Event Coverage: Waterfest 15 2009

Being the biggest brings both good and bad. As the giant you’re not only the leader, you’re also the litmus. Few would argue that Waterfest is the biggest Volkswagen and Audi enthusiast show in the States, and as a result many eyes were turned on Waterfest 15 as a gauge to how the wounded economy had affected our beloved hobby.

The event itself remains a juggernaut. The show attracts some 20,000 people each year and 2009 was no exception. Waterfest has always been a consistent and strong show – a mid-July must-see from its very earliest days in the rented parking lot of a community college in Suffern, NY.

For the last decade Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ, has been home to Waterfest. The venue is close enough to NYC to tap into what For the last decade Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ, has been home to Waterfest. The venue is close enough to NYC to tap into what has traditionally been the show’s biggest spectator pool, while the grounds are extensive enough to provide support for the event’s autocross, burnout competition, drag racing, dyno competitions, sound off, judged and non-judged show fields and a massive vendor area that’s a cornerstone of the event.

Indicators leading in to the show weekend might have been cause for concern. The forecast was uncharacteristically free of precipitation, but the stormy economy showed a pre-event vendor row map that appeared a bit more sparse than usual. When Waterfest re-opened show field registration (something that typically sells out immediately) there may have even been more cause for concern.

Saturday is typically the more casual of the event’s two days. There’s no judged show field and there’s more of a get-together atmosphere. Were people to minimize cost, this would be the day to miss. Perhaps not surprisingly then, there was a slightly smaller crowd than in past years. Many tuners and even Volkswagen itself had opted for smarter, less costly displays, but if this was the worst of it then things looked good.

Volkswagen of America arrived in full force with the new Mk6 GTI, Mk6 Golf, the Gold Coast Passat CC show car and even a European-spec Golf Plus. Jetta TDI Cup drivers were on-hand to sign autographs and visitors got to see the Jetta TDI Cup car up close. VW Accessories brought out several examples of their latest products including the Jetta Sportwagen outfitted with a great looking Thunderbunny styling kit. Overall a great selection from VWoA that demonstrated there are enthusiasts alive and well at the company.

Casual conversations with show vendors suggested that business was still brisk at the show this year. Sales of big-ticket hardware items like turbo upgrade kits weren’t as popular this year, but we still saw plenty of people walking the show with coilover kits under their arms. Chip tuners also appeared to be quite busy as well.

By Sunday, things were back to Waterfest as usual. The non-judged show field filled quickly and the vendor aisles jammed up. Walking the judged show car area, it appeared that the number of show cars was a little thin this year. A quick reality check with Eurotuner’s Sam Du confirmed our suspicions. Sam says that while the quantity may have been down the quality was definitely up.

Perhaps Sam’s assessment isn’t far off in even a more macro sense when it comes to Waterfest. A down economy has helped separate the wheat from the chaff. Those who weren’t as serious may have stayed home, but the stronger players remained. Economy aside, Waterfest still remains one of the biggest VW shows in the country.

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