When it comes to the Daffodil Classic Car Competition, there is truly only one event that drives participants to the brink: The Tailgate Picnic. A cross between NASCAR and the Westminster Dog Show, the ‘Sconset picnic challenges Daffy-goers to fuse food, costume, music, showmanship and gleaming chrome to take the title of top tailgate.
Past years have seen such champions as the 1971 Land Rover “Good Bye America,” the “Pirates Party,” and most recently the 1957 Chevy “50s Diner.” The event is not simply about Model As, but Type As, who often plan up to a year in advance in hopes of besting their opponents. Ask anyone who has rolled away with a ribbon, and they’re sure to tell you that winning the picnic ain’t no picnic.
“In the beginning, it was very much about the food,” says Eileen O’Connell, winner of more than five ribbons over the past thirty years. “It was about a beautifully set table or tailgate. The people would move away and the judges would taste.” Today the judges rarely try the food, although Judge Patty Rottmeiere says, “Some contestants try to bribe judges with the food and drink.” Brownie bribes aside, the judging is about the pageantry, the details, and the execution of the theme — all of which must be presented in about three minutes. “That is the most crucial thing for anyone who does the picnic to know: the judges are going to come by and they’re going to come by quick,” says O’Connell. “You need to know how you are going to present it so they get the whole story in just three minutes. Otherwise they’ll walk by and you’re probably not going to win a prize.”
Just as NASCAR pit crews rehearse over and over, Daffy picnic crews must have their setup tuned to perfection. If you’re at the front of the parade, you may only have five minutes from the time your vehicle is parked to get all the elements in order for judging. To this point, O’Connell highly recommends rehearsing the night before. Everyone should know what job they are going to perform, whether it is to set up the table, turn on the music, or simply to look pretty in costume. It also helps if the vehicle can carry all the elements of the picnic, as opposed to having them split up in a support vehicle parked nearby. Although some Daffy purists such as Robert Sarkisian might look down their noses at the tailgate claiming, “I am all about winning on Main Street not ‘Sconset,” it goes without saying that the picnic involves many more moving parts than the parade.
While execution on the day of is important, proper planning in the weeks and months prior is absolutely essential. And it all starts with deciding on a theme. “We look for a theme that’s carried through from start to finish,” explains car judge Mark Donato. “The theme is seen in the attire, the vehicle, and the menu. It doesn’t have to relate to the vehicle’s year or model, but such attention to detail might just put you into the winner’s circle.” O’Connell adds, “The judges want something that is classical. They want it to be sophisticated, and not too tacky.” So even when doing a pirate theme, it wasn’t enough just to dress up with eye patches and plastic swords. No, O’Connell and company did their research, finding out the particulars of a pirate ship that lurked in Nantucket waters and designed everything accordingly from the name and year of the ship down to the hand sketched maps on board. To some, this might seem like going into overdrive — but to the judges and the many Daffy devotees, these details propel a picnic to the front of the pack.
As you’re kicking the tires of this year’s Daffodil displays, realize that behind the cupcakes and chrome there’s more than meets the eye. Beneath the hoods of these classic cars beat the hearts of true competitors who are looking to take the checkered flag by way of a checkered picnic tablecloth.