SPEED DATING-AGAIN

Once again, it’s January (or at least was last week) and time for the annual Motorsports Parts Manufacturers Council’s (MPMC) Media Trade Conference. I’ve spoken about this before, held each year in California, it gives members of the media a chance to sit down face to face with various manufacturers and discuss their products in an uninterrupted time frame.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it almost feels like speed dating where you move from table to table attempting to find a soulmate, although I’ve never done that sort of thing, however it’s what I’ve been told transpires.

In the Media Trade Conference, you move from room to room at predetermined time periods discussing various story ideas. It’s strictly an editorial and networking experience, only this year was different.

Thanks to that miserable thing called a pandemic, face to face has taken on a different meaning. It’s doubtful that a year ago, too many people knew what video conferencing actually was. Sure, we had Apple’s Facetime, and of course a group Facetime feature, but because it’s only available on Apple platforms, it limits its availability to those using other computing platforms. And while there are certainly other video conferencing providers, the concept has gotten pretty popular for meetings which eliminate everyone having to be in the same room.

With the cancellation last year of the SEMA Show and PRI Trade Show, it only made sense the 2021 MPMC Media Trace Conference was also going to get the axe. By December of last year, at a period when media members would typically sign up for the Media Trade Conference, it was announced that it would take place, although now virtually; whatever that may have meant. I have to admit I was a little skeptical as to the concept, as I’m sure others were as well. How could we “move” from one room to another all the while with everyone in different parts of the country?

I think even up until the Friday prior to last week’s event, there were still skeptics. It was on that Friday where we were invited to partake in a webinar; the new millennium’s answer to a seminar. Even after listening to how the virtual meeting concept was supposed to work, it still sounded pretty confusing.

Although I have to say that like anything else, once you start using something it usually becomes easier. And when Tuesday morning rolled around and you logged into the meeting platform online it really was somewhat simple. Obviously, there were some little glitches here and there, but generally speaking, by the end of the first day, it all become rather simple. If there was one issue, it involved the fact that each meeting time was in the pacific time period. When you’re on the west coast, it’s very easy to coordinate yourself with the actual time. But when you’re on the east coast as I am, you have to continually be mindful of the three-hour difference.

One interesting meeting I had was with Kyle Fickler of Driven Oil. Kyle had previously been chairperson of the MPMC years ago and mentioned how they had talked about having the virtual concept years prior. “We felt it would have enabled us to be able to include members of the media from overseas,” said Fickler. “However, I couldn’t even imagine what that would have meant when it came to time zone differences.”

This is probably going to sound petty, but besides the inability to see our colleagues in a face-to-face atmosphere, the MPMC always hosted a great sit-down lunch each day, culminating in the final day, Thursday, having it catered by In-N-Out Burger. For those of you not familiar with the brand, it’s a pretty popular stopping point for anyone on a west coast trip. While it may be considered a fast-food joint, each meal is individually cooked to the customer’s liking. In fact, the company has a storied history in drag racing and the car culture with the present owner; grandchild to the founders; having drag raced herself.

Former NHRA Competition Director Steve Gibbs chimed in on his Facebook page as to just how connected In-N-Out was to drag racing. “Harry was half owner of Irwindale Raceway when I was the manager in 1966 to 1968, and he treated me very well. His wife, Esther, was equally dedicated, and did all the track's bookkeeping. We had staff meetings at the Snyder home in San Dimas.

“The normal price of admission at Irwindale was $2.00 at that time, but when we scheduled our first big annual ‘Grand Prix’ event, we knew we had to raise ticket prices,” Gibbs added. “It would have been easy to bump it to $3.00, but Harry said he didn't want to hit his customers too hard, and insisted we only charge $2.50, even though it made change-making a problem. There was never any In-N-Out identification at the track’s concession stands, but they were operated by In-N-Out, and was the best drag strip food anywhere. Burgers were the same, but no tomato.”

In our case at the Media Trade Conference this year, we never even got the burger.