when you seek sponsors and advertisers. Determining how much you need to bring in, balanced with the amount of entertainment you are going to provide will ultimately help you determine your fees.

Car Shows Location: The very first thing you need to do is secure a location. When choosing a location please keep in mind that scalability is important. You want your show to be able to grow, whether it is your very first show or you plan to host several car shows at the same location. Negotiating a prime spot can be mentally draining. You want the land owner / business to benefit from the event as well as building your show into a positive experience for the ‘show goers’ so they will continue to come back to your future events.

Example of locations:  I would recommend choosing an automotive business as a location. For example, a car audio business, an automotive parts store such as Pep Boys, somewhere with a large parking lot. It’s easier to negotiate with an automotive related business because, you are driving customers to their location. At a local church in your community works as well, especially for fundraising.

If you can secure an indoor building to host your show that would be the ideal location but, keep in mind your overhead costs will initially be higher.

The location of the location: You want to consider choosing a location that is easily accessible to show competitors and spectators. A parking lot off of a main highway where directions are easy to follow and potential spectators can see your show off of the highway is ideal.

A parking lot that does not have pot holes, loose rocks, and debris all over the place. Grass fields are usually frowned upon because of the extra cleaning the competitors have to do (especially after it has rained) but, if it is an option for you, you can still make it happen. Just make sure there are no hidden holes and there’s not loose grass all over the place if the field was just freshly mowed. Sometimes it cannot be helped but, whatever you can do will make a huge difference in turnout, especially for your next event.

Your Car Shows Layout: This is both important from a planning perspective and also a participant / spectator perspective.

You want to make sure you have a layout that promotes free flow walking traffic around your event. You do not want people rubbing against cars because, an aisle way is too narrow. You want to have the show field separated by vendor alley, mixing food near cars is not a good thing; not to mention the high volume foot traffic when people are hungry. Trash cans strategically placed throughout as well as resting areas for people to sit and eat.

I would recommend publishing the layout of your event so people can plan their day accordingly. This will also help the staff with directing vendors and show participants to their spots in a timely manner.

Dates and Times

Choosing a date and time is just as important as finding a location when hosting car shows. You have to do your research to make sure there are no other major events happening at or around the same time. you do not want to compete with other car shows or festivals. Check out our car shows registry here: Find Car Shows in your area!

Weather: Take into consideration your location, if your area is prone to rain in the Spring, than you may want to consider holding a Summer show. If your location is flexible you can plan a rain date. Summer car shows can be hot, be sure to have shaded areas along with a snow-cone vendor / cool treats and plenty of fluids (preferably water) to drink to cool off your crowd.

Car Shows and Classics

Expanding from the, “choose your genre” you have to break out the car shows classes to get the most competitors to register while balancing the competition.

For example, depending on your target audience and location you may get a predominate amount of domestics to attend. If that is the case you want to make sure you cover all aspects of that class. You do not want to offer only 1 trophy for, lets say, Dodge knowing you have an entire Mopar car club showing up. You want to be able to give people the opportunity to compete but, with a balance of allowing them to compete within their class, respectively.

Classing Vehicles: To be blunt, you will get the “Trophy Chasers” people who only want the trophy and do not want to earn the trophy. You will get elite classed cars trying to register in a lower “street class” to be able to dominate that class. It’s the nature of the beast and there is always a few in the crowd. To help alleviate this, I would recommend pre-screening vehicles during your registration process or take some time before the show starts to evaluate the show field to see who is classed where. Evaluating the show field allows you to not only verify that cars are classed properly but, to also scope out the cars in attendance so you don’t forget to judge someone.

