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Automania has been a staple summer event in Downtown Sioux Falls for years. The car show event has consistently attracted 50 to 70,000 people every year. The iconic event was an idea that came from the Hot Summer Nights event held annually for Corvette enthusiasts. At the time, Automania organizer, Bill Nelson, was President of the local Corvette Club. He worked closely with Downtown Sioux Falls Director, Carol Pagones. A number of car enthusiasts wanted to have an event for all car people, not just Corvette owners and Automania was born.
“The first year we were overwhelmed with the turnout,” says Nelson. Through the years, the event continued to grow in popularity. The organizers continued to add events, sponsors and vendors, but in order to continue to grow they knew they needed more space. Nelson said, “The downtown venue ‘landlocked’ us and we had no place to grow. Our growth is largely due to it being a non-judged show, which is very important. This gives us the variety of vehicles we have on display. We have cars that range in value. We have local cars that were built by a family and they are proud to display their vehicle in our show. We also try to bring in special value cars that few people have ever seen before. We do the same thing with musical guests. Cars and Rock ‘n’ Roll go together. The combination has made Automania the largest free to the public car show year in and year out.”
Parking has always been a problem downtown. “We hope to make this a two day event down the road and Brandon gave us the opportunity to do that,” according to Nelson. “Easy Interstate access minutes from Sioux Falls made Brandon the natural choice. The Brandon residents, business community and Chamber of Commerce have all embraced the event. The city will be providing shuttle service to the event with 5,000 free parking stalls close by, and a motorcycle parking area close to the event. We have picked up more sponsors and vendors as a result of the location change. The move is also being well received by small town car owners that love to show their vehicle at such a large event. We have car owners coming to this year’s event that have not participated in a few years. Our vendors will also appreciate the additional setup time we will have with the move. We are also spending more money to put on this year’s show. The venue may have changed but longtime MC, Mark Tassler, will again MC the ceremonies.”
The Automania event is not just for car enthusiasts; it’s a family event. You not only see 1,000s of vehicles, the event also offers dozens of specialized food vendors and scores of product vendors including classic car parts vendors, road art posters and the Sioux Empire Rock-a-Bettys. A Sheriff Buford look alike from the Smokey and the Bandit movie is coming with the police car from the show, as is the ever-popular Dukes of Hazzard General Lee car and TV star Byron Cherry. “We try to bring in things from the car industry and also family oriented entertainment,” says Nelson. “We want to continue building this into a family tradition, and we hope that parents and kids alike will enjoy this event.” There will be a four hour Meet n’ Greet with Fast n’ Loud reality TV show stars, Richard Rawlings and Aaron Kaufman. “We think the reality show celebrities will help us bring in a few extra people to the event,” adds Nelson. Seven Rock ‘n’ Roll bands will provide free entertainment. Highlighting the bands will be the California’s surf rock band, The Surfaris, the group that made the song “Wipeout!” famous. “We have a phenomenal band from Denver coming called the Kahuna Beach Party Band,” adds Nelson. “They’re an audience participation band, and everyone will have fun watching and listening to this band. There will be a lot of sand dropped around the main stage. Music starts at 3p.m. and goes till 11:15p.m.”
The Sioux Falls car dealers have supported the event over the years and bring in their latest models to display. This year will also feature a ‘Mild to Wild’ car display, featuring a 1967 concours level restored Camaro beside a 2012 SEMA built car, which is a ’69 retro look Camaro that’s coming from Canada. “Any time you get a SEMA car at an event it really brings out the people from the car community,” according to Nelson. Leo and Gem Kuether, of Grand Forks will bring their dirt eating dune buggies this year. Known as the Crawler Invasion, these buggies are ready to climb anything. Leo and Gem have competed in many events all over the world. Four-wheeling is in their blood. Committee member Bernie Tyrrell adds, “We try to bring in things that you don’t see everyday, and we also bring in 100s of local cars.”
The hub of the activity will be at the Brandon Lutheran Church location. The church is providing their facility, including 350 parking spots, to the event. “That area will be the main focus of the event,” according to Nelson. “Our food, special displays and main stage will spread out both directions from there. On the east end will be the second stage. The pedestrian traffic will enter from all directions. We have a couple of shuttle buses running all day long from remote parking lots. We are putting up four tents in the event area with picnic tables so people can relax, eat their meal, listen to music and still be able to view the cars. Rice Street turns into Holly Blvd. and we are going to rename that street Automania Boulevard the day of our event.”
Automania will have a rain date that has never been an option before. “We will be able to run the event on Saturday if necessary,” says Tyrrell. Nelson adds, “We are pleased with our relationship with Downtown Sioux Falls. They have been good to us over the years but the bottom line is we simply ran out of space there. We have never worked with the Chamber before and the Brandon Chamber is helping us this year. We are also working closely with the Brandon Fire and Police Departments like we did in Sioux Falls.
This year portions of the proceeds from pop, water, beer and wine sales from four locations will go to the Brandon Fire Department. Department personnel will be working the tents. Last year’s recipient was the El Riad Shrine who received a check from proceeds for just under $12,000 from the Automania committee.
The Automania committee has included Bill Nelson, Bernie Tyrrell, Dean Kjelden, and Larry Olson since its inception. Similar to the committee, some sponsors that have supported the event for quite a while include Continental Western Group (classic car insurance), J&L Harley-Davidson, Sioux Falls Ford and Luxury Auto Mall, Sturdevant’s, Beal Distributing, American Ink, Nordstrom’s, Graham Automotive, Subaru of Sioux Falls, Signs Plus Graphics, and Vern Eide. Other newer sponsors include Grand Falls Casino, Girard Auction Company, First National Bank, Billion Chrysler Jeep® Dodge Ram, Billion Chevrolet, Mr. Car Shipper, Klock Werks, Alliance Communications, Outlaw Metal Works, Casey’s General Store and Sanford Health. Long-time food vendors include many local and regional restaurants. Product vendors come from the region as well.
Girard Auctions will feature a collector car and memorabilia auction on Saturday, June 29th, at 9:30a.m. in Wakonda, SD. The auction includes cars from an 18-state Midwest region. Girard already has 80 cars to sell at the auction including a ’57 Chevy convertible.
“We are not your typical car show,” says Nelson. “We try to spend a lot of extra effort to bring in entertainment, vendors and cars that are not available to most people. Plus it’s a free, family event! Everyone can walk up and down the streets with food and beverage in hand. We are excited about the opportunity for our sponsors and vendors with this new venue.
“We work hard to make sure everyone has a great time. We want people to not want to leave. It is not a quick one-hour walk through. We want to bring more young people into the car market and Automania provides a venue for them to meet car enthusiasts and build friendships. Automania is a non-judged show, which is important to many people wanting to show their vehicle. Many cars are a father-son project and they’re proud to show them off to the public. Many are a legacy to their builder and our attendees can relate fond memories to the cars on display. To see the smiles on the kids and their parents faces make all the hard work that goes into the event worth it.” TMM