Some vehicles and cities go together like kittens and slippers. The list of 4x4s that share names with cities include Durango, Santa Fe, and Tacoma.
Buried in off-road trivia is a seminal city that was the conceptual birthplace of the Blazer and Hummer: Ventura, California. Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Famer Vic Hickey designed and/or refined the Blazer and Hummer at Hickey Enterprises in Ventura in the 1960s and 1970s. (He also led the Lunar Rover design team while working for General Motors.)
Strangely, a city with such an important 4x4 history hasn’t had many off-road activities. Off-road enthusiast Courtney Holland decided to change that. Southern California has several established shows, but Holland felt that Central and Northern California were underserved. He envisioned an affordable, accessible way for shops, fabricators, and manufacturers to connect with enthusiasts face-to-face. “Some are unable to attend and participate in the expos for many reasons, one being distance,” he said.
The 2012 Ventura County Off-Road Show was two years in the making. Holland, whose background is in property management, planned to launch the show in 2010, but the slow economy kept exhibitors from signing on the dotted line. He decided to pull the trigger last fall. “We can’t let the economy determine our hobby,” Holland said. “If we don’t continue to use the areas that are open, the government could shut them down. Then when the economy improves, we won’t have anywhere to go.”
Holland did his homework by attending other shows and reading books on event planning. He said, “Being the first-ever show of its type north of Los Angeles, there were challenges to overcome. There is no school for this.”
The Ventura County Fairgrounds provided a convenient, laid-back location adjacent to the beach. The weekend tallies: 68 exhibitors, 2,250 paid adult attendees. The show was intimate, and substantive conversations were possible since people weren’t lined three-deep at most booths.
Exhibitor impressions were positive across the board. Trail-Gear made a nearly four-hour trek from Fresno to set up at the show. “The Ventura County Off-Road Show gave us the opportunity to connect with end-users as well as industry vendors, and we gleaned several ideas for future products,” said Robyn Hickman, Trail-Gear’s spokesperson.
Tony Pellegrino, owner of Ventura County–based GenRight, showed local support by sending part of his staff to the show while he and his road warriors traveled to Jeep Beach in Florida. “Good show for first year,” was his debrief. “Entry-level off-roaders of all kinds. We will be back next year with four Jeeps.”
Eric Lichtbach, owner of Olympic 4x4 Accessories, lives in the area. He was one of the first to reserve booth space. “The Ventura show was a nice local event,” he said. “It was fun to meet our neighbors who enjoy four-wheeling.”
Dates are already booked for next year: April 20-21, 2013. Holland hopes to add attractions for round two. Because the fairgrounds also house the high-banked dirt track Ventura Raceway (where Brian Deegan hones his four-wheel racing skills with track master Kory Kruseman), possibilities include side-by-side races and maybe even monster trucks.
The cherry on top would be if the current keeper of the Hickey Enterprises flame, Ron Johnson, showed up with the first-ever Blazer to come off the assembly line. In 1968, GM gave Blazer No. 000001 to its “father,” Vic Hickey. Another historical vehicle we would like to see at the show is the Baja Boot. Hickey built it for Hurst, and Steve McQueen later bought it. Hickey basically increased the Boot’s scale when he was hired to design the military HMMWV (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, aka Humvee).
Few other seaside cities have this historical 4x4 heritage. For 2013 updates, visit www.venturacountyoffroadshow.com.