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Planning Attractions for Your Car Show or Cruise-In

Clearly, cars are going to be the main focus of your event, whether you are hosting a full-fledged car show or a cruise-in. However, you may want to consider offering additional activities and features that will not only entertain car owners, but help to draw a crowd. You'll need to consider your intended audience when planning your activities and attractions (i.e. families, adults, young adults, church members, entire community, etc.).

Food and Drink

Especially if your event is going to last for several hours, and the better part of a day, it is a wise idea to serve food of some sort. Not only will it keep your participants happy, it can also be a source of revenue.

  • Cooking Yourself or Catering. First, you'll need to decide whether you are going to have volunteers cook food or if you want to have a local restaurant cater. No matter which option you choose, it is imperative that you talk to the health department, or visit their website, to learn about applicable codes you will need to follow. You will likely be assigned a representative with whom you will work during the planning stages of your event. The rep will be able to answer your questions (and the questions of your caterers, if applicable) and be sure that you have all necessary paperwork on file.

    • Cooking Yourself. If you decide to purchase and cook the food yourself, try to find menu options that will appeal to a wide variety of people. Hamburgers and hot dogs, for example, are typical car show fare - and they are easy to cook in large quantities. Many sources recommend charging nominal fees for any food you serve, especially if you are already charging a significant registration fee. Some events will include the cost of food in the registration cost, so that owners don't have to worry about paying for their meals as well. If you decide to offer "free" meals, it is best to preprint meal tickets that can be given to the owners at the time they register.

      For shorter events, you can likely get away with prepackaged snacks, rather than substantial meals. You'll also want to offer some sort of drink - bottled water, at the very least. To accompany your food, you'll want to be sure to stock up on plates, utensils, condiments and other such necessities

      To help offset the cost of food, talk to the manager of your local supermarket to see if the store can offer you free or discounted food items in exchange for a sponsorship. If you can't find a supermarket with which to work, consider purchasing your food at a big-box retailer, like Sam's Club or Costco.
    • Catering. If you would rather have a restaurant cater your food, start talking to local owners about the possibility of food donations - or price reductions - in exchange for a sponsorship. Especially if it is a charity event, local restaurants are usually happy to donate food, offer discounts or donate a portion of the proceeds that they earn from selling food at your event. Remember to comply with all applicable health codes.

Music and/or Live Entertainment

Events are always more lively when there's music in the background! There are many different ways to incorporate music into your event, from prerecorded to live.

  • Speakers and MP3 Player/Computer. One of the simplest ways to play music is to set up speakers and play music from a computer or MP3 player. Just borrow or rent high-end speakers/subwoofers, create a playlist and you are good to go!
  • DJ. You might also consider hiring a DJ to spin a few tunes. Mobile DJs can bring all of the necessary sound equipment, and you can work with them to customize a playlist for your crowd. They might also be willing to donate their time in exchange for sponsorship recognition, which is something you might consider pitching when negotiating prices.
  • Live Entertainment. And finally, one of the most exciting music options you can offer at your event is a live band. Most bands will request compensation for their performance, so keep that in mind when budgeting. If you're hosting a charity event, or if you're operating on a small budget, you may need to think creatively. You could offer to promote a band in your advertising in exchange for a performance. You could host a battle of the bands where bragging rights - and perhaps some sort of prize donated by a local music store - are the "payment." You could "hire" a band in which someone you know performs.

Games and Activities

Offering some simple games and activities at your show is a great way to add interest to your show and break up the day for everyone. Sitting around for hours during judging can become rather monotonous.

  • Family-Friendly Activities. If your car show or cruise-in is family-friendly, set up picnic- and carnival-type activities for the kids. Ideas include a duck pond, bean bag toss, face painting, musical chairs, etc.
  • Adult Activities. To entertain the adults, you can offer games like bocce ball, horseshoes, volleyball or even basketball, depending on your facilities.

If you are raising money for a charity, offer the benefiting organizations the chance to run the games and, at the same time, educate attendees about the services they provide.

Door Prizes

In addition to the standard trophies and plaques typically awarded to car show winners, we recommend offering some sort of prize drawing for participants. Not only does a grand prize drawing offer another chance to "win," it's also great for publicity. While car owners generally attend shows because they love to display their vehicles and chat with other owners, or raise money for charity, the chance to win a great prize isn't going to decrease their desire to attend!

Unless you have a large budget, the best way to obtain a grand prize is by donation. In exchange for a prize, you can offer a company the promotion and sponsorship benefits that we have mentioned throughout this article. Prize ideas might include a getaway package from a travel agency or a gift certificate from a local auto-related merchant.

Goodie Bags and Registration Gifts

  • Goodie Bags. Goodie bags can be a great way to show your appreciation to the car owners who attend your show. They don't need to be fancy or expensive; in fact, they can be comprised entirely of donated items. Talk to local businesses and national auto-related manufacturers and insurers, all of which are usually more than happy to donate promotional items and samples. It's a great publicity tool for the businesses, and it will mean a lot to the car owners that you took the time to put together an appreciation gift for them.
  • Dash Plaques. If you have the budget to purchase a small registration gift for the car owners who attend your show, dash plaques can be a cost-effective option. These are a common offering at car shows, and they are appreciated and collected by car owners nationwide. Dash plaques can be purchased through most trophy shops. We encourage you to incorporate details like your show's name, logo, date and location into your design.


To add additional interest to your show, you might want to consider setting up a display area for vendors. In addition to local artisans and independent sales representatives, you might invite local car clubs, mechanics, auto body shops, detailers and other auto-related organizations to set up a booth. It's important to offer a variety of different displays that will appeal to all attendees. Keep your crowd and the demographics of your attendees in mind.

If you are hosting a charity event, consider charging a nominal setup fee to be a vendor at your show. The fee will help you to offset your operating costs, thereby raising more money for your charity.


It can be fun to have mascots from local sports teams and businesses available for pictures and autographs. Talk to local high schools, sports teams and businesses with recognizable mascots to find out whether appearances would be possible.

Silent Auction

A silent auction can be a major undertaking, but it can also help you to raise a significant amount of money at a charity show. You'll need to start soliciting donations many months in advance, especially from companies that require requests to be submitted through their national offices. You'll need to figure out a bidding process, when bidding will open and close, what forms of payment you will accept, etc.


You might consider partnering with a professional photographer to offer portrait sessions to vehicle owners. Your participants may not ever have had a chance to have high-quality, highresolution photos taken of their cars - or themselves with their cars - so it would certainly be a unique highlight to your show. If you are raising money for a charity, the photographer might be willing to donate a portion of his proceeds to your cause.

NSRA Inspections

The National Street Rod Association (NSRA) has experts available to attend shows and complete safety inspections of cars and trucks. To learn more about the program, and to request inspections at your show, visit

This is, by no means, a complete list of the attractions that you can offer at your car show! Be creative and think about activities that your intended audience would enjoy.