When Dave Thomas’s article Unwritten Rule #1: Don’t Blow Up The Spot landed on the Speedhunters front page in September this year, it hit close to home.
Like Dave, I reside in Canada, albeit a couple of provinces west. Calgary, Alberta specifically. Also like Dave and his fellow enthusiasts in Ontario, we’ve seen a shift in how local meets are coordinated here due to improper and unsafe behaviour from too many individuals.
In the comments section of Dave’s article one reader, ‘Mechanophile’, posed the following idea: “You guys represent a form of authority in the scene and I believe you should condemn the behaviour and promote good values whenever you can. Make it a separate topic and maybe a sticker? Make it trending, put it out there. So when people put that type of sticker on their cars they can rep the good rep, ya know?”
As soon as I saw this comment I knew I had to get in touch with Speedhunters, because that’s a big part of what we have been trying here, and combined with a similar shift in meet organization we have noticed some significant results. Here’s what we’ve experienced in the last number of years and what we’ve experimented with in an attempt to remedy things:
For years, we had a ‘spot’ that was our Wednesday night go-to for meets: the upper level of a local mall’s parkade. That specific section of the parkade was always the least-used, so we didn’t take space from customers, the food court was just inside the doors so we could (and many regularly did) grab dinner, and the ramp up to the lot made for a nice entrance as we could watch cars come and go. It ran flawlessly for many years, and it’s where many of us who are still close friends today met for the first time. Best of all, no one ever acted up, and more importantly, no one ever had to be told to not act up. Everyone just inherently knew how to behave properly and how a car meet should be conducted. Cars came in, they were parked, and we had actual conversations about the builds or life in general. The rowdiest it ever got was when we’d break out our R/C cars and race them around in a corner, which sometimes even got mall patrons who happened to be walking by to stop and watch for a few moments. It was all… perfect.
Then, the odd person would get the bright idea that they’d need to show off and try sliding around the corner as they left. Once that idea was started, there was no stopping it. Things gradually degraded to the point where we were even working with mall security and local police – who knew that this wasn’t ‘us’ but instead a group of outliers – to stop it, though eventually the meets had to be shut down.
A replacement series then came up at a different location and things ran fairly well, but it was never quite the same as those original meets or quite as relaxed. In the years since, even more new weekly meets were attempted, but each new regular gathering brought with it an ever-increasing number of attendees who arrived with the idea that everyone was there to hear their crackle tunes or see some tire smoke. Fast-forward to 2020 (once we could have meets again partway through the year) and things had accelerated, going wrong at record speed. I am not exaggerating at all when I say that by last year, any new meets would only take place for two or three weeks before the ‘show off’ crowd would start to take over and yet another event would be forced to shut down. Things had to change.The Start Of An Idea
As a quick and easy first attempt to at least start getting the idea out there, I cut a number of decals and handed them out to equally-frustrated friends to have something on our cars, and so the idea – the topic – could have a proper name; #SAVETHECARMEETS was born. The hashtag provided something that could be used to, naturally, categorize and then find social media posts relating to the issues we were dealing with, and combined with the visibility of the decals it seemed to start the ball rolling. Outside of just our tuner-oriented meets, for lack of a better description, even at the more classic-themed events that many of us regularly attended (which weren’t free from similar troublemakers) the decals were immediately met with requests for more as many other enthusiasts expressed similar frustration with the antics on display. They started popping up on more vehicles around the city and the conversation online grew quickly as well, with increasing numbers of posts and stories being shared condemning those who were trying to show off.
In addition to this, some basic changes started being made in regards to how meets were planned and managed. As they were announced and posts made to share the when and where, reminders were continually shared as to the rules of the events: don’t stunt, don’t rev, don’t blast music and so forth. Still though, despite not just these reminders but continued ‘enforcement’ at meets – immediate reprimands by the organizers if anyone decided to misbehave – shut downs still occurred. It became clear that, despite no one wanting it to be that way, perhaps the days of public meets being feasible were behind us for the time being.