Examples of Classes: There are a ton of options when it comes to breaking out classes for car shows. With our experience thoroughly broken out classes is what is recommended and the most desirable with car show competitors. For smaller shows, you can get away with doing a “Top 50” award class and those are mostly tied to fundraising events. Here are a few ideas for classes:

  • Best Ofs
    • Best of Show Domestic
    • Best of Show Import
    • Best Paint
    • Best Wrap / Dip – Other than paint
    • Best Interior
    • Best In-Car-Entertainment – Audio, TVs, Gaming Systems, etc.
    • Best Wheel & Tire Package
  • Manufacturer
    • Honda
    • Acura
    • Toyota
    • Scion
    • Nissan
    • Subaru
    • Mitsubishi
    • Dodge
    • Ford
    • Chevy
    • Import Other – It is import to have a one-off catch-all class to cover any vehicle you don’t have a class for.
    • Domestic Other – See note above.
  • Trucks
    • Mini Truck
    • 4X4
    • Jeep
    • Diesel
  • Motorcycle
    • Domestic
    • Import
    • Scooter / Ruckus – Ruckus’ are popular in the import scene.

The above is to give you an idea of how you can structure your classes. If at all possible, try to do a market analysis and capture what you think will be the most registered vehicles and tailor your classes to that. For example, classics / hot rods you can break down by decade: 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s, etc. versus doing manufacturer’s.

Car Shows and Registration

Pre-registration for car shows is important. It helps alleviate the stress from the day of your event and gives you time to prepare for your car shows classes. A couple of ideas for pre-registration is to have an online form where people can register and pay up front. Another suggestion is to have a registration form online where people print and mail their registration.

Typically pre-registration comes with a discount, for example, $15 for pre-registration and $20 for the day of the show.

Hosting Car Shows and Marketing

There are a ton of marketing avenues out there but, nothing beats face-to-face interaction these days. Between handing out flyers to local shops, stores, etc., to social media, forums, radio spots, commercials, etc. there are a ton of ways to market your event. There is nothing like approaching someone in person to show them what you are about and to win their trust right from the beginning. This goes for both getting car show registrants all the way to sponsors. If you can afford the time and money to cruise out to a few locations and talk to people personally, I would highly recommend it. The key here is to cover an array of areas as well. Again going back to your target audience you can focus on different areas of your state, neighboring states, nationwide, etc.

Branding: I cannot stress enough that your brand means everything. First impressions as to what your show is about will determine if people are going to come or not. Choosing a name, a well recognizable logo is all important.

Car Shows Website & Flyers: One of the biggest mistakes that we here at come across is the lack of information on car shows websites and flyers. Hosting car shows is essentially a business. You want to market your event to get max participation and to be seen, just like any corporation out there.

I would say over 50% of shows that we come across online or on flyers, half of the information is missing. For example, believe it or not the city and state of the show will completely be missing. We come across it all the time when entering shows into our registry. Keep in mind, some folks may be willing to travel, not having ALL of the necessary information on a flyer will result in less people attending your event.

A website and / or a flyer needs to be designed and published like a resumé. It is meant to get the people’s foot in the door, if information is missing or hard to read, the flyer will get thrown into the trash. This is key especially if you are a new show.

Social Media: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are probably the three most popular tools to to benefit you in hosting car shows and marketing your event when it comes to social media and I will explain why. For one, they are all free, and two, you can reach a wide variety of people with just a couple of posts. The key to establishing a social media presence is just like designing a website and a flyer; you want to make sure your social media pages are easy to understand and that ALL of the information is right in front of your audience. Keep the posts limited to show information only, do not spam the page with your aunt’s new hair product she is selling. Unrelated information will turn people off real quick.

Another important piece to social media marketing is DO NOT post photos of cars attending your show. If you post a few “teaser shots” of cars attending, people are going to think, “well if they are posting these cars, they are probably the better cars out of the people who have registered. So, why should I go, I can see them online.” Social media has absolutely killed that aspect of shows, there is no mystery to what is going to be in attendance because, people are posting photos all over social media prior to the event. That is the thing with “car people,” in social media it is a tight knit community, everyone is friends with everyone, if someone says, I’m registered for this show, then people already know what’s going to be there. So to conclude my rant about social media – Show Hosts, do not make it even easier for people to see what’s at your event, do not post photos prior to. Leave a little mystery for folks and allow them to see the cars when they come to the event.

