Auto clubs have a long history, with the first clubs being formed shortly after the first automobiles were built. In fact, the world’s first auto club was founded in 1895, when the Automobile Club de France was organized in Paris. In fact, you might already be a member of one of the oldest auto clubs around – the American Automobile Association (AAA) may no longer be enthusiast-oriented, but it is still the largest auto club in America and dates back to 1902. However, auto clubs do not have to be huge entities with century-long histories. In fact, some of the best clubs are much smaller and newer.
Today, the team at CarLifeNation had the chance to talk about all aspects of auto clubs with Josh, one of the founding members of the New England Mazda Auto Club (NEMAC). Originally founded as the New England Mazda6 Club by a small group of Massachusetts Mazda6 owners, the NEMAC has since expanded to over 500 Mazda owners from Connecticut to New Hampshire. While every auto club has its own unique focus and culture, the NEMAC welcomes anyone with an interest in Mazda and offers a wide variety of activities to enjoy your car no matter what you drive.
What Is an Auto Club?
When you hear the words “auto club,” you may be imagining an exclusive group of supercar owners, a team of race car drivers, or a collection of classic car afficianadoes – and all of those are a possibility. There is an auto club dedicated to virtually everything that you can imagine. If you have an interest in something related to cars, the odds are that someone else does as well. And even if a club doesn’t already exist for your interest, the odds are that, with a little effort, you will be able to drum up a group of enthusiasts and form a club of your own. In fact, that is exactly how NEMAC got its start.
Like most things in the modern world, NEMAC began online. Josh got his introduction to car culture on the Mazda6 Club forums, learning the ins and outs of his Mazda6 – the first nice car that he had owned. After participating on the forums for a few years, he noticed that another member had his location listed as “Taxachusetts” and realized that there were other Mazda6 enthusiasts in his area. While there was no initial intention of forming a regional Mazda club, a small group of the New England Mazda6 Club forum members decided to organize a meet to get to know each other in person and take some pictures of their cars.
Originally, they planned to go to a local Mazda dealership that had announced a meet. However, that event was cancelled and they instead decided to hold their own cruise through Boston. That turned out to be a less than ideal decision, and Josh recalls how he “ran more redlights in that one day than he had run in his life” trying to keep up with the rest of the group through Boston’s crowded streets. But despite that rough start, the meetup was a success and the New England Mazda6 Club was soon formed.
Beginning with just a dozen Mazda6 owners, the club soon grew and became more organized. As more members joined and over half of the original club members traded their Mazda6s for other models, the club was eventually reorganized as the New England Mazda Auto Club, welcoming all Mazda owners. On top of the Mazda6, their events now included every Mazda model from RX-8 sports cars to Mazda5 minivans. As long as someone has a Mazda, they are welcome to join the club.
Auto Club Events
Every auto club will have its own unique events that revolve around its focus. From laid-back “Cars and Coffee” style meetups to competitive car shows and track days, there will be a club that caters to your interests. In the case of NEMAC, its events trend towards the more relaxed end of the spectrum. While the size of the club means that it operates in a more decentralized manner, it will regularly hold events like mod meets, cruises, and “The Climb” on top of more casual meetups.
Josh and the other founding members of NEMAC were fairly interested in working on and modifying their cars, so one of the events the club offers is the mod meet, where members can get together and work on their cars together. Generally hosted by a member who has a spacious driveway, a mod meet allows new members to take advantage of the knowledge of older members, and everyone can pitch in labor and tools to get the more difficult jobs done. If you’ve ever worked on a car before, you know that even the simplest job can and will find a way to go wrong, and having a bunch of enthusiasts to help out will make everything run more smoothly.
However, not everyone is interested in working on their car themselves, much less modifying it. Even if you prefer to let the dealership handle maintenance for you, NEMAC still offers plenty of ways to participate. Their cruises allow Mazda enthusiasts to take their cars on drives together, exploring scenic roads and visiting fun destinations. While the original cruise through Boston may not have been the best plan, today they have a better handle on finding enjoyable routes. One of Josh’s most memorable cruises with the club involved a shoreline drive from Rhode Island up the coast to northern Massachusetts, culminating in a group dinner and ice cream.
