This Hornets Nest stirs up a top-rate collector car weekend

This Hornets Nest stirs up a top-rate collector car weekend

In its 44th year, the Charlotte AutoFair has it all — car show, vendors, even an AACA event

In 1967, 12 members of the newly formed Hornets Nest Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America decided one of the first things they should do is to sell some vintage car parts. A flea market was organized after they found a suitable and available parking lot and the club was in business.

As the club grew in membership, it realized its annual flea market venture was fast outgrowing each of the locations they filled. Something had to be done.

Fortunately, the Charlotte/Concord, North Carolina club was located near the Dennis Carpenter Ford Restoration Parts company (in Concord). The business began  in 1970 when Carpenter started reproducing plastic injection-molded dash and interior knobs for vintage Fords in his basement.

Carpenter knew H.A. ”Humpy” Wheeler, then the new general manager of the Charlotte Motor Speedway, and presented the idea that maybe a vintage car flea market might work on the speedway property. Thus, in 1975, the Charlotte AutoFair was born.

A year earlier, Mel Carson joined the Hornets Nest Region and, of course, got involved with helping organize a newly expanded flea market at the race track, joining 30 club members who laid out 200 vending spaces for parts sellers.

Not many car owners get the opportunity to park on the front straightway of a super speedway, but this ’65 Ford and ’57 Chevy had a premier spot for the 900 car show that included both the track and infield

Mel Carson (right) is one very busy guy. In addition to serving as executive director of the Hornets Nest Region, he’s the 2019 national president of the AACA.

This year marked 44 years since that first AutoFair and Carson could not imagine the event would ever become as large and expansive as it is today. Dubbed the largest automotive collector event in the Southeast, the show, flea market, car corral and AACA regional meet rivals the granddaddy of collector car events, the Eastern Fall Meet held each year in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

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Much has changed since those early events were organized. The Hornets Nest Region continues to host the event, and Carson is executive director of the club, overseeing a full-time staff of four who tend to the needs of more than 500 members.

“We aren’t the largest region in the country,” said Carson, “but we have easily the most active, and much has changed since those early days of event planning and setup.”

The club uses over 300 volunteers to stage the AutoFair each spring, laying out more than 9,000 vending spaces and working out the logistics of having a car show, car corral and AACA regional meet in one place and within four days.

In North Carolina, vintage car part selling events are called flea markets rather than swap meets, which is used in other parts of the country. With about 9,000 vendor spaces, similar to this one, that’s a lot of parts!

Some parts vendors are specialists. This vendor had hundreds of carburetors, carb plates, carb bodies and every tiny piece that might be needed to rebuild a carburetor. Sorry, no fuel injection here

“We used to use yellow chalk lines to place the vendor spaces,” Carson said during a brief break from the busy routine of checking and rechecking all the needs for an event this large. “Now we bring in a team of surveyors and use a computer to place stakes and assign everyone a spot in four separate fields.”

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“We have a talented group of volunteers and we hire a bunch of off-duty police officers to help keep things under control during the event.”

Carson, who became executive director in 1990, said the biggest challenge each year is getting vendors to sign up on time.

He said adapting to the changes at the speedway also presents some challenges. 

“The speedway is a business, of course, and they have made many changes over the years, adding things like the infield road course and various buildings meant to serve their audience and race teams.”

The AutoFair didn’t host the AACA regional meet until 2008, but that also places some issues into the mix as the requirements for this important event must be incorporated into schedules and space in the complex.

The 2,000-acre Charlotte Motor Speedway encompasses the 1 ½-mile NASCAR track, the country’s only all-concrete four-lane drag strip (ZMAX Dragway), a ¼-mile clay oval track that hosts events like the World of Outlaws races, and the infield NASCAR 2 – mile road course.

Pennzoil had a short autocross track set up so you could buy a ride in a tricked-out Dodge Challenger that would run the cones in a continuous drift

There were a couple dozen car clubs represented in a special section of the infield including members of the East Coast Reatta Club

The 2019 event was held April 4-7 and attracted 150,000 spectators, 900 “for sale” collector vehicles, 1,000 show cars parked on the asphalt track, and 302 AACA vehicles competing in the judged regional meet.

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Just walking the grounds is a big undertaking and it’s nearly impossible to take it all in just one or two days. The Hornets Nest Region must provide everything from portable toilets (vendors could even rent their own) to electric scooters (no golf carts allowed). 

Volunteers shepherded show cars, spectators, vendors and support staff to surrounding parking areas and provided shuttle transit to various points of interest on the property. The Hornets Nest folks even had motorized transport available to help parts buyers move their purchases to their vehicles. It appeared the planning committee didn’t miss a single detail.

While Carson is executive director of the regional group which is governed by a 12-member board of directors, he is also the 2019 president of the national AACA, which is headquartered in Pennsylvania. This is one very busy car nut.

The Hornets Nest Region puts a lot of effort into AutoFair, but also provides another great benefit with its 501(c)3 foundation to provide educational scholarships to young people and to those being educated in vehicle-related studies. The HNR Foundation also provides donations to the AACA Museum and Library & Research Center and to other organizations related to the preservation and restoration of collector vehicles.

The Charlotte AutoFair should be on every gearhead’s wish list. The quality of all the aspects of the event is top notch and reflects the passion of the Hornets Nest Region to host the best collector event in the country.

This double-cab Volkswagen pickup is the perfect hauler for vintage parts. But the owner said ‘not for sale’

Many of the spectators included families with children and these two motorcycles (yes, the one on the left is a three-wheeler) caught the attention of a couple of a much younger generation

This Ford Touring has been in the same family since 1915 and is virtually untouched though much of the paint has faded. It was part of the 302 AACA vehicles entered in the regional meet. The sign out front said ‘never to be sold’

The Charlotte AutoFair gave the Southern Scouts (International Harvester) the opportunity to hold their 23rd Dixie Regionals

There was a time when a Plymouth Superbird similar to this one made the trip around the speedway in a slightly different form as a full blown race car. This was for sale in the infield vendor area

The Carolina Opel Club had a small sampling of their members Opels on display in the car show area

One of the infield buildings held a small collection of custom show cars including this 1949 Cadillac convertible called The Golden Empress built by Chris Ryan of Ninety Six, South Carolina

All manner of haulers were being wheeled around the flea market to gather as much as could be stacked and stuffed for transport back home

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Jim Volgarino
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  • Deanna Rader
    April 13, 2019, 9:29 PM

    What an amazing event!! I wish I lived closer so I could attend!!!

    http://www.bryanswheels.com/blog

    REPLY
    • Pete Collins @Deanna Rader
      April 16, 2019, 5:00 PM

      I was there Thurs & Fri in the rain. The event is very friendly but the published number of 900 collector cars for sale is fantasy unless they all showed up on Saturday? The car coral was very disappointing.

      REPLY
  • Jw Grodt
    April 17, 2019, 3:29 AM

    I was there for the entire show and it was great! Sold my car and bought two others. The weather was great except for the rain on Friday morning but it cleared for a nice afternoon. The rain wasn’t as bad as I had expected. In fact I had two offers on my car during the rain. But my buying & selling happened on Saturday.

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