Two months ago, I received an email from a PR firm in Uniontown, Ohio. The owner noticed my work for Ford Truck Enthusiasts, wanted to let me know about a classic Bronco on display at United Pacific Industries in Long Beach, California, and wanted to meet me.
She also asked if I lived in SoCal.
When I told her I actually called the New River Valley in southwestern Virginia home, she asked if I would be interested in joining an automotive press organization based out of Washington, DC, adding she would connect me with its president.
And that is how I became a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association.
Last week, I picked up a blue 2019 Nissan Maxima SV from my local Enterprise. Through luck, it was the exact same car I had driven once before: when I visited my old Old Kentucky home of Louisville to cover the 50th anniversary of the National Street Rod Association’s Street Rod Nationals for Chilton Manuals.
This time, though, I would be taking the Maxima to Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, some 300 miles away from my Old Dominion home. The occasion was my first-ever WAPA Rally, a one-day gathering of journalists and manufacturers, where some of the latest and greatest are driven around for a taste of what’s to come for the upcoming model year.
All I had to do to get there was to traverse upon I-81, onto I-66 into Washington D.C., and, finally, survive the Beltway to cross into Maryland. Google Maps said it would take nearly five hours and 300 miles to complete, failing to mention the balls of steel needed to thread the needle — me — through rush-hour traffic on one of America’s toughest roads.
A little after 6 p.m., I rolled up to the Rod ‘N’ Reel Inn, the sea breeze flowing through the Chesapeake Bay only yards away.
Upstairs, a comfy bed and a view of the bay awaited me, but not before I headed back down to meet with everyone who had made it to the dinner, where I could meet some of the members of WAPA, while also working to be placed on the press car fleet lists of the manufacturers attending this year’s rally.
On just a couple of hours sleep, I packed up my things the next morning, then grabbed a shuttle bus with a few WAPA Rally attendees to grab our cars before driving a few minutes to this year’s rally HQ at Herrington on the Bay.
Once there, it was only a matter of time until the driving sessions would begin.
One of the cars I’d been interested in driving was the 2020 Nissan Versa. The redesigned subcompact now takes its looks from the current Maxima and 2019 Altima, shaking off a fair bit of its rental-car aura.
I found the steering on the new Versa to be very light, which should make driving around town — where tight parking spots and two-lane roads abound — a less stressful time. I’d certainly would love to take this to my next visit to Planned Parenthood in Richmond, Virginia, whose parking lot is a tight place to be.
The star of the 2019 edition of the WAPA Rally was the 2020 Toyota GR Supra, a better-dressed 2020 BMW Z4 (Toyota and BMW teamed up to build the Supra). I got a chance to take this out with another participant later in the day, and found it to be a joy to drive along the couple or so miles between the staging area and the heart of North Beach, Maryland.
I would certainly take it out on the eight-hour drive to Louisville through the West Virginia Turnpike, though I’d have to make do with the BMW iDrive navigation system until Android Auto is finally implemented. I’d probably also drive it through the twisty country roads to Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virginia for a NASCAR weekend gathering.
The final vehicle I drove that day was the biggest of them all: the 2020 GMC Sierra 2500 AT4 HD. The black behemoth packed a 6.6-liter Duramax turbo-diesel under the hood, whose 445 clydesdales and 910 lb-ft of train-pulling torque all made it to the earth below through a 10-speed Allison automatic.
Along the drive to and from North Beach, I noticed something about the car behind me. It wasn’t anyone of the participants, but likely a resident of the area. I was doing the speed limit, and they likely were, too. Yet, they were hanging far back behind the truck, not once moving further up to claim more space on the road. I guess that’s what happens when you drive a monster.
A few more of my favorites included the new Jeep Gladiator (which I drove with two others without the front doors and, therefore, the sideview mirrors), the Acura TLX PMC Edition (a super-nice sedan with one of the best paint jobs around), and the Honda Pilot Black Edition (the light steering stunned me, as did seeing the same push-button automatic transmission interface found in the aforementioned TLX PMC Edition).
Alas, there were a few cars I didn’t get a chance to drive that day, whether due to timing, because they were manual-transmission cars, or because as soon as I approached, someone else opted to shoot a video with the car. Those cars included the Lexus RC F Track Edition, the Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye, and the Maserati Quattroporte.
One of my favorite moments at the 2