IOLA, Wis. _ Old car hobbyists in Wisconsin and the Midwest may have found a silver lining in the COVID-19 clouds that have hovered over the hobby this spring and summer. Like so many other events, the Iola Car Show and Swap Meet, a large and long-running event and a fixture on the calendar for thousands of Midwest hobbyists, became a victim of the coronavirus pandemic this year.
In its place, organizers put together a driving cruise they dubbed the Rally for Iola. The 60-mile circuit drew about 1000 vehicles July 11 and was popular enough that it figures to become its own stand-alone event in the future.
“We were really happy with the result, considering we have never done it before. It went really smooth and the feedback we had was 99.9 percent positive,” said Iola Car Show Executive Director Joe Opperman. “We had 442 vehicles pre-registered as of Friday, and we were actually expecting we might even get a few more than we got on Saturday, but that was fine because if we had gotten substantially more we would have had trouble processing all of them.”
Cars began assembling at the car show grounds at 8 a.m. and were sent out in waves to begin the cruise at 10 a.m. Spectators lined the streets of Iola to watch the cars roll out of town and at times the route resembled a long parade with many enthusiastic spectators gathering along the entire route.
“Everybody who got back from the cruise could not stop talking about how pleasantly surprised they were and how crowded the route was,” Opperman noted. “The support from the communities along the route was fantastic.”
Participants were served a drive-through lunch in a nearby campground normally full of tents and campers on car show weekend. The 80-acre open field allowed for ample social distancing. Even before lunch was over, there was already talk of having the event become a fixture in the future.
“We’ve always gotten suggestions to do something like this or to ‘please have some sort of parade,’ but it’s just not possible to do that during the show. The traffic in Iola just wouldn’t allow anything like that,” Opperman added. “But to have a second fun event like this as a stand-alone event on a Saturday or Sunday is really a no-brainer. The amount of goodwill and all the spectators and people in town smiling and having a good time, it was really great.”
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