Ever since we the end of 2016, I had been wondering what direction this new year would take us. While that’s not to say that I have no clue as to where and what we would be doing, I think the main thing I was wondering was what would this next year bring. We have been very fortunate to work with some incredible people and to have been involved in some amazing events. Every year it seems that time is going faster and things are coming at us too quickly. But, to be honest, that’s not really a bad thing. It’s what we have been wanting to do since the very beginning. When I left a previous magazine four years ago, I thought that I would love to be a part of the scenes that I was always around. But, this time though, I wanted to see what it would be like to actually live in that world. Whether it was something that had to do with food, fashion or especially anything to do with cars, I wanted to be a part of it. When the whole magazine started off, I knew nothing of how anything worked on this side of the fence. I didn’t know anything other than covering events and being the observer from afar. It was a whole world that I knew nothing about, and really, really wanted to get into. But, that’s just it right? Like in any scene, it’s not enough to simply sit back and imagine what it was going to be like. You have to live it. You have to live and breathe the thing that scene that entices and drives you.
So, what the hell am I talking about? Well, I remember long ago (over ten years now) when I began working at Autozone. I was looking for a job back in the Summer of 2004, and didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had lost my job as a medical customer service rep and was looking for anything to pay the bills. One of my good friends at the time was working at Autozone and he suggested I try and get a job there. I think a few years earlier I would have never really thought too much about it, but, considering that same friend was the one that really got me into cars, I thought it would be a great place to learn more. As well as make a few bucks, of course. Not really knowing much about cars, Autozone was a big wake up call for me. Before I had started at Autozone, I knew the basics about cars and the parts that went along with them, but, little did I know about all of the intricate pieces and names that some of the less common parts had. It was really nice to be able to learn more about the world of cars. Moreso than I already knew. One thing I remember during my time there (and really enjoyed), was seeing the people come in through the doors. Seeing and meeting the people and getting to know more about the cars they brought was one of the most interesting things I had the pleasure of doing. While not all customers were fun to be around, it was the rest that intrigued me quite a bit. Being able to understand who they were and their passion for cars was infectious. I loved learning more about the variety of car scenes and the differences in cars between them all. The more days that had gone by, the more I wanted to know. Every here and then I would learn about the car meets and shows that were going on. Some of those meets happened close to my home, and every opportunity I had I would go check them out. The funny thing was that everywhere you looked, and with nearly everyone you talked about, cars were on the brain. But, that was really what it was like.
It was an amazing time. You have to understand, this was not long after the Fast and the Furious was released, and at the time I was working at Autozone, the sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious was out. There was a frenzy everywhere you looked, and folks my age were wanting to know more and more about the scene. It was always exciting to see a customized car rolling down the street. This was before nearly everything relating to customizing a car became illegal (specifically imports), and it wasn’t out of the question to see one or more cars with undercarriage lights rolling around the city. Civics, Supras, Rx-7’s and nearly everything in between was touched by the car customization craze. Fast and the Furious didn’t just start a movement, it inspired a generation of car builders. It’s hard to imagine what a movie was able to do to an entire population (and to some folks, that could be for better or worse), but, the effects were far reached. Cars were on everyone’s mind, and I can admit, I too was swept up in the tornado that was ripping through my generation. That, coupled with my working at Autozone made the whole thing inescapable. But, what was the cure for such an event going on? While I may have had a fever, the only cure was not more cowbell. No, I felt that I needed to immerse myself into the culture. But, where would I go? Where could I go to see more cars and the people around them? Well, that came to head one day when I was at work. We used to have a magazine rack right next to our cash register, and every month I used to gander at the different car magazines. One of those magazines caught my eye. It was the only one that we carried that had anything to do with imports and it was the one that had a profane effect on me. That magazine was Import Tuner.
Import Tuner was a magazine that while not around anymore (the magazine folded several years ago), it was a magazine that gave people like myself a glimpse of the lifestyle that surrounded the import culture. Every month I was afforded a small taste of the goings on within the industry, and it was within those pages that I learned about a show. This show was called Hot Import Nights. Hot Import Nights was something I knew nothing about, but, after seeing the ads (and later on the monthly coverage of the show) within the pages of the magazine, I was instantly drawn to it. I mean, who wouldn’t be entranced by the idea of the show? With the promise of the hottest cars, big name musicians and (for a single guy like myself), some of the most beautiful models in the world, what wasn’t there to be excited about? After monthly coverage of this show, I knew that it was the place to be. It was something that I wanted to be a part of, and if given the chance I would totally go to one of those shows. To my surprise, the opportunity would come a lot sooner than I was planning, and within a month or two after I had seen the ads, my buddies and I would make the trip to our very first Hot Import Nights. To say that it left an impression on us would be nothing short of a huge understatement. The very first Hot Import Nights that I would ever go to would be LA 2004, and it would be one of the most memorable shows that I would ever go to.
