Organizers for The Rally, held April 7-10 at Daytona International Speedway, reported strong attendance and steady sales during the seventh running of the annual event hosted by Affinity Group Inc. (AGI).
The four-day consumer show was held for the first time on the expansive grounds of the famed racetrack. AGI Vice President Sue Bray, executive director of the Good Sam Club and coordinator for The Rally, indicated that the new venue “posed some challenges” but offered a workable setting to handle the thousands of attendees.
“It was certainly a different experience for us,” Bray said. “And it was also the first non-motorsports event for the speedway. But the track offered us great infrastructure in the infield area for all the exhibits and scheduled activities. Overall, we were very pleased.”
Ron Epstein, associate publisher of Highways and director of media for the event, reported that the rig count reached 4,110 vehicles and approximately 5,000 people from the greater Central Florida area entered the gates on day passes. He also gave organizers high marks in some of the critical areas with regard to handling the crowds in what he termed a “rolling city.”
“We measure things at different levels when you’re talking about a function that involves 10,000 to 12,000 people,” he said “Two of the biggest factors that we can somewhat control are parking and the culture of the event – making sure the layout flows and people don’t get lost. Both of those areas were very well received.
“The other main dynamic is the weather. We really hit a home run there. We did have some rain Saturday night, but we were able to dry things out quickly Sunday morning.”
Epstein said vendors enjoyed steady traffic all four days, noting, “we had feedback from numerous companies that said sales were very good.”
Exhibit space was 97% filled with around 550 booths set up inside facilities at the track or under tents. Over 1,000 rigs also were on display, including around 120 motorhomes available for test drives.
“It was quite an experience to be able to test run a rig at the Daytona Speedway,” related George Donnell, a veteran RVer from Charleston, S.C., who took a Cayman diesel motorhome by Monaco Coach Corp. out for a spin.
In addition to the RV exhibits and displays, attendees had a choice of around 30 seminars each day covering a wide range of topics. “The seminars were held in facilities that could seat anywhere from 30 to 1,000 people,” Epstein said.
There also were a host of special attractions, including an Oreo cookie stacking contest, ballroom dancing competition and a golf tournament, along with nightly entertainment.
One of the main draws was “RV Rescue,” an extreme makeover performed live that refurbished a 1984 Winnebago motorhome with over $50,000 worth of upgrades.
Several companies contributed both product and labor to the transformation with some crews working around the clock. Dometic Corp. served as the lead sponsor while Camping World was the retail sponsor for RV Rescue, which was filmed live and will be later aired on RVtoday, AGI’s cable TV show.
RV Rescue suppliers provided some special touches for the Tarconish family – chosen to have their aging coach refurbished from a pool of over 3,000 entries – that reflected the Pennsylvania family’s allegiance to the Penn State football program. The all-new exterior featured huge Penn State insignias while the interior boasted a countertop displaying the Nittany Lions logo, as well as lampshades, cabinet doors and curtains in the school’s signature blue.
Organizers also were intent on offering a full slate of activities – including daily side trips to surrounding attractions – that offered attendees a taste of the area along with the racetrack’s legacy.
“We wanted attendees to get a feel for the region and also an inside look at the Daytona Speedway,” said Mike Schneider, president and CEO of AGI. “Our intent is two-fold at these events. We want people to see all that AGI has to offer, but in a larger sense, our goal is to make The Rally a meeting place for the industry. As the event has evolved over the past seven years, I think we are seeing that happen.”
Next year’s venue has already been finalized, as The Rally will return to the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center in Redmond, Ore., slated to run July 19-22. The 132-acre facility was the site for the 2005 Rally.