More than 50 members of the UNC Charlotte car club and their friends gathered on a chilly Tuesday night for a weekly meet at the campus’ North parking deck.
Some turned their heads in anticipation as they detected the purring and growling of hot-rod engines from the floors below.
“People show up here because they know they won’t be judged by what they drive,” said Alex Yakuba, the club president. “They just talk cars all night. …”
Acceptance is a major theme in the Charlotte Club for Motorists. It recently received recognition from the campus’ Student Government Association, and it boasts about its all-inclusiveness.
Helping to legitimize the club will be its participation in the Food Lion AutoFair April 4-7 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The event will draw tens of thousands of fans and around 50 car clubs.
Ten members of the UNCC club will attend the annual car show, including Yakuba, a 25-year-old junior from Winston-Salem, and his 1986 black Ford Mustang SVO. They will display their cars for three days and participate in the closing awards ceremony.
Yakuba and a few other UNC Charlotte students started having informal meetings and bringing their cars two years ago. Now there are between 30 and 40 official members. If the number of Facebook “likes” is any indication of the club’s popularity, there may be 50 more people who have an interest in it.
The club’s original members, who eventually became officers once the campus club was sanctioned, are Yakuba; Vice President Kurt LaRose, 23; Secretary Matt Weiler, 23; and Treasurer Justin Bitar, 21.
LaRose, who owns a 2007 Suzuki GSXR 1000 and a 2007 Suzuki GSXR 600, oversees the motorcycle side of the club. He says “one meet we had 25 or 30 bikes.” Additionally, the club is open to pickup trucks and SUVs.
Members say the club replaced another car club on campus that was disbanded because of alleged street racing by some of their guests. Yakuba said the Charlotte Club for Motorists is fully committed to cooperating with campus authorities and does not permit racing, speeding or burnouts.
“If we see someone doing that, we pull them to the side and say, ‘You can’t be doing that,’ ” said Yakuba. “We don’t want to get kicked off this spot.”
Instead, weekly meets are full of people, including students, alumni and guests, who meet to praise each other’s work and share ideas about car repairs and improvements and trading parts.
Tripp Robinson, a first-semester freshman, said all his new on-campus friends are people he met through the club.
“I did a turbo swap and clutch swap, a roll cage install and painted my car all here at North Deck,” he said. “It has a … nickname as the North Deck Performance Center.”
Besides the meets, officers are discussing other ways to promote participation and inclusion. One way under discussion is partnering with the campus’s Society of Automotive Engineers to host an autocross or cruising event.
The possibility of attending the Charlotte Motor Speedway AutoFair was something the motorists club officers boasted about when they requested recognition from the campus’s student government. Speedway officials were equally impressed with their grassroots effort.
“While most of our 50 or so car clubs have been coming for years, it’s always a pleasure to host a new club such as Charlotte Club for Motorists,” said Scott Cooper, vice president for communications at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “It gives us a chance to start new traditions with car lovers.
“And with Charlotte Club for Motorists being from UNCC, we hope we’re starting a relationship that will last for years to come with college students who are nearby and enjoy showing their pride in their automobiles. As we continue to grow the Food Lion AutoFair, we hope Charlotte Club for Motorists can grow with us.”