“UTDM”: Friday nights in the Old City
-By Richard Graves
Who hasn’t heard of London’s Ace Café? Daikoku Futo ring a bell? Well, allow me to insert another, slightly-more-local destination into your car-geography lexicon: East Jackson Avenue. There sits, similar to those other locales, a well-lit public parking lot. This one lies under a bridge, and close to several dining establishments in Knoxville’s revitalized “Old City”. No, it doesn’t have 50 years of history, nor is it next to the Tokyo Wangan, but if you enjoy socializing with enthusiasts it’s a spot to check out every-other-Friday if you’re in town.
The meets here have a reputation as the most chill public car gatherings in Knoxville, notable for the lack of “attitude”. Largely devoid of the negative aspects of the “car scene” such as it is, a relaxed atmosphere prevails. Sure, occasionally someone will roll through trying to prove something, but by-and-large the folks in attendance all bring something interesting to the table, and don’t mind talking about it. This is not the meet where internet racers go to pose or posture, this is where the real enthusiasts go to relax and swap stories on warm Friday evenings.
It’s worth noting that while UTDM probably doesn’t qualify for “back in the day” stories just yet, this meet certainly does have some history. WARNING: This next bit edges dangerously close to “educational”, but please…indulge me for a few minutes. I promise the naked girls on that other site will still be there when you’re finished.
First organized in 2008 by Arthur Leago, Jared Sullivan, Richard Morrison and others, the meet now known as “UTDM” began as a garage meet convenient to the University of Tennessee campus. The event got off to an auspicious start thanks to publicity on several local forums, attracting attention from as far away as Bristol and Chattanooga and even drawing some exotics and hot-rods. By 2009 UTDM averaged 70-80 cars on a weekly basis with few exceptions.
Unfortunately, in that same year, things took a turn. While the organizers held good relations and communicated well with the UT campus police, some attendees couldn’t separate Fast & Furious from reality. Shenanigans ensued, noise complaints followed, and UTDM went briefly homeless. To keep the ball rolling and with the aim of eliminating afore-mentioned shenanigans, the organizers decided to move the meet to the 11th Street garage, directly over the UT-PD Headquarters, and to let them know we were coming and intended to behave.
This last big meet remains the stuff of local legend: One-Hundred-and-Twenty (120)+ cars, including five NSXs, a gaggle of S2000s, at least two cars with Nissan RB motors, a Viper, some Corvettes, and you get the point. Unfortunately one UTPD officer missed the memo. He rolled in, lights on, and started asking questions. Before anyone could react to defuse the situation, F&F syndrome took over and people scattered. It really did look like something out of a movie. I saw at least one Luke-Duke hood-slide, and someone may have gone over the rail at one point. The misunderstanding was quickly resolved, but the damage was done. The meet never quite recovered. Talk followed of legitimizing the meet in the eyes of the university by creating a club, however the process proved cumbersome and the event fizzled over the summer.
Down, but not forgotten after a two-year hiatus, salvation appeared to manifest in the form of Knoxville’s effort to revitalize the old city. These efforts included the construction of a large, paved, and partially lit parking area underneath the James White Parkway overpass. A series of meets followed in 2010, but none had the feel of the original. The back half of the lot remained dark in spite of multiple calls to the city (including a few by yours-truly), and interest again waned in early 2011 remaining stale until this spring’s resurgence.
It started slowly this time: a couple of texts one week, a message on Facebook the next, an “Oh, did you hear?” at some smaller meets in West Knox. Would it take off again? Who knew? All I knew was that the game was afoot. You just can’t keep a meet like this down for too long.
Attendance didn’t immediately boom this go-around, but with a positive atmosphere and devoid of complaining neighbors, nothing stood in the way of growth. So, the initial trickle of 10-15 random students and former regulars flowed into a torrent of cars and enthusiasts from a 50-mile radius. This past Friday, we counted more than 80 cars, including two GTRs, a V8 Lotus Esprit, and a couple of NSXs along with a slew of rotaries, rally-cars, and even a few classics. Based on that, I think it is safe to proclaim that UTDM rides again!
We hope to see you at the next one! June 29th 2012.
Getting there is half the fun right?