If the success of Saturday’s Veterans Day Car Show at Excel Ford is any indicator, it might take a future place with CabotFest as a red-letter day on the area’s annual event calendar. Perhaps more than a thousand people came out for the first time show that drew more than 100 displays of all types of vehicles, tying up the already congested junction of Tenth Street with West Main.
And the event would have its foundation laid on a personal quest to honor veterans by parts manager Troy Schmidt.
"This is just incredible," general manager Tom Harness said Saturday scanning the crowd. "We cleared out all the inventory to make room. We prepared for the best, and it happened." All the dealership’s cars had been moved to nearby lots, he said.
"When Troy [Schmidt] came to me with the idea, it was like could we do something special. A lunch, or an oil change? I figured we could beat that," Harness remarked.
"I know [Schmidt] has a soft spot for veterans. Every year he takes vacation time on the Fourth [of July] to stand out there with signs," he said.
Schmidt, the dealership parts manager, said he has a deep concern about veterans because of his father, a Vietnam veteran, and the reception given those veterans.
"No. I’m not a veteran," Schmidt replied when asked. "I just feel it’s my duty.
"My dad did two tours in Vietnam. I know they weren’t welcomed home. The veterans did not get the respect they deserved. People today don’t understand what my dad and others like him went through.
"I feel like it’s time for me to do my part. I want to make sure veterans know they are appreciated," Schmidt said.
For several years now, on patriotic holidays such as Veterans Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day, he has taken vacation days to stand at the road to Little Rock Air Force Base, or to Camp Robinson. He holds up handmade signs with "Thank You," and "We won’t forget" messages.
"The first time I did it, I took a big sign that said ‘We Won’t Forget’ up to Kroger and asked people to sign it.
"When it was filled up, I took to the road to the base and held it up there. Before I left I gave it to the guard at the gate," Schmidt said.
"Why? Because I think of my 19-year-old self in Vietnam. How that would be. How it would change me. How it had to change [veterans] for life. I want to thank them for doing it for me," Schmidt said.
His efforts spread to the sales at the parts department, where he decided to put a portion of the sales aside for donation to veterans groups in the area. "I split it between the VFW and American Legion. It is not a lot, but I figure it helps," he said.
Saturday’s car show is something that grew beyond him, Schmidt said. "I asked Tom [Harness] about doing something, and he picked it up and ran with it. I just wanted to something," he said.
Harness said he "used some contacts" to tell about the car show, and it took off.
"There has been great community support. It has been incredible," Harness said. "Everyone has come together with this. This is the first time, it just took off," he said.
"Absolutely," Harness said about making the Veterans Day Car Show an annual event. "I never dreamed it would be this big."