The clock ticks over to 9 a.m. Over the public address system at the SUN ’n FUN campus the opening notes of our national anthem fill the air. Those sounds aren’t alone, however. That buzzing sound from above is a vintage airplane flying over the event. More than just a car show, the Carlisle Fall AutoFest brings a cornucopia of an auto auction, a car show, a midway of fair food, and even a concours of RVs and airplanes to the Lakeland Linder Regional airport in Lakeland, Florida.
Ford fans are likely familiar with the long-running Carlisle Ford Nationals, which draws thousands of Blue Oval machines to the event promoter’s home base at the Carlisle Fairgrounds in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. During the colder months, however, Carlisle Events heads south for a pair of events, one in November and one February.
Last year, these events relocated from Zephyrhills, Florida, to nearby Lakeland, Florida, to give them more room to expand and bring in more variety, like the displays of recreational vehicles and airplanes.
I know we feel at home when hosting these Florida shows and we certainly would not be in that position without the great support of our enthusiasts
Unlike the shows dedicated to specific brands, the AutoFest events really amp up the variety with shows—like the Wall of Death Thrill Show, featuring stunts by motorcycles and go-karts—and unusual displays, like the full array of vehicles from the classic Batman TV series, including the Batmobile and Batcopter.
“This display is one of a kind,” Captain Eugene A. Nock, pilot of the Batcopter and caretaker of the Bat vehicles, said. “The helicopter is THE helicopter used during the original TV series as well as the 1966 movie.”
Showcasing an orphan car has an unexplainable excitement to it…
“Many people don’t realize that there were hundreds of brands of cars in the early days of the automobile. Some of those companies only built a few cars, but many more built hundreds and even thousands of cars before going out of business,” Carlisle Events co-owner and co-founder, Bill Miller Jr., explained. “While many car companies survived to this day, and we recognize those current brands, collecting and showcasing an orphan car has an unexplainable excitement to it…”
We elected to take the next step and move on to Ford Performance where we can attract all of Ford’s performance vehicles under one club
“It evolved from Team Shelby,” Larry Beach, President of the Ford Performance Club of Florida, explained. “It was just Shelbys, but there was a whole lot of interest from other people to join. So we elected to take the next step and move on to Ford Performance where we can attract all of Ford’s performance vehicles under one club. It’s something that didn’t exist. There have been Mustang clubs or Lightning clubs and so on and so forth, but there’s never been a club that encompasses all of them. That was our goal—to bring them all together.”
Looking to appeal to a slightly younger demographic that is drawn to the latest Ford Performance vehicles, this club operates with the blessing of FoMoCo and it might just be a harbinger of similar clubs forming across the world.
“I reached out to John Clor up at Ford Performance and he connected me with Ford Global Licensing. We are a club licensed and endorsed by Ford Performance. We are the only one in existence at this point, but they are looking to create other clubs throughout the country as far as Ford Performance goes,” Larry said.
At the Carlisle Fall AutoFest most of the club’s entries were Mustangs, but as the group evolves and spreads the word, those ranks should get more diverse.
If you’re a car club, what better way to spend a weekend than hanging out with likeminded people
For this event, the Ford Performance club offered a Poker Run & Fall Festival package, which included a Poker Run, event decals, a Friday dinner at Lakeland Ford, a hospitality tent, a BBQ lunch and more.
“If you’re going to host a car show, you need car clubs,” Michael said.“They are the truest of true enthusiasts and car clubs power this hobby. For our events, we look at them as the backbone to our shows. Besides, if you’re a car club, what better way to spend a weekend than hanging out with likeminded people and maybe even recruiting new members.”
“We started last year at Carlisle’s first event here. As soon as they started advertising, I knew that we wanted to get in right at the beginning,” Larry added.“We were here last year as Team Shelby and we are just going to keep coming back and have a bigger and bigger presence every time.”
If you missed the fun, don’t fret. Carlisle Events will return to the Sun ’N Fun campus for the Winter Florida AutoFest from February 21-26, 2017. For now you can enjoy our coverage and photo gallery from the Fall 2016 event. We’ll be back in February to document the fun, so maybe we’ll see you there.
“At this point, the February show is still in the planning stages,” Michael teased.“We know that the car show will return, auction, swap meet, car corral and Air & Coach Concours. We’re still planning some sort of nod to the aeronautical roots of the facility with airplane and helicopter rides, but as guests or special attractions go, nothing has been confirmed yet.”