On May 16-17, SoWo2015 was again held in the “Georgia Alpine Village” of Helen, Ga. This is a HUGE event that brings over 20,000 euro car enthusiasts to a rather small town of around 500 year-round residents. Helen is a lovely small city in northeast Georgia nestled deep in the Appalachian Mountains. A decision to reinvent the town after its logging industry days was made in 1969 at a local meeting between three Helen businessmen. This led to artist John Kollok who drew the sketches that resemble the look and feel of the city today. He was greatly influenced by the architecture and charm of Bavarian mountain villages he had visited during his service in Germany. This quaint and small touristy town has become the host of many events and festivals throughout the year including Oktoberfest. Helen is the 3rd most visited city in Georgia after Atlanta and Savannah. It attracts many for its lovely mountain scenery, unique boutiques and shops, recreational outdoor activities, and friendly locals. While in Helen covering SoWo2015 with My Life at SPEED I had the opportunity to converse with a number of local residents and business owners who were friendly, welcoming and most importantly, tolerant of the SoWo temporary “invasion”.
SoWo, in its 9th consecutive year, is a hugely prominent U.S. eurocar event that embodies The Wörthersee Tour which has been held for over 20 years in Reifnitz, Austria. SoWo Partners LLC promotes this successful event with some of this year’s popular sponsors being: Unitronic, Forge Motorsport, Volkswagen, APR, Air Lift, MF Automotive, BC Racing, and P3cars, ModdedEuros, Grossman Tuning, Eurojet, Rotiform, LoweredLifestyle, and Solöwerks to mention a few. Many of these sponsors showcased innovative products and offered free and retail merchandise in booths placed throughout the event area.
With this year’s SoWo as my first, my knowledge of the event was limited to my research and what I was told by other car enthusiasts who had previously attended. This was by far the biggest and most memorable car event that I’ve had the opportunity to attend and be a part of. Numerous people repeat their journey and attendance, traveling long distances every year. To some, this is a yearly tradition. Some event supporters come from as far away as Vermont, Michigan, Indiana, California, Mexico and Canada.
A life-long European car owner and car enthusiast myself, SoWo, as with many, has been a bucket-list type event for me for some time. Married family life and a full-time corporate job have not always made it easy for me to make the commitment that it takes to attend. I had the opportunity and privilege to join a group of local and semi-local car enthusiasts that I’ve met along the way in this journey to SoWo2015. With a slight detour through the Tail of the Dragon, on route 129 near the North Carolina and Tennessee state line, we would travel 8+ hours to our rented cabin. For 3 nights and four days, we shared our temporary living spaces, food and drinks, our life-stories and event experiences. I was the oldest person in the group [by a lot and I don’t say that lightly] and everyone treated everyone like family, even earning me the nickname Squad Grandpa. I’m still not sure how I feel about that!
As it has been overwhelmingly talked about in social and other media sources, some of SoWo2015 was certainly not all fun or as safe as many wished and would have hoped. When you invite over 20,000 people to a town which dwarfs the local population in number, it is easy to understand how things can get out of control and put local resources and capabilities to the test. Various negative stories from this most recent event have surfaced and are significant regarding potential opportunities on how to improve the safety of this and future events. These are certainly overshadowed by all of the positive energy and true experience that the majority of attendees bring. Only a limited number of individuals chose to act irresponsibly and these are responsible for their own selfish and/or illegal acts. This is an event that brings a very large and diverse group of people together, all sharing their passion for cars and the custom car scene. Considering its size, the city of Helen deserves much credit for successfully hosting an event of this magnitude for the last 9 years. The negative behavior certainly does not represent the meaning of what an event like this embraces.
SoWo is a very special kind of car event which showcases some of the very best European custom cars from anywhere in the country. Many of these cars are at what I consider a very-high-level of dedicated craftsmanship and creativity. I was a kid in a very fancy candy store filled with delicious and mouthwatering cars instead. In addition to admiring the creativity and the talent that is poured over so many of these fine cars, SoWo brings people together for community, giving way to meeting old friends, making new ones, and creating lasting life memories for others just as it did for me.