[words & photos: Elaine Bak]
Driving into Helen, GA for Southern Wörthersee is always a rush. It’s an event that you look forward to months prior. Many preparations go into the show, not only by those who organize and sponsor the event, but also by those who choose to attend. It’s a time to add all those final touches to your ride before showing it off. Whichever route you take into Helen, you are sure to meet up with others making the same trek. Caravans are established or added-to, everyone anxious to band together with other enthusiasts. All gender, age and social stratospheres forgotten, this is a time to focus on letting go, having a great time, and enjoying the diverse company of others in attendance.
Total chaos of the semi-controlled variety surrounds you immediately upon entering the village of Helen. “Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the Chattahoochee River…Helen is a re-creation of an alpine village complete with cobblestone alleys and old-world towers” (helenga.org). Southern Wörthersee (or SoWo for short) is an event that mirrors the Wörthersee Tour. The Wörthersee Tour, or Wörthersee as it is more commonly known, is the largest gathering of VAG enthusiasts in the world. Wörthersee has taken place in Reifnitz, Austria since 1981, so the Bavarian-themed town of Helen is a perfect setting for an American mirror event, the Southern Wörthersee show.
From the edge of Helen, you feel as though you have been transported directly to a small village in the Alps. The streets and every available parking space are packed with a wide range of Audi and Volkswagen models. People swarm the sidewalks, and the buzz of activity will not cease until the weekend comes to a close. As usual, each hotel you drive by flashes a “No Vacancy” sign, but you can tell from the lack of sponsor rigs on the main street where they’ve parked in years past that 2012 promises a completely new set-up.
Saturday morning the sun rises on lines of cars waiting to enter the show grounds for placement. Where SoWo gave a taste of the extra field parking across the river in 2011, it was decided to center the show around that field for the first time in 2012. The move allowed for a huge increase in numbers that this quickly growing event now attracts. SoWo 2012 boasts a record-breaking number in attendance, with at least 3,800 cars and 8,200 people. The vast openness of the field fully utilized allows for a closer atmosphere between all in attendance, as well as prime vendor and sponsor placement, which in prior years was completely spread out in the village. By maximizing and consolidating into one vast grassy field, the sponsors and vendors are placed in a circle surrounding the show. It’s now quite easy to hit all the booths with relative ease although you’re now across the river from that cool German architecture.
Over the next few hours, cars continued to pour into the town. Coffee, Redbull and Monster energy drinks are a staple of the morning diet as Skrillex fills the air in a virtual surround sound concert emitted from scattered car stereos. Once the field fills up and entry is closed off at noon, vehicles begin filling in the usual parking areas on the main street. Electronic dance music blares from the H2O stage as attendees register, pick up goody bags and sign waivers. In contrast to some previous shows, there is definitely a wider variety of makes and models present. There is a sea of Volkswagen offerings ranging from aircooled buses to murdered out Touaregs, quite a few more Audis than usual including the 2013 Allroad, a 2013 Q7 TDI, and of course the V10 R8 with a sticker announcing “let em hate”. There are also quite a few BMWs and a small but impressive group of Mercedes who’ve been drawn out by the German theme. The overwhelming trends of the show are custom wheels, more specifically Rotiforms and BBS, custom interiors, roof racks, euro plates, stickers, low stance, VR6 swaps, shaved engine bays, and of course electronic dance music.
Volkswagen of America is again a huge presence at SoWo, tons of people lined up to show their car keys in order to get swag such as VW embroidered lawn chairs, bags, t-shirts and posters. There is even an opportunity to put your name in a drawing to have your car professionally photographed by VW photographers. The crowds prove to be resilient, staying through the blazing heat (possibly cooling down by tubing or wading in the river) in order to hear the winners of the show announced. Shortly after 5pm attendees gathered around the H2O stage for the presentation of the following awards:
• Wagenwerks Outstanding Paint: David Bruno Med Green MkIII GTI
• Love’s Trim Shop Outstanding Interior: John Ramirez 04 Audi S4
• C2 Motorsports Best Swap: Trevor Somers MkI Caddy VR6
• Best Forced Induction: Nick Hoover 01 GTI VR6 Twin Turbo
• Best Bay: Mike Frechette 91 GTI 16V ITB’s
• WheelWhores Award: David Bruno Med Green MkIII GTI
• The Bynum Built Trophy: Joe Adams 04 GTI
• H2O Club Choice: Adam Barb MkV Golf Caddy (Go kart transporter)
• Club Spirit: Dub Cartel, Miami Florida
• Longest Distance Driven: Anwar Suleman, Brossard Quebec
Wrapping up the awards, merchandise straight from Wörthersee is auctioned off, all proceeds going to Relay for Life. With a starting bid of $50, the price surprisingly jumps to $500 by one generous bidder. According to Matt Bounds, SoWo raised a total of $2500 “for Relay for Life in remembrance of our fallen club member Scott Taylor”. The show is brought to a close at the APR booth with free brats and burgers while APR Motorsport Audi racecar driver by day/DJ by night Ian Baas mixes it up.
Though you’re bound to find something to get into regardless of where you end up after the show, the after party at the Helendorf is always crazy with shoulder-to-shoulder standing room where absolutely no one is a stranger. People from all over the country bond together by sharing drinks, stories and experiences. Where the start time of the show may have cut short the previous night’s partying, Saturday night is pure no-holds-barred and the party continues until Officer Friendly says goodnight.
As a wrap-up to the event, those who are around and awake join in a caravan for a morning mountain cruise. The route itself is split into two groups. One a moderate speed, and the other more brisk. With all routes of the cruise directed by the local police force, the stops are minimized and definitely an experience you wouldn’t want to miss. Drivers are greeted by sweeping curves, and apexes that would be more at home on a race track than a state road. The mountain cruise is definitely a perfect ending to a thrilling weekend.
“We would like to thank all of our sponsors for keeping this a free show and our staff for all the long hours they put in.” –Matt Bounds, Southern Worthersee organizer
“SoWo is quickly becoming one of the best destinations for enthusiasts. It’s a great scenic venue and the town bends over backwards to help it happen. This was Volkswagen of America’s second year in attendance and it seems to be growing very fast thanks to all the loyal fans who make it happen” – Michael Briskie, Volkswagen of America event coordinator
A listing of the 2012 sponsors can be found HERE.
Be sure to mark your calendar for next year, SoWo 2013 will be held May 17-19. See you there!