Media: Media coverage is important for your event and for future expansion. This is a sensitive subject for me personally because, over the years we have provided valuable coverage of shows and I feel they don’t recognize the value provided. Not just in what we do but, photographers and videographers throughout the industry. It is important to capture the moments of car shows to market them in the future. I would recommend screening the media personnel to ensure they have the proper equipment and a reputable website to publish their work.

Car Shows and Judging


There are a ton of high-end builds out there, competitors with over 100K into their rides deserve some respect. Show the builders the respect by investing the time and money into thoroughly judging their ride. Choosing an unbiased knowledgeable judging team is ranked one of the most critical pieces of hosting car shows. Make sure they know the genre they are judging and specialize in specific areas if need be. For example, engines, paint / body, interior, car audio, etc.

Without going into further detail the best example I can give of outstanding judging is the Northeast Rod and Custom Car Show. I had the privilege to witness three judges with flash lights thoroughly going over a 1983 Pro Street S-10 (Big Al’s Toy Box). Every spot, door sill, wheel well, etc. was inspected with a fine tooth comb which, is how it should be at all car shows. Car enthusiasts spend a ton of money and time to get their ride together, there’s nothing more upsetting when a judge glances at the car, writes some stuff down on a clipboard and walks away. Take the time to see what’s in the ride when you are judging and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Communication is almost a lost art at car shows when it comes to judging. Expanding from the first line in this section, “plan an adequate amount of time for judging” means just that. At a good majority of local events the judges show up late or don’t show up at all. Events are scrambling to find someone to judge, “ask me how I know.” As a result a car shows judge is picked and it is usually a competitor who is competing or vending at the show and owns an automotive shop. Come trophy time all of the vendors friends get a trophy and than you are left with upset off competitors. In the planning stages of hosting car shows above, I mentioned it is important to select a dependable judge who plans and shows up on time.

Northeast Rod & Custom Car Show Judging

Car Shows and Trophies

Do not be cheap. Car guys and girls love to win trophies at car shows. I don’t care what they tell you, “it’s not about the trophy.” That’s nonsense! People love to be able to show off what they have accomplished from all of the car shows they have attended. It is bragging rights for them!

Custom trophies are always popular. Car folks are creative, they like to receive creative / unique stuff to show-off but, make sure it is not a cheap custom trophy thrown together with tooth picks and a matchbox car.

Crystal engraved trophies are always a nice keepsake, they look professional and they are different from the standard 1 tier, car on top, plastic trophies. The engraving on the trophies are also important.

Make sure that the information that is engraved on the trophy is pertinent to the car shows information. Scrounging around your garage or basement for old trophies that do not match and the engraving has nothing to do with the show is not a good look.

Your Car Show Debut

A run through / staff meeting is important prior to your car shows kickoff. You want to make sure everyone knows their role and knows who to go to if they need something. There is no such thing as over planning for car shows, preparing for all different scenarios is important and will save you time and stress in the long run.

The focus should be traffic flow, getting cars parked, competitors registered and to keep folks happy! If you have people waiting in line and staff who cannot answer questions, people are not going to be happy.

Conclusion of Hosting Car Shows

Hosting car shows is not easy. We hope that you have found this information useful and it helped you establish your game plan for hosting an event. Please keep in mind we touched on several different areas but, not all scenarios may have been covered.

If you have feedback and / or a suggestion and want to add to this articles, please use the comment field below and add your ideas. I would love to incorporate it into the article if it fits in one of the areas above or an additional topic.

An Infrastructure/Information Technology Manager by day, an automotive enthusiast the rest of my spare time. Most importantly a Father, Husband and a U.S. Navy Veteran! Combining my experiences and skills and came up with the ultimate creation of Armed with a camera who knows where this journey will take me but stay tuned, it's going to be an exciting ride!

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