So I'm going to address an elephant in the room. It seems after every car show there are always comments like this "This show was crap look what won *insert trophy* when *insert vehicle* was way better." A lot of us think this is just a Minnesota thing, I promise you that it happens all over the place. I've even experienced it at Japanese Classic Car Show, which is the most prestigious show in the Japanese collector car biosphere.
While, yes, sometimes the judges drop the ball and there is an argument for popular crowd opinion being worth a trophy of some sort, there are also ways to increase the chances of a car winning it's class.
Here are the top 5 ways to help you prepare for a car show and increase your chances of winning.
5) Knock-off parts vs Legit parts
This is more something to keep in mind while building the car rather than preparing for a show but it is still worth mentioning.
Ask yourself, would you rather have people get excited about your handful of awesome parts on your super clean OEM+ build or see someone get excited over your knock-off Mugen demo-car clone, then hear their bummed out sigh when it turns out it's all fake? Remember that same sigh will come from the judge panel when it's time for judging.
There is a wise petrolhead proverb at work here, "It's the quality of the mods, not the quantity." That means that while seeing a mile long mod list may sound cool, it's far more impressive to see a car with a select few really high quality parts on it.
4) Set up your display
This sort of goes hand-in-hand with the legit parts above, if you have something interesting then by all means show it off, it is a car show after all. There are countless times where I've personally witnessed and heard of someone with a cool build being overlooked because the judges didn't see it's best feature. Judges don't know your car like you do, you have to sell them on why it's the best car there.
If you have a cool engine swap or some really awesome detail, you have to make it apparent. Lowrider and Mini Truck shows are full of this, if their undercarriage is all chromed out and painted, the car is probably raised up or has a mirror under the car so you can see all the beautiful work. If you have an awesome downpipe or a rotated turbo on your subaru, pop the hood and let it's glory shine. This is just like selling a car, you have to make a presentation for your customer as to why they want this exact car and not the car down the line.
3) Fill out the Judging Form and Stay through the Awards
Filling out the judging form is pretty key to judges knowing where to look. If you have too much to list on a build sheet and want to add to your car display, TYC Photography actually will make custom posters with your build list for your car.
Judges are people, not machines, so they can't look through every car and automatically know what's what. Sometimes there are little things that can be easily overlooked if they're not noted. Do you have some unicorn part that can be easily missed like AC Schnitzer tail lights on your E30 or the JDM GPS navigation system in your Mk.1 CRV? These are things that could set a car apart at the show and will probably be missed if they're not noted.
The second part of this is to stay through judging. Almost every car show I go to the judges announce a winner and the car is nowhere to be found. Sometimes the show will send the trophy out in the mail but other times they will just have an honorable mention that gets moved up the podium because someone didn't stay. Even if you don't think you're going to win a show, you might be pleasantly surprised.
2) Detail your car
I can't stress this enough. I've seen some really great cars at shows where the owner just didn't take the time to make it look good and that was it's Achilles heel. Make sure you take some time and make it shine. Buff those foggy headlights, clean your windows, use some Back To Black on your plastic trim pieces and take an orbital to that paint so you can see yourself in it. Not only will this make your car last longer, you will stand out from the other guy especially if you have a common car. This is one of those things where not only will you look better in the show, you will be happier when you see your car every day.
If you don't trust yourself with that stuff, we have no shortage of detailers in town. Yelo Auto Sports, Joey's Mobile Detailing, Pristine Auto Detail and others always are willing to do the job for you. If you have a car like a Porsche 996 or an EK Civic and you know there are going to be a dozen others at the show, a really good detail can make an otherwise alright car stand out from the crowd.
1) Remove your trash
The number one thing you can do is simple, just remove your crap. Nobody goes to a car show to look at your old receipts and french fry salt on the floor. When you go to a car show, you're showing off your car to look it's best, not like you just pulled in from running errands. If you've got random junk in your car, that can totally derail everything else you've done.
A quick fix for this is to put a plastic bag in the car and dump your trash in there, then when you show up at the show, you only have to toss that in the dumpster.