What makes a car event stand out as something truly special? Is it the builds? The people? The pop-up meets and activities? The location? All of the above? With so many modern car shows imploring this multi-day approach rather than the traditional parking lot one-day event, it’s hard to stand out, especially in a niche community that has to compete for a limited pool of potential attendees. However, this past weekend, we think we found exactly what makes a car show an experience rather than just a meet. Join us for our unabridged coverage of what might be one of our new favorite events: Dubs at the Lake in McHenry, Maryland. 

When planning your event schedule, it’s almost harder to pick the shows you have to skip rather than the ones you want to attend. If you had a TARDIS, this wouldn’t be an issue, but the reality is, many shows happen within driving distance all during the same time. This year, we had to make a tough decision whether to sponsor and attend VAG Fair in Helen or Dubs at the Lake in Maryland, as they, unfortunately, were held during the same weekend. We ultimately chose Dubs, so we packed up our van, grabbed some development cars, and sent a team of ECS enthusiasts to take part in the three-day event there in a sleepy mountain lake town. 

Before the event even began, our correspondence with Jon, the event organizer, gave us extremely positive expectations of what Dubs at the Lake would entail. From day one, conversations with Jon easily depicted both his genuine enthusiasm for the Volkswagen community and established a pattern that we would come to recognize throughout the weekend that these folks are more than about showing off their cars; they hold the community and the enthusiasts that make it up in the highest regard. This show isn’t about ‘me,’ it’s about ‘us.’ 

So, with these high hopes, we packed up and hit the road from Wadsworth, Ohio on Thursday to make the drive down to McHenry, Maryland, ready for a busy weekend full of Volkswagens. Even though it’s only a four-hour road trip, driving a convoy of slammed cars, avoiding tolls, and following our 70mph-limited sprinter van made it a rather leisurely pace that seemed to drain all of us by the time we arrived at our cabin. Thankfully, Jon was waiting for us at a local restaurant with cold drinks and hot food. 

As far as first impressions in-person can go, his hospitality had us all impressed from the start. Which, again, cemented the idea we all held beforehand that we were about to spend a weekend with a group of people who display unconditional devotion to their community. People who, given the opportunity, would drop everything to help in a time of need just as quickly as they would share in the celebration with you in your successes. This part of our car scene has often been overshadowed in recent years by those who do not represent what we’re all about as a group of enthusiasts, but here in Maryland, we felt nothing but good vibes from a mature, respectful, and extremely laid-back group. 

As many of the show attendees trickled into the sleepy lake town, the air quickly filled with the sound of VR6s, diesels, and the unmistakable clatter of air-cooled VWs. Friday was the first ‘official’ kick-off event with a pop-up meet conveniently held across the street from our cabin. There, we were given the opportunity to see a sliver of what we could expect in terms of attendance and the cars that would impress us all weekend. What we didn’t disclose is that we had brought a special award along that we planned to present at the show to someone who exemplified what it means to be a true enthusiast, an ambassador of the brand, and the community of which you are a part. It was here at the pop-up meet that we began our search, kept our eyes and ears open, and took mental notes about the people with whom we had the pleasure of spending the weekend enjoying the sights. 

That pop-up meet also gave everyone an idea of how large the official meet could be. With an original estimate of around 200 cars and maybe 300-400 attendees, Jon quickly realized he may have to alter plans throughout the weekend. The pop-up meet itself featured nearly 100 cars alone, and this was two days before the actual show. With more and more VWs, Audis, Porsches, and a few random other makes constantly trickling in, it was clear that the show was likely to exceed expected plans by more than double. 

With the pop-up meet over, after some much-needed dinner, we once again joined Jon, his wife Heather, and their crew at the Dubs at the Lake house for some briefing about the official events. There, we had the pleasure of poring over his absurdly clean Corrado 1.8T-swap that he purchased in 1999 and has owned for over twenty years. The amount of work, dedication, and sleepless nights are evident in the quality of this build. Nothing could be more fitting for someone as truly passionate about the VW community as Jon. Unfortunately, it would be tough to spend much more time appreciating his immaculate Corrado, as the following day brought with it a stunning amount of work thanks to the staggering turnout. 

If the pop-up meet didn’t make it abundantly clear we were in for a crazy weekend, the events on Saturday unequivocally did. Bright and early, we woke for the Dubs and Donuts breakfast meet that began Saturday morning. Despite the early hour, the lot quickly overflowed with cars and show-goers who eagerly waited in massive, collective patience to enjoy some of the ‘Glazed and Confused’ specialty donuts. If anyone was the MVP of this pre-meet, it was the donut truck owner, who experienced what can only be described as a nightmare in food service as he filled box after box of tasty, sugary, glazed goodness for the hundreds of VW enthusiasts that morning. With an exponentially higher than expected turnout, the Funland parking lot burst at the seams as VWs lined the highway up and down the street in front of the venue. 

This attendance is reminiscent of what happened in Chattanooga earlier this year for Riverside 6. With 2020 behind us, everyone is itching to make up for last year’s lack of car events. It’s no surprise, then, that even these traditionally smaller events are experiencing a surge of participants. What has come from last year’s depressing season is that events like Dubs at the Lake have seen this exponential growth happen quickly. What would take years of exceptional events to grow to this size from word of mouth has effectively happened overnight thanks to the anxious anticipation for fun that enthusiasts have harbored over the past twelve months. All they have to do now is deliver a show that will bring that attendance back year after year, which Dubs certainly has done. 

With breakfast over, the lot quickly cleared and everyone made their way to the fairgrounds for ‘Cruisin’ the Lake,’ the official parade lap around the mountain roads that surrounded Deep Creek Lake. The common themes this weekend were both how dedicated this community is to each other and how unexpected the size of that community is. The cruise could not have been better as over 250 VWs and Audis from every generation respectfully rumbled around the 22-mile route that wound around the hills outside of McHenry. There’s something just mesmerizing about that kind of sight. Watching VW after VW roll past like a two-hour-long moving car show was something to behold.

It was enough of a mental workout watching everything, car spotting, and filming that we had all built up quite an appetite, which was fortunate, as the cruise ended with another meet at a local joint, Archie’s Bar-B-Q. Again, much like that morning, the restaurant lot and all the surrounding lots were completely bursting with VWs. We descended like a hoard of starving pioneers on a valley full of bison to enjoy some fantastic pulled pork while taking in the scenery that was overflowing with astonishing builds. Somehow, that was only a fraction of what we would see the following day at the actual show.

On Sunday, we loaded into the venue as the sun began to filter in through the scattered clouds above the hilltops around the little town. We raised our booth, what we would call home for the entire day, and prepared to greet everyone at the show. Since the number of attendees had more than doubled over the expected plan, Jon decided to open the gates more than an hour earlier than originally planned. This meant that no sooner had we finished setting out the last stickers and tying down our canopy to survive the winds did all of the early-bird attendees flock to our booth for meet-and-greets, free swag, and of course the obligatory show discounts on all their favorite parts. 

It was here that we truly felt the love. Nonstop conversations with quite possibly everyone at the show kept us busy and our hearts full as we answered questions, tossed out plenty of freebies, and helped folks make their next steps with their builds. It was honestly such a pleasant surprise to see so many people absolutely stoked to engage with us and share their stories, interests, and builds with us. With those conversations, we were so incredibly validated in all that we hope to do with our community. It was an experience we won’t soon forget, especially due to the number of simply amazing builds at the show. 

The fairgrounds is by no means a small place, but it felt like it was bubbling over the edges with the sheer number of cars and enthusiasts. Every row, any time you turned your head, there was a build that made your eyebrows raise and the hair on your neck stand up. Everything from modern MK7 builds to the most obscure Euro-imported cars like a B3 Passat, MK2 Rallye Golf,  MK2 Polos, RHD MK3.5 cabriolets, and more peppered the lot.

