By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
War in Iraq could not dampen the 17th annual car stereo beach party and spring rite of Spring Break Nationals (SBN). Crowd levels for the March 24 weekend matched those of last year's, at approximately 20,000, said SBN founder and president of IASCA, Paul Papadeas.
In addition, the show attracted more than 100 supplier exhibitors and 300 IASCA, dB Drag and SLAP competitors.
Highlights this year included a JVC-sponsored concert by Tantric with opening bands Villebillies and Plan of Man. Warren G was scheduled to perform but encountered "airplane issues," said Papadeas.
The Spring Break Nationals also heralded the unofficial opening of the car stereo competition season with IASCA holding its first key event at the show.
With the backdrop of a tough retail climate in a time of war, and low available funds on the part of suppliers, competition organizations face a challenging year, they said. Many will continue to add tuner events to their rosters and some are pushing independent events or contests at locations other than traditional car audio dealers.
This year, dB Drag Racing will host the first Internet-based car stereo competition. It will set up meters and cellular Internet connections at various locations so that competitors in multiple states and even countries can compete simultaneously.
"Once we start the elimination rounds, contestants may be in competition with a guy in the same parking lot or somewhere around the world," said president Wayne Harris. The Internet hookups will allow much larger contests and bigger prize money, he said. Harris hopes that by 2004 dB Drag Racing will offer the Internet feature during its world finals, so contestants around the world will be able to compete simultaneously.
Harris said dB will also participate for the first time at the three-day fair centered around the Kentucky Derby this month.
Many organizations said they are looking to broaden beyond the 12-volt dealer parking lot. SLAP said it is holding events in conjunction with a Chevy dealership in Chicago and events for radio stations affiliated with Clear Channel Communications. "We're trying to expand our reach beyond the traditional store promotion," said marketing VP Terry Miller.
This year, SLAP will also team up with the NHRA sport compact racing series on a 10-event tour.
USAC is offering its first "tuner" car shows, called Show & Shine. USAC plans to hold 200 Show & Shine shows in addition to teaming with Streets of America to hold 13 in-door events.
President Ralph Randall noted that mini-trucks are still more popular in the Midwest, but USAC will continue its standard car and truck show series. "The tuner trend is polarized on the two coasts. When you get into the Midwest and Texas, 90 percent [of our car shows] are mini-truckers and low-riders," he said.
SLAP is riding the tuner wave, noting that its car show has become the "bigger part" of its sound-off competition format. SLAP, which completed its first year in 2002 as an independent organization, "get[s] about 10 percent sound Q, 40 percent SPL and 50 percent car show," according to Miller. The organization plans to sanction 160 events this year, including 39 Tweeter events.
MECA is also expanding into a new "tuner" and car audio competition with its "Boom & Zoom" format. This combines an SPL test followed by a drag strip race, which is won by the loudest and fastest car. MECA has scheduled the first two Boom & Zoom events in West Palm Beach, Fla., and a finals for the format in Etheridge, Tenn. In addition, MECA is working with tuner car show sponsor, Importgeneration.com, in offering sound off-contests and it will also participate in Super Tuner night in Virginia Beach, Fla., in June.
IASCA is focusing heavily on car audio clinics at retail locations to help drive customers into stores. While it remains a sanctioning body for competitions, it is pushing the clinics as a means of helping dealers to become better marketers and boost sales. The organization, recently purchased by Paul Papadeas, began signing up new members about 45 days ago and currently has 40 retail members, expected to increase to 100 this year. Thus far, it has also scheduled 12 territorial key events, said sales and marketing director Walt Rising.
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