Just 12 days before the start of the 44th annual Iola Car Show, the town of Iola, Wis., began to mourn the passing of the event’s founder and its most famous citizen, Chester “Chet” Krause.
Along with cofounder Cliff Mishler, Krause began the Iola Car Show in 1972 when he added automobiles to the Iola Lions Club Chicken Roast fundraiser in July. The addition was also intended to help promote his new publication, Old Cars. It soon became clear that chicken dinners and old cars went together and the event mushroomed into one of the world’s largest hobby events. Today, the Iola Car Show is a non-profit event that benefits not one person, but 125 organizations in central Wisconsin.
Although Krause had recently passed, the show must go on, and on it went from July 7-9. Stormy weather predictions didn’t frighten away participants, and although attendance was down on the gloomy and rainy opening day, the sun came out and so did the crowds for the remainder of the weekend.
“I think Chet brought the sun out for us,” said Larry Fechter, Managing Director of the Iola Car Show.
The final attendance number was 121,000 spectators, which equaled last year’s total.
“The big story is that more people chose to come enjoy the show for all three days,” said Iola Car Show staffer Julie Seering. “In addition, Saturday’s attendance was significantly higher. Across the board, show cars, swap meet spaces, car corral spaces and campground totals are similar to the total number of participants in 2015 ….”
As one of the world’s largest collector car events, Iola is all about the numbers, and this year did not disappoint the staff. Preliminary numbers show there were about 1,900 show cars with 600 car corral spaces and more than 4,100 swap meet spaces sold. A total of 1,200 campground spaces were rented for the weekend.
Some of the new campers were there for a new feature to the Iola Car Show: Friday and Saturday night concerts. This year, the show welcomed Journey cover band “Resurrection” and Eagles cover band “On the Border” on Friday and original Beach Boy David Marks with the Surf City All Stars and Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone. The bands played to listeners at the edge of Iola’s famous swap meet.
“I know (the concert promoter) wants to return for next year, so we will go through and evaluate everything from acts to pricing to venue,” Opperman said. “The people who came got outstanding shows, so those who went went away with nothing less than being thrilled. An important part about that is that we proved that the venue was very viable for that sort of entertainment.”
Iola welcomed several celebrities to its giant swap meet and show field, as well.
“A lot of people were surprised to see Tyler Dale [of “American Restoration”], Jo Coddington [of “American Hot Rod”], Ryan Evans and Horny Mike [of “Counts Customs”]. I think people will come back expecting that next year, and that we are replicating that and growing.”
Regardless of whose name is in lights, the Iola Car Show is about the cars. This year, the theme vehicles were trucks and Dodge Chargers. More than 50 Chargers of all eras were in the special display and the other show fields. Trucks were also a hit across the grounds, from the theme to the postwar field to the Blue Ribbon Concours.
Next year, the Iola Car Show will feature the 50th anniversary of the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird and Pony Cars, the cars of Trans-Am racing.
Check out the following pictures for a taste of some of the action at IOLA ’16: