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Thursday, 25 October 2012 17:25

15 Years of Successful Toying—But Will it Keep on Truckin’?

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The California Autobody Association East Bay Chapter (CAA-EBC) once again will be hosting its annual Toys for Tots Model Truck Customizing Competition to be held Nov. 20 at the prestigious Blackhawk Auto Museum in Danville, CA. It’s the event’s 15th anniversary, but some are concerned that this could be its last year.

The highly-regarded event is attended by 300-400 people every year and is the CAA-EBC’s signature occasion to raise toys for Toys for Tots and money for local automotive trade schools and area charitable organizations. So, why is its continued success possibly in jeopardy? Mike Govette, a branch store manager for FinishMaster in Concord, CA, is the founder of the event, as well as a former president and board member of the CAA-EBC, and has been running the competition since its inception in 1998.

“We can’t get any more model trucks,” Govette explained. “A company named Nylint stop making them a few years ago and we were getting them imported from a Korean company until just recently. I’ve learned that they’re all gone and no more are going to be made. If anyone out there has a connection for getting blank (white) metal model trucks or can suggest a viable alternative, we’d be very appreciative.”

Until then, this year’s competition will prove to be spirited once again, as many of the area’s top body shops tap into all their skills to convert these plain model trucks into pieces of art, Govette said.

“These trucks represent the work of many of our most talented collision repair technicians and it can get very competitive amongst rival shops. All of the trucks entered are up for the first place perpetual trophy, which is held by the winner for a full year. Their shop’s name is added to the trophy, which lists all of the first place winners since the contest began 15 years ago.”

After the contest, all of the model trucks are then auctioned off in a silent auction. The funds that are raised usually go to a local charity chosen by the board of directors, Govette said.

“But, this year the money will go directly to local colleges and regional occupational programs—schools that teach our next generation of auto body repair technicians as they enter this trade that we are so proud of. These schools have done some tremendous good for our industry and they design great trucks every year.”

The truck competition has changed and evolved over the years, Govette said. “The contest originally was to benefit Toys for Tots alone. The dinner meeting, traditionally held on the third Tuesday of November, included a toy drive and the trucks were to be donated as well. It turned out that many of the trucks were incredible works of art representing hours of work and amazing talent and creativity. So, the members wanted to buy the toys back. The marines agreed, and the money went to Toys for Tots that first year in 1998. Thereafter, the trucks were auctioned off in a silent auction and the proceeds donated to local charities as well as Toys for Tots.”

In the intervening years since that first contest, the meetings have swelled from 100 guests to over 350 guests. The toy drive, which netted around 75 toys that first year, now gathers 200 or more toys filling several barrels at the meeting. The CAA-EBC has also donated more than $15,000 to Toys for Tots over the years, according to Govette.
In addition, the CAA-EBC has also raised thousands of dollars for several charities through the event, including STAND! Against Domestic Violence, Bridges Intervention Services, Bay Area Crisis Nursery, Through The Looking Glass and the Contra Costa Food Banks, to name just a few.

Celebrity judges pick the winners every year, which adds a whole level of legitimacy to the model truck competition. “Each year we bring in well-known customizers to judge our contest,” said Govette. “From local legends such as Art Himsl, Leonard Lopez, Kirk Kapfenstein, Darryl Hollenbeck, Steve Martinez, and Marcos Garcia to renowned customizer Rich Evans, of Huntington Beach Bodyworks, who has appeared on Car Warriors and Pimp My Ride. These talented technicians are best equipped to judge our trucks, which never cease to amaze me.”

The auction nets a considerable sum every year as well, and as a result many of the top model trucks currently sit in peoples’ homes and in body shops all over the state. “Proceeds from our auction each year will bring in somewhere between $2,500 and $7,000,” Govette explained. “In the past 14 years, we have raised over $60,000 for local charities, as well as over 2,000 toys for the Marines’ Toys for Tots programs. I am most proud of what our members have done for our industry. We have had some great competitions, customized close to 200 trucks, and have helped further the image of the automotive repair industry as a benevolent and philanthropic group. I am honored to be associated with this contest and the people who participate in it. The East Bay Chapter should be proud as well.”

“It’s great when organizations like CAA raise funds for us for much-needed scholarships and supplies,” Peter Lock, department chair of the auto technician program at Contra Costa College, said. “The CAA East Bay chapter has always been an outstanding supporter of our program, and we greatly appreciate it. The students always get into designing and building these model trucks, an every year we see more and more top entries from the schools involved.”

If you want to attend the event or for more information about customizing a truck, call Mike Govette at (925) 685-6500.

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