Perhaps some of our favorites were the 1988 Porsche 944 Turbo, Jon’s Corrado, Tyler’s RS5-clone A5, Eric’s B7 RS4 in Imola Yellow, the Sloppy Joe’s Garage MK4 GTI and Jetta wagons, Coop’s Fox Wagon, and of course Jamie Orr’s Saveiro. These were by no means the only cars that floored us, but they were certainly among some of the most incredible there. We were fortunate enough to meet many of these lovely people and spend some of the day talking about their astonishing cars, which is one of the biggest reasons we sponsor and attend these events. It’s first and foremost about the connections we make and the constant reminders as to why we do what we do. We’re in it for the community, for that shared enthusiasm, and for the people who make it into one of the most enjoyable ways to fill a life worth living. Being there, seeing everyone, talking VW, and nerding out together makes all the hard work it takes to be a part of these events at this scale so rewarding. 

As the day progressed, and we had opportunities to walk the show grounds to gather photography and video of everything, we were truly able to appreciate the volume of quality present. It was the cherry on top of the weekend for us. After meeting all the wonderful people who took time from their days to speak with us, it was wonderful to be able to finally see all their hard work in the form of their cars that day. As a little bonus, the perfect weather and inclusive atmosphere of the event added to the experience, which brings us full circle to our initial questions. What makes a show turn into an unforgettable experience?

Based on what we witnessed here, it is a combination of so many factors. The venue location, the weather, the cars, and the satellite events are the side dishes that support a perfect meal, but the main course is unquestioningly the people. The enthusiasts make the event, set the tone, and determine how positive the energy at the event is. Here at Dubs at the Lake, that positive energy was palpable. From the organizer, Jon, and his crew, to the other vendors like Pat’s Speed Shop, Volkscrack, Open Air Imports, Deutschewerx, and Black Forest Industries, to the attendees themselves, everyone there lived and breathed VW community.

Speaking to that community, as the day wound down, the much-anticipated awards ceremony took place. Awards are ordinarily nothing special, but for DATL, they are focused on the community and that makes them so unique. Here, it isn’t about putting one person on a pedestal. It is about recognizing dedication, hard work, and community-centric enthusiasm, which was expressed in the Volkscrack award, many of the Dubs awards, and of course, our Euro Car Service Enthusiast award. With that in mind, it was Coop, the owner of a truly gorgeous Fox wagon, who took home the coveted Volkscrack award. Thanks to his years of positive presence in the community, his devotion to the VW lifestyle, and his unwaveringly positive attitude, he was truly deserving of that honor. 

Following his award, we were able to present our Enthusiast award. After much deliberation, only one enthusiast stood out as someone who lived, breathed, and exuded what it means to be a VW ambassador. Someone who was a joy to be around, who had spent their life collecting all the knowledge it takes to be an expert, and someone who was the definition of humble. We were proud to present Bobby Gouldner, the owner of an insanely clean MK4 TDI wagon (among others,) with our Enthusiast award. His reaction alone might have made the entire show for us, but that wasn’t all. It was everyone, the love they shared, and the community at large that provided that for us. 

It was spectacular, to be quite honest. We experienced something unforgettable and were able to share it with a community that we can be proud to be a part of thanks to our shared passion. The love, the knowledge, and the passion we witnessed and felt through everyone who spoke with us were unquestioningly the foundation of this event and what ensured that we will make sure to include Dubs at the Lake in our annual attendance schedule. The only question left to answer is: who will we see at Dubs at the Gap in September?

Meet the team:

Gary – R&D

Dave – Marketing / Influencer Partnerships

Craig – Social Media / Written Content

Joe – Volkswagen Brand

Hannah – Photography / Media

Alex – Autography / Dubs at the Lake

Jon – Dubs at the Lake owner / coordinator

Best Grant – Dubs at the Lake Media / Video

Zane Lacko – Media Manager Dubs At The Lake