Last fall, I pitched the idea to a few friends about organizing an invite-only meet while there was still time before winter hit and all of the cars went into hibernation. It was met with immediate enthusiasm and so we picked a place and a date, and started sending messages out. Everyone invited was asked to not make a single mention of the meet online or, once there, not even post a single photo until after it was over. No one outside of the invited list was to know of its existence until it had already ended. Extreme perhaps, but we were all more than fed up and didn’t want to take any chances or leave any room for error. It ended up being the best meet that any of us had been to in a long time.
We had an incredible turnout, with many of the older enthusiasts (relatively speaking, we’re talking 30-somethings and up here) bringing out new projects or other builds we hadn’t seen in quite a while. It was like we’d jumped back in time 10 years to when meets were calm and mature.
With the success of that first gathering fresh in our minds, we decided to try and squeeze in one more before the end of the season which also went amazingly well, and with some space provided by a local shop run by friends – VS-One – we had a private, out-of-the-way spot for it too. While the cars were parked soon after this, we all knew we had the start of a formula which could be refined and built upon for the following season – and so it was.Building On The Idea
For 2021, friends from a couple of local groups – Redline Sorority and Not/Available, both of whom had their events get shut down in 2020 – got together to handle the logistics of a proper series of semi-private meets. The method was beautifully simple: utilizing the ‘Close Friends’ feature of Instagram’s stories, a list of invitees was made – requiring individuals to message one of the groups to be added – and announcements would be sent out in two parts.
Within the week leading up to a planned meet, a first story would be published noting the date of the event, with a second following it up to provide the location just a day or two prior. Rules of conduct were provided in every update as reminders, and it was stressed that the information was not to be shared with anyone else. If someone arrived at the meet and wasn’t on the mailing list, they would not be allowed in. Additionally, if anyone were to act up they were promptly removed from the list so as to not hear of any future gatherings. In the full 2021 season only a handful of people stood out as having to be deleted.
“There was a lot of brainstorming about what ‘invite-only’ would mean”, says Justine of Redline Sorority. “We realized if we only invited people we knew, we’d never meet any other enthusiasts which would defeat one of the reasons people attend the meets, which is to make friends. The idea of opening the list to anyone came about, however we would lay out very clear and specific ground rules of what we expected. No stunting, no bs, just safe and respectful fun.”
“We decided to switch this up not because we wanted to exclude people but entirely due to the fact that it was a necessary precaution we had to take,” adds Ryan from Not/Available. “So we brainstormed the idea of our ‘Tuner Tailgates’, essentially semi-private meets which allowed us to track everyone attending and prevent problematic people from knowing the locations.”
Compared to how things were a handful of years prior this new approach seemed rather drastic in comparison admittedly, but there was no denying it worked. With it being well known that meets were invite-only now (and why they had to be), the waters were even tested partway through the season to see if there had been any improvements. A few public meets were hosted but it became clear that they couldn’t continue; at the second gathering there was already a rev battle between two cars, complete with someone using a megaphone to announce it. So of course the police showed up before long and everyone had to go home. One more attempt was made but police had to show up there as well. That was it, back to invite-only we went.
For the remainder of the season, this new approach carried on and it continued to work brilliantly. “Honestly we couldn’t have been happier with how it turned out,” Ryan adds. “The meets quickly grew with high quality builds as well as great people who also shared our vision, and for the most part we had no problems with people breaking the rules. Although we have received some flack I also don’t regret it.”
As for the decals, I also kept playing with different slogans and designs as they continued to regularly spark discussion and interest at shows and other events outside of these invite-only meets, furthering the awareness of the incorrect behaviour and finding more individuals equally frustrated. Having the hashtag as something to tie together all of the posts and decals has helped organize the conversation and track its growth as more and more enthusiasts join in, while tolerance for antics has dropped and the reasons as to why such behaviour can’t be allowed are much more publicly known.
At the time of this post our season has well and truly wrapped up so events are on hiatus until next spring, but the Tuner Tailgate meets will carry on in 2022 and we’ll continue to push the idea to hopefully reach yet more individuals in an effort to ideally bring our community closer towards those old, carefree days when the cars at meets would be stationary and quiet.
Before I sign off today, I want to extend an invite to all of you reading this to share your thoughts and feedback. Have you experienced similar issues at your own local meets, and are there any different methods you’ve been employing in an attempt to bring any out of control meets back in line? Let’s keep the conversion going in the comments section. #SAVETHECARMEETS.
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