Auto Club adapts its annual Car Show to quarantine


Courtesy of Tom Straiker

The Auto Club of 2020

Jeff Pape, Features Editor

There’s a slow rumbling in the ground beneath your feet. You wait for a second, taking in the delicious smell of hot dogs wafting through the air. Then: vroom, vroom, VROOM.  Somebody’s revving up their engine, which is heavily modified, almost arrogantly loud. A crowd cheers. 

It’s an Auto Show. 

Regulars at the East Car, Truck, and Bike Show will be familiar with these sights and sounds, enjoyed each May as school comes to a close. The event is hosted by Auto Club, which is headed by Special Ed Assistant Martha Johnson and Autos teacher Tom Straiker.  

It’s a chance for both students and staff at East to get together to share their passion and show off their vehicles. Many of them work tirelessly throughout the year to prepare for the show, installing new modifications or repairing worn-out parts in the hopes of putting their best foot forward.  

Think of it as a grand finale to the club’s previous year of hard work.  

The event has become quite popular, drawing attendees both young and old, novice and expert. Each year many St. Charles families visit just to take in the beauty of the old cars and have a hot dog or two while enjoying the springtime air. 

You can imagine the disappointment regulars felt when they learned the Covid-19 quarantine would keep them from attending this year’s show.   

But all hope was not lost. The club had a plan.  

With all their classes and communications going online, club members thought they could do the same with the Car Show. Quickly adapting, they set up a Google Slides presentation where students and staff could upload photos of their vehicles and share the histories behind them.

Our car show has been happening for 16 years, and we didn’t want to let it go this year,”

— Tom Straiker

said Straiker.  

It was to be casual–a kind of show and tell for motorists stuck at home. “Minivans welcome,” the invitation read.  

Soon the submissions began to pour in. There was everything from sleek and stylish old-school corvette stingrays to more practical and economical Nissan Maximas. Reading through the descriptions, however, one gets the sense there’s a much deeper story behind all the pretty curves and edges.  

Take English teacher Court Burkhart’s submission: a gorgeous 1985 Porsche 944. His daughter found the car back in 2017, and despite initial hesitation, he was hooked after the test drive. “It was a blast.  We were in love,” he affirmed.  

Over the past 3 years, the duo has completed many repairs, ranging from simple door latch fixes to more difficult timing belt replacements. The two have even gotten to learn some German by watching repair tutorials from a “deutsche mechaniker” on YouTube.  

The two entered the car in the 2019 Car Show and were disappointed when they couldn’t attend this year. Not surprisingly, they were excited when Straiker offered a chance to participate in the new format.    

Or take Special Ed Assistant Lora Manthei’s submission: a classic 1938 Chevy fit with an open-air rumble seat. It’s the car her husband took all of his childhood vacations in, and the one she drove to car shows with her kids while they were growing up. Recently, she even got to watch her son himself drive the car for the first time after getting his permit. 

Wanting to share the vehicle’s story, she decided to jump on Straiker’s offer.  “I thought it would be a fun and creative way to get staff and students connected during the pandemic,” she said.

Of course, the more expert submissions were balanced by more novice motorists.  Social Studies teacher Neil Currie, for example, entered his Honda Civic, nicknamed “The Silver Shadow,” into the show. 

But even here it seemed there was a story to behold.  Currie lives 35 miles away from St. Charles, and the “Silver Shadow” has carried him to and from work faithfully for years. It’s also a hit with his dog, who enjoys the long rides to Ream’s Meat Market in Elburn for beef sticks and pig ears.  

“When I drive down the street people look at me and I think they are envious of my car but it is probably the fact that I am driving the speed limit, blaring metal songs, and they can smell Portillo’s hot dogs emanating from my cabin,” said Currie. 

No matter the entry, it seems that these cars are vehicles for their owners to make lasting memories with their friends and family–memories that the Car Show gives them a chance to share.  

The club encourages students and staff to take a look through the final slideshow when it is published.  Straiker knows well that they will enjoy delving into the lives of the people they’ve been working with for years and get a better understanding of what makes them tick.    


  • Sophomore Ben Seltz won “Best Student Import Vehicle” with his ’83 VW Rabbit GTI.
  • Junior Tommy Hayes won “Best Student Truck” with his family ’69 Jeep J20/Gladiator.
  • Sophomore Conrad Miller was awarded “Best Student Domestic Vehicle” with his ’99 Jeep Cherokee.

Click the link below for the “show” video!