Uproar at Rod Run -- but new leaders vow to carry on
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Leaders of one of Charleston's most lauded events, the Rod Run and Doo Wop auto show, have butted heads with city officials in recent months, causing major reshuffling among the event's leadership.
Each fall since 2006, hundreds of cars have lined up along Kanawha Boulevard in Charleston for the show.
It's a massive event - nearly 1,000 cars shown and an economic impact of more than $1 million - and eclectic. New models of luxury cars like Porsche or Mercedes sit beside classic, decades-old cars that have been endlessly tinkered with and restored by their owners.
It will be that way again this year, but only after some conflict between Charleston Mayor Danny Jones and the group of auto lovers who have run the show since its inception. Three of the show's founders have resigned from its board of directors.
The Rod Run and Doo Wop is an independent non-profit organization but has always received support from the city.
In the early years Jones donated a few thousand dollars of his own money to get it started, and in recent years the city's contribution has amounted to $20,000 in cash, plus city services to clean up after the event and provide security, among other things.
But about a month ago, in a meeting with the show's board of directors, Jones floated an idea: limit the car show to "classic" automobiles at least 25 years old. If they agreed, he said the city would provide them with the regular $20,000 in cash, plus an extra $5,000. If they wouldn't agree, he would pull at least some of their funding.
To Mark Wolford, one of the board members who resigned, this sounded like a threat from Jones to ruin the show if he didn't get his way.
Jones says the event is successful enough to be self-sufficient and it's time for the city to become less involved; he says he offered the extra $5,000 to make up for the revenue that would be lost by eliminating newer cars.
Jones is an antique car lover himself. He owns four classic cars and says from the beginning he thought the mission of the Rod Run and Doo Wop was to show off such vehicles.
The board members, former and current, aren't opposed to older cars. Those who still collect cars themselves own antiques. But the bulk of the Rod Run and Doo Wop's 200-strong volunteer base is made up of young men with newer cars. The board didn't want to alienate those volunteers.
"I mean we didn't exclude anybody from the show," Wolford said. "If you go to a church and when you're sitting there and you look out at the congregation, you only see people with gray hair, that church is not going to be there for long because there's no one to carry that on. Our whole goal was to keep the show going."
The board of directors took the proposal to the heads of each of the show's committees and asked for a vote.
Lloyd McIntyre, the only one of the show's founders who decided to stay on the board, said the vast majority of those volunteers, "at least 96 percent," voted to keep the show as is, with newer cars alongside older ones, and to work around the city's demands.
But three of the founders, Wolford, Rusty Flowers and Randy Easter, feared it was the beginning of a slippery slope.
"He is a very strong mayor," Wolford said. "It was our feeling that if we did that, next year he would come back and say we're going to charge you to rent the boulevard or something, and on and on."
Flowers corroborated Wolford's general portrayal of the events but didn't want to talk about the details. Easter confirmed that he had resigned from the board but couldn't be reached for further comment.
Since the resignations, the show's organizers have come to an agreement with the city: the car show will stay as it always has been, and the city will provide $12,500 in funding.
"I'm willing to learn," Jones said Wednesday. "I like to follow my passions, but these other people have different interests. I can be flexible."
Those on all sides insist the situation is not political and they're still close personal friends.
"I'm sorry it's come to this; I'm not trying to destroy the show," Wolford said. "But it's on shaky ground."
The new board members disagree, saying they think they're on track to reach their goal of 1,000 participating cars in this October's show.
Jones plans to display his own cars at this year's show, something he's never done before, and to spend more time greeting visitors on Kanawha Boulevard that weekend.
"We're all in it for one single thing, the same goal," said Jack Jarvis, the new president of the Rod Run's board of directors. "It's all to bring good things to the city of Charleston and to the area."
Contact writer Shay Maunz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4886.