The largest annual event for NEMAC is The Climb. This weekend-long event includes a group cruise along the Kangamangus highway to Mt. Washington, with raffles, food, and an informal car show when they arrive. Once the mountain is closed for the day, the NEMAC gets Mt Washington to itself for an evening drive up to the summit. Josh had a lot of stories about The Climb, both participating in it and organizing it. From the time he burned out the air conditioning compressor on his Mazda6 descending the mountain to the time a massive storm hit and started blowing all the tents away. Keeping The Climb going has been hard work, and he acknowledges that it is usually a thankless job. However, it is this sort of grand event that helps bring the NEMAC together and allows everyone to celebrate their shared enthusiasm for cars.
Joining the Club
Events like The Climb are crucial to building an auto club and giving everyone a reason to get together, but the real advantage to joining a club is the people that you will meet. Simply getting a chance to hang out with other people who share your enthusiasm for a subject can make your hobby more enjoyable, but you can also form long-lasting friendships. Josh mentioned many times that the friends he made through NEMAC have given him a hand when he needed it. When he was looking for a Mazdaspeed6 recently, his clubmates helped him get up to speed on understanding a turbocharged platform and even joined him in his search for the perfect car.
Like all clubs, though, not every auto club is the same, and each will have its own culture. Josh and the other founding members of NEMAC worked hard to build a club that was as welcoming and inclusive as possible for everyone, from experienced car enthusiasts to newbies who are just joining car culture. Their philosophy is that everyone has to start somewhere, and if you cultivate new members, they can go from knowing nothing to being the ones to lend you a hand when you need help in the future.
Josh believes that the club’s focus on Mazda has also contributed to this inviting culture. While Mazda has built many serious cars from the RX series to the Mazdaspeed line, it remains an overall family-friendly brand that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Mazda is also a newer brand that lacks much of the intimidating history and prestige that surrounds some other models. Clubs that focus on more serious models, such as the Mustang or even the Mazdaspeed3, can scare away less knowledgeable members through their passion for their vehicles – of course, if you are a hard-core fan of one of those iconic models, that may be just what you are looking for.
Do You Want to Start an Auto Club?
Josh and NEMAC are a perfect example that even if you can’t find a local auto club that caters to your interest, there is nothing stopping you from simply starting your own. To get started, all you have to do is find a group of enthusiasts who share your interest. This can be done in person if you are already a part of car culture, or you can get things started online like Josh did. While internet forums are not necessarily as popular these days, Facebook and other forms of social media are a great way to meet auto enthusiasts in your area. In fact, NEMAC itself has mostly moved to using Facebook to coordinate its meetings.
Once you have a group together, start thinking of events that everyone would enjoy. For NEMAC, club gatherings like cruises and climbs are their major draws, but what works for your club will depend on its focus. Also, don’t be afraid to experiment with events until you figure out exactly what you want. It took NEMAC a while to figure out The Climb, and they experimented with hosting it at a variety of different mountains before they finally settled on Mt. Washington. Hosting major events is also a lot of work and requires careful planning – not just to make things go right but to keep the event running when things start to go wrong.
Also, reach out to manufacturers, dealerships, and other automotive businesses. NEMAC receives “Zoom Zoom Boxes” from Mazda, filled with parts, Mazda swag, and other fun stuff to raffle off at events. After NEMAC was legally incorporated as a club, Mazda could even give them money to fund larger events. Incorporation and official organization is also important for clubs to secure insurance for major meets. NEMAC has also received support from other businesses, such as Edge Auto Sports, and some of their project cars have individual sponsors – Josh’s first Mazda6 build was partially supported by SURE Motorsports.
However, the most important aspect of building a club is focusing on club culture. No amount of interesting events will keep a club going if people don’t want to be a part of it. Figure out the mission of your club, and make sure every member is committed to it. This takes leadership and requires embodying the culture that you want to foster, and sometimes you have to make tough decisions and ask people to leave if they are disrupting the group. But the payoff to maintaining a healthy club culture is immense. Not only will it encourage more people to join, but it will help you and the other club members form lasting friendships.
Enjoy a New Aspect of Car Culture
Everyone has their own way of enjoying cars and car culture. Some may only talk about cars with their friends, and some may subscribe to every magazine and social media account out there for their favorite vehicle, brand, or activity. Wherever you lie on this spectrum, joining an auto club is a great way to discover another aspect of car culture. From participating in fun events to meeting other enthusiasts, an auto club can let you find new ways to enjoy your hobby. And if you can’t find the perfect club for you, don’t be afraid to follow Josh’s lead and create one for yourself!