I didn’t know it at the time, but, Hot Import Nights was one of, if not, the biggest shows around. It may have looked amazing in the magazine and on the internet, but, it was nothing like being there in person. Not even the pages of the mighty Import Tuner Magazine could contain the magic that is Hot Import Nights. Back in those days, cars were everything. They are nowadays as well. But, with movies, tv shows and the media onslaught that was the tuner culture, it was everywhere. People like me who were just getting into it wanted an outlet to go to. Hot Import Nights was the biggest game in town, and for us on the West Coast, it was the best. While our shores are virtually untouched by another long running network of car shows (the Nopi Nationals series), Hot Import Nights had at the time I went to my first show, been firmly planted in California. That was truly the case when I went to that first show. I’ll never forget it. The moment I arrived to the LA Convention Center I remember just being awestruck by all of the things I was seeing. It was incredible. The Fast and the Furious movies and Import Tuner showed a lot of people such as myself a world that I didn’t even know existed. A world where cars, music, fashion and an entire lifestyle was completely different from what I knew. This world seemed like total fiction to me. That was, until I went to Hot Import Nights. Stepping closer and closer to the show and finally into the show itself was like living in those movies. All around was everything that the movie showed, and then some. Like Alice through the looking glass I was for the first time amongst all of the things I wanted to see, and it was awesome.
The show had everything I could have imagined, and it was from that point that I was a fan. Never before had I experienced the sense of community that the import scene would bring to my life. Later on, that would later extend to the whole of the car scene, but, for that time especially I was hooked. Never would I have imagined that years down the road I would go from attending the shows to actually being a part of it. Here we are in 2017 and believe it or not, this year if the twentieth anniversary of the series. After having a blast attending a few shows last year with our team, we would be going back to our roots. We would be going back to Hot Import Nights, and once again, we would go right into the eye of the hurricane. If any of the shows from last twenty years were an indication (and for us, in the last two years), this next one would be pretty awesome. If there is one thing you can count in within the car scene, it’s that a new year brings a lot of new changes.
Every year car owners like to add new parts or in some cases, complete overhauls of their setups. Getting to know a lot of these people at our different appearances has always to their always brings new I was looking forward to seeing what some of those changes might be. We were inviting our friend Armando to bring out his Deadpool-inspired car to be there alongside us. We had spoken before the show, and he was pretty excited to unveil some new additions to his ride. We were equally as excited, as we had worked with him several times before, and each and every show proved to be a nice showcase for the car. Knowing that, we were eager to see what some of these cars were going to look like. A few months earlier I had a preview of some of those changes at SEMA, but, with this new year upon is, it was on like Donkey Kong, and I couldn’t hold back the enthusiasm. In fact, I knew it was going to be special from the moment we took off towards San Diego.
The drive Southbound on the 5 is always something I dread doing. The drive itself to Del Mar would normally be an okay drive. But, make it on a weekend and throw several billion cars, all going the same way that you’ll be going, and it makes it for a very painful experience. Thankfully, it was the day of Hot Import Nights, and I don’t know what it was. Perhaps it was the fact that the north star was visible and that Neptune was in perfect alignment, but, the traffic was amazing. In no time at all, we had made our trip to the show. The day before was rainy and gloomy, and going into this show we were a little worried at how the weather would turn out. Fortunately, Saturday morning was clear, and turned out to be one of the nicest days that I had seen this year. Already the signs were looking good for this to be an awesome show.
It was on the way though that we saw quite a few cars making their way to where we were going. It’s pretty obvious to spot too. If there is a nice car, or a line of them heading the same way, chances are that you will see them later on. That sure helped to drum up even more anticipation on our part though. As it was, I was really excited to see our team. It’s not often that we do shows, but, when we do, we try and make it a point to come on out together. All of us if possible. Even though we had done a show a month prior, there was no way we were missing HIN. We have loved every show that we’ve gone to and a lot of the bonds that we’ve made with everyone there is a huge driving force for us. Seeing the cars is always something that we look forward to. But, a car is an even better thing when you know the story and people behind them. It’s only at the shows themselves where you can interact with all of the things that make this industry flourish and appreciate it even more. I did over thirteen years ago, and I do so even more so now.
The San Diego show though, is a show I had not been to in two years. Last year, we were unable to make it due to us covering the Los Angeles Cookie Con. Yes, there are times when getting fat on purpose is one of the finer things I enjoy. While I could go off on a long rant about my love for sweets, I won’t. But, with that last show being so close to the Super Bowl, I for sure packed on some pounds then. And yes, I felt good doing it. No shame. But, that was then, and sadly, we couldn’t make the last San Diego show. But, 2017 is a new year, and San Diego was back on the docket and we were stoked to go back. You should have heard the commotion that came from our team members when I told them we were going back to HIN (and even more so when they knew it was going to be the San Diego Show). It was pure elation through and through. So, on the day of the show, after arriving to our spot and prepping everything, we anxiously awaited the show to begin. We didn’t have a lot of things to put up, and so, I was happy to sit back and appreciate one of the best things that most showgoers don’t get to experience, the pre-show set-up.
Before the biggest party of the year even goes down, all of the vendors have to set up and all of the cars have to take their places. The dance of the cars around the show hall is better than the choreography I’ve seen at a Lady Gaga concert. Considering the next day, I would have something to compare it to (when Lady Gaga sang at Super Bowl 51), it was even more impressive to see. Cars of all types and ride heights (and numbering in the hundreds) inched their way past our booth and without even flinching, found their spots. While I may have been close to passing out a few times during the roll in, after a while you kind of get used to that amount of unburnt fuel rushing past your face. It is a controlled chaos unlike anything that I’ve experienced before. Ah, the joys of being a car fanatic, in the middle of the action. It was a lot like being trackside at a race, but, in some ways a little better. Some of these cars get very little drive time, so, seeing them move around on their own power is always nice. Seeing the big teams like Team Hybrid, Nokturnal Car Club and SoCal 9’s (among several others) roll-in as a crew is just awesome. That is something that a lot of show-goers never get to see. In fact, it’s something that I don’t think a lot of people appreciate the amount of time and work that goes into putting these events together. It’s on full display every time we get to be a part of it, and it really hits home when everyone is gone and you’re one of the last people to leave. It wasn’t until I moved to this side of the house that I understood just how hard working all of the vendors and especially the staff of the shows. The staff of HIN always goes above and beyond the call of duty, and their professionalism at the shows has to be seen to be believed. It’s because of that, that our showgoing experience has always been positive. And being around a lot of the people you admire and enjoy being around, makes it a lot more fun.
Within minutes of the show doors opening I started to get calls from the team. One after one our team members had arrived to the show, and one after another, they would make their way over to the booth. Several of them had carpooled together and it was nice to see them once again. It’s not often we all get together, but, when we do, we try to tear down the house and have a blast while we are at it. It may sound funny, but, get us all together, and it’s a bit like the character Captain Planet. When all our powers combine, there is no roof that won’t be blown off. I love the team, and being around them really energizes me. It’s easy to see also that the crowd loves them as well. We were giving away bottles of (360) Brazilian Mist spray, so, I am sure that had some more to do with it. But, the team is a real hoot and spending any time around them really affirms that fact.
While our team members arriving is always a monumental moment at any show for us, it was at those same moments that the show hall began to fill up. In a little less than an hour, there were hundreds of people that had packed into the hall and with every passing moment, more and more people were filing their way through the main gate. The music was already bumping every which way, and for the first time in 2017, we were off ready to kick off HIN San Diego. It may have been chilly outside by this time, but, you would never know. With all of the bodies in one area it was plenty warm inside the hangar. Right to the next of our booth area, there were a few food vendors there as well. Smelling that fried goodness coming out of the booths sure did help in keeping us hungry (and warm as well). 5-Hour Energy was there passing out some free samples of their product to anyone and everyone. Everyone loves free stuff, and being able to pick up a few 5-Hour Energy bottles is always welcome.
The party on the stage really got into high gear early on. There were several performers that got the crowd going, and hosts Jeri Lee (a personal favorite of mine) and Jargon. I think it was pretty cool actually. The one thing that I always dread is when there are deadspots in between happenings on stage. Deadspots happen when there are pauses in between sets or parts to the show that should be happening. Thankfully, this time around, there wasn’t any of that. In between the artists on stage and the bikini show later on (and pretty much everything in between), everything flowed really well. I think a lot of that has to do with the dynamic between Jeri and Jargon. While they aren’t the only hosts there, the chemistry that these two have, and the banter that they put out during their on-stage appearances is really welcome. Obviously Jeri has been doing this for a while, and her command of the crowd is easily apparent. That was especially the case during the bikini contest. While bikini contests are always a delight to attend (as a single guy, I can say this unequivocally) the host running the event can make or break the momentum. I have seen this happen before in the past, and how the show is hosted can sway either way. Jeri has been a model for a long time, and listening to her talk shows that she knows how to command the audience, and not do it in a way that is detracting to the models as well. That show went well, as did all of the segments throughout the night. The one thing that was a little different than what I had seen in the past however, was the fact that Miss Hot Import Nights was not chosen online and announced at a later date. But, rather, she was chosen right then and there. It was a little disappointing to not see either of our team members win the title, but, knowing who the winners were made it okay. Both of them were extremely beautiful and deserving of the win.
There was one thing that I was excited to see at this show. It was something that I had seen a little of when I had last gone to the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) back in January. That thing is a new addition to the show this year, and something that has gained a lot of popularity within the last few years. Drone racing is something I had seen a little of before, but, never thought that it would become as popular or as competitive as it has become. Drones and anything related to the category is a scene that has exploded to levels beyond anything I could have imagined. At CES though, I learned that not only were people flying drones for videography, but, they were using them to fly against each other in races. It is a bit hard to understand just how maneuverable these little drones can be when they are built specifically to go head to head with each other. So, when I learned that Drone Racing would now be a part of HIN, I was more than excited. When I was able to, I skipped away and made my way outside to check out the drone track that had been set up earlier. It didn’t look very impressive when I had first seen it. But, when the sun set, that track would be completely transformed. In the dark, this track was lit up by a plethora of multi-colored LED’s. It looked really awesome, but, it was even more incredible when you got to see the racing happening through the point of view of the drone itself. Right next to the drone operators (who were stationed on a platform near the track) sat a bank of television screens that showed, in real-time, what the pilots were seeing as they were racing. It’s hard to believe just how fast these drones are, but, seeing it in person really shows the speed behind them. I know for several minutes, my team member and I stood mesmerized by the craziness happening in front of us. It is surreal, and I hope to see more of it in the future. The only thing that made the experience tough to navigate that night, was the extreme cold that we were having. Not really the fault of anyone, but, I am sure watching these races during the spring or even during summer nights would prove to be quite enjoyable.
All in all, Hot Import Nights San Diego was a fantastic event. This show was our fourth show with HIN, and each and everyone has been fantastic. Being around a lot of the same people has made the show-going experience feel a lot like a family affair rather than just another show. The sense of community around these shows is something that I have found refreshing. I never really realized this as much as when we went up to the Santa Clara show last year. You could really tell that the connection that the HIN staff had with the locals ran deep, and that they all knew each other and looked forward to seeing each other when that show was there. I can only assume that these inter-personal connections run through each show that HIN attends. If this show was a peak at what 2017 has in store for us, then we are all in for a treat. I know after this show, I was completely worn out and had run out of gas. I don’t know whether or not it was because I was fresh out of 5-Hour Energies, but, I was ready to hit the hay. It’s such a fun show, that after all of that excitement, I just had to kick back and reminisce at all of the new friends (and more importantly) new family that I had made that day. The show may only take place over the course of a day, but, the lasting relationships that come from there is everlasting. Hot Import Nights has put together a place that like-minded people can go to and share their love for the culture with each other. They created this over twenty years ago now, and I believe that this could go on even further into the future. Keep on doing what you’re doing Hot Import Nights, we at Spektrum and those in the industry salute you, and wish you a very welcome 20 years. That party that you started is not only going strong here, but, overseas as well. It’s a beautiful thing indeed and we are so very grateful for the platform you have built for all to follow. This show proved to me that not only were those scenes from Fast and the Furious not just something made up for the movies, but, something that fans of the scene can live out.
Words and Photos By Daniel Navarrete
For more information on Hot Import Nights and upcoming Hot Import Nights Show check out their website at http://hotimportnights.com/
This article was prepared or accomplished by Daniel Navarrete in his personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Spektrum Magazine, or its affiliates.