Only Young People and Minorities Can Save the Old Car Hobby
If you’ve spent any amount of time on various car forums you’ve probably seen the same line of questioning pop up every year as car show season begins; “How do we get more young people interested in the hobby?” It’s a great question, an important one also, because without a new group of interested enthusiasts coming along there will be no one to buy, collect, maintain, enjoy, or display the antique and classic cars many of us cherish. Without getting into the tired conversation about “if” kids and teens today even care about cars or driving, we will move ahead to the practical side of how to stir interest among this demographic.
First things first, young folks today aren’t used to unbending schedules and early morning arrivals, they are more used to things being fluid or on-demand. Because of this, I think the first thing to focus on is timing and length of events. Why the hell do car shows start so early anyway? Many I attend each year run from 8 or 10am until 2pm. Most people under 25 that I know (and quite a few older) don’t even wake up until 10am or after on weekends. We could easily become more inclusive if we started events later and ran them longer. One friend suggested that the current hours already work volunteers and organizers to the bone, but a simple shift in the times wouldn’t add any more hours and may in fact ease some of these issues since workers would be more likely to catch a full night’s rest. Money is often tight for young folks and if they would only be able to make the last couple of hours of an early morning event, they would likely opt to skip it altogether rather than spend the fees for just an hour or two of fun. Supporting argument: Cars & Coffee events have more people under the age of 25 than any other type of event I attend, and while the hours don’t comply with my reasoning above, the free factor and free-wheeling in-and-out vibe surely draws them in more than a fully structured event with hard start and stop times.
Speaking of entry fees, why charge younger attendees at all? Individual organizations should be able to easily view their ticket/attendance demographics and figure out the general cutoff point of attendees by age, so let’s say a local concours primarily draws attendees over the age of 20, they could make the event free for anyone 20-years of age and under. They aren’t losing anything because this is a group that was not heavily invested to begin with, and by doing so, they would likely build a “fan base” of these same folks to attend the event in upcoming years. It’s an investment in their future.
Getting this crowd even more directly involved, showing their own cars or otherwise entering festivities, can also be better accomplished by allowing, where possible, day-of sign-ups and entries, simply because Millennials often prefer to play their day by ear rather than adhere to strict schedules.
CELEBRITIES!!! Got your attention? No? OK, well anyway, this *would* have gotten the attention of many in the pop-culture obsessed, TMZ-mainlining, celebrity-emulating, youth market. We are fortunate to have more automotive-related celebrities these days than ever before thanks to the proliferation of TV shows and enthusiast websites. I can imagine youngsters seeking face time or autographs from the likes of Edd China, the Gas Monkey fools, any one of the virtually interchangeable “big personality” owners of a customizing shop, or anyone who has ever skidded across a shop floor on an office chair powered by the thrust of a fire extinguisher in front of a camera.
More than that is perhaps the general culture of cars, one that seems to be among the slower hobbies to modernize. Personally I notice this quite clearly as a separation between forums that tend to cater to an older clientele and those geared towards under 40’s. Without naming any names, I can report first-hand witnessing name calling, rudeness, disrespect, vitriol, hate, homophobia, racism and other unsavory acts on forums that specialize in older autos, tho you rarely see these same issues on youth oriented/accepting forums and seems largely due to the age and associated open-mindedness of their members as compared to the older and perhaps more stubborn members of the older car crowd and their retained cultural biases. Clearly this does not relate to all “old folks” but it seems to be more common than it really should be in this day and age.
How do we change this problem? By speaking up. Whenever you read something that would be considered hateful or otherwise insulting to a reasonable and rational adult, speak up! Call the poster out for their behavior without engaging in an attack yourself. Be polite but firm, speak your mind and explain why you’re disagreeing with their remarks. If it does cross the line into hate speech, homophobia, or racism, then go ahead and also report the post to a moderator or “flag it” if there’s the option. I truly think this feeling of accepting others even if they are different from yourself is one thing that has leapfrogged modern society more than many other pieces of cultural phenomenon, especially among Millennials, simply because they have been exposed to other races, cultures, and out-of-the-box concepts by spending much of their young lives on the internet sharing and getting to know people from other places and with differing points of view.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably noticed a fairly low representation of “minorities” at events, and I put that in quotes because a minority at a car show is pretty much anyone who isn’t white, male, and between the ages of 50-70 years old. It’s not just teens and young adults we need to welcome with open arms, but people of color of all ages, women, people with disabilities, and basically anyone you see in regular everyday society but rarely notice at car events. This might require specific outreach to a community organization that works with minorities, a women’s club or group, a children’s charity, hospitals, convalescent homes, outreach programs, and so on. Again I would suggest the model of free admission to members of a specific facility or group to encourage attendance. You’re much more likely to convince a small group to attend your event than by approaching individuals who may not know anyone else who’s interested. People are people and cars can be a powerful tool in bridging the gaps in society that we don’t normally get to address.
You know who else often gets left out? Our immediate family members. We all have friends or car-buddies that we know have a family, we have heard countless stories about their kid’s ball games, or their wife’s promotion at work, yet we never actually see these people. Of course not everyone is interested in cars, and I get it that for some people this is their getaway from the daily grind of family life and they want to be alone for a while with their gear head pals, but I encourage you to step out of your conditioned mindset and give real thought to inviting your kid or wife along one more time, who knows, if you ask with enough conviction they may come around! Rather than. “I’m heading out to the car show, anyone interested?” try a more direct, “Hey, I know this isn’t exactly your cup of tea, but it would be really nice to spend some time outside today with you!” or even address specific reasons your family members normally choose not to attend, “I know you don’t think you know a lot about cars, but there will be lots of really cool and beautiful ones there today that I know you will enjoy just looking at!” If your own family isn’t in the cards for whatever reason, how about that friendly neighbor, or the coworker you always plan to hang out with but it never seems to happen? Already have plans? Thinking outside the box and meeting up first at a non-traditional venue like a local car show before heading off to golf, Sunday brunch, or whatever your routine is, can be a real blast!
One thing is for certain, attendance at car events does seem to be dropping as a whole across the country, and we need to get active and address the matter before it is too late, but only by stepping outside our preconceived notions of what a car show is and is not, and seeking new and innovative ways to be more inclusive, is the only way the hobby will survive in any meaningful way. With the coming advent of driverless cars, we will face yet another “roadblock” in creating and maintaining car enthusiasts, and who knows how we will handle that, but it probably won’t be you or I who that responsibility falls to, it will be the next generation of enthusiasts, those we must embrace and bring into the fold today to ensure our collective tomorrow.
This story originally appeared on MotoArigato.com