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Disinterest kills Longview teenage car show

Thursday, May 19, 2016by  Jon Osterberg

The All High School Car Show, a Longview-area fixture since 1987, has died due to dwindling participation.
     To me, it’s a clear sign of America’s shift away from teenage car culture.
     Kevin Clark, 18, won the final show last Saturday, held at Lower Columbia College. His “pride ride” is a red 1967 VW Beetle he bought with money he’d saved since age 11 from mowing lawns.
     Clark was one of only 15 entrants. At the show’s peak in the late 1990s, 13 high schools from three counties surrounding Longview participated with 130 cars. That dwindled to 86 in 2012, then just 15 by Saturday.
     Low participation is why last weekend’s show was the final one.
     I found it sad, though not surprising. PEMCO frequently sees data showing that today’s teen drivers often delay getting their licenses until they’re 18, 19, or older.
     For Baby Boomers, getting your license at 16 was a rite of passage, a ticket to independence and socializing with friends.
     Today, teens accomplish that via smartphones and social media.
     Cars today are complex, computerized, and difficult for weekend mechanics. Years ago, parents worked on their own cars, then taught their kids how to do it. Many parents of today’s teens likely don’t work on their own cars.
     When I grew up, virtually all high schools offered power mechanics as an elective course. Students learned basic car repair and tore apart and rebuilt engines.
     Not any more. As one Longview volunteer noted, the student car show shrank significantly after Longview School District closed its auto shop in 2011.
     My sense is that teenage car culture was big with the G.I. and Silent generations, Baby Boomers, and even Gen Xers, but dwindled with Millennials and really crashed with today's youth. A random, unscientific survey of PEMCO employees confirms that.
     I asked 25 people around the office, “Did you own a car in high school? If so, were you proud enough of it that you would have shown it at an all-student car show?”
     Eight Baby Boomers and four Gen Xers said yes; no one under age 30 said yes.
     The yes people included Paul, who had a brown 1969 Dodge Coronet 500. Tara, midnight blue 1985 Camaro IROC. Jerry, yellow 1970 Dodge Challenger. Eric, 1969 AMC Javelin SST. Stan, yellow 1966 Chevelle LT1.
     My quick survey of coworkers also unearthed a future blog topic: car lovers who later in life bought the classic car they drove as a teen.
     Yeah, I'm one of those.

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