Commentary: Being a Spectator and a Participant

The car community is where enthusiasm lives…

Think about this for a moment. The definition of "community" is based by a form of grouping. Whether that grouping is further defined by geography, culture and activity is irrelevant at this point. What is relevant is that community is further defined by common interest.

"Car community" comes into play when the common interest is defined by the automobile. A car community is populated by enthusiasts – the progenitors of elevating the automotive experience. Just like any other community, enthusiasts are as diverse as their self-identity, as well as their expression of the automobile in context with their lives. To avoid the many names and sub-identities within the automotive world, one common theme is clear – the love for the automobile. It is the essential bond that brings a car community together.

If it sounds like a repeat of last year's series on this subject – it is not. There is another level that must be explored. It is one thing for me to find carmmunity for the benefit of publication. It is another to build bridges to it.

There are two roles we play in life – spectators and participants. If we were a spectator, we would most likely witness something we would like to participate in. Think about sports, for a moment. How many of us wished we could be someone like Adrian Peterson and run over 100 yards a game? How many of us wished we were LeBron James, Alexander Ovechkin, Anibal Sanchez or Daryl Sattler?

Spectators can only look. Touching is a privilege, but not welcomed every time. The want of participation makes the spectator wondering "when." Former participants that have been sidelined can only wonder "what if" amongst the spectators.

Does this mean that it is better to be a participant? In some respects, yes it is. You are in "the game." You are there to demonstrate your ability to be a part of "the game." You could be sitting off to the side, but you are in uniform. That counts, does it not?

To put this in context, being a participant is having a car to show off at a meet. It is being a part of the media corps at an event where they are welcomed to cover. It is supporting the primary participant in their endeavors – from being in the pits at a motorsport event or helping to shine up the ride at a Cars & Coffee.

However, one cannot become a participant unless you understand what you are getting into. The first rule of engagement in anything is simple: If you have never participated before, be a spectator first.

As a spectator, you get to see what actually goes on at an event. If the spectator is a keen observer, then you might pick up on the players running the event. Sadly, you might observe that there is some form of politics or cliquishness. Still, the spectator needs to sort these things out before taking it to the next level.

There also has to be a balance with the spectator. It is a balance that is struck somewhere between being a "know-it-all" and a neophyte. The path towards striking the balance will be laid down when you ask questions. If you find a vehicle owner or organizer who is willing to be engaged in a conversation, the key to the next step is to ask intelligent questions with an interest on the vehicle. Ignorance and idiocy only shows that you simply do not fit in with that event or group.

The conversation always leads to further engagement. Storytelling, albeit briefly, could frame the next step in the process – participation. One of you will offer the other the next step. Most likely, the organizer or club officer would be the one to encourage you to participate. That would range from an invitation to bring your prized vehicle to the next meet to something more constructive based on your skillset.

A rule of thumb here: Be careful what you ask for. That could lead to something you may regret months down the line. That is, of course, it ends up being beneficial in your development as a participant.

The ultimate goal is to share the interest of your vehicle with a like-minded car community, right? Yes, but consider that getting to your goal is not as clear-cut as you might think. Though they would never tell you to your face, but bringing a hot vehicle to a meet on your first time is considered "showing off." Some may think that certain car communities have an open door policy. Not necessarily. Refer to the comments regarding politics and cliques.

Though the process of transitioning from spectator to participant is rooted in some simple common sense and may seem like a process than anything organic, it actually works to understand some of the rules of engagement. As much as the serendipity of finding like-minded automotive enthusiasts would seem so easy – given the proliferation of social media – it is not. However, one cannot fully experience the world of the enthusiast without a map on how to get there.

The process I went through last year was a challenge. The position I hold as a member of the media corps does not guarantee access or privilege whether it is about propping up the local scene or not. It is not without some guidance and advice from other media members and enthusiasts before I understood those rules of engagement at meets and other events.

The one rule that stands out above all came from a friend who participates in a local enthusiast club and attends one of the weekly meets when weather permits. He told me that, and perhaps I am paraphrasing, if I did not act like a douchebag, I am good with that group. He was right. I was a guy with a camera, but a guy with a mission – a potential story. That story came out and that group appreciated my effort in bridging their club to the larger world.

It is not nearly enough, however. This year, I was pitched even more stories from other parts of the local/regional automotive world. The next step is to execute, but not without some follow-up from the pitch. These stories add further value for the spectator to know what other areas they can participate. This is why this job can be both rewarding and frustrating.

Given the experience last year, the door is now open to you – the spectator – to create your own experience. You can always peruse your social media channels to see how you can eventually participate, but also attend as a spectator.

Instead of following me into the abyss, forge your own road towards participating in this great car community. There is one waiting for you.

Photo by Randy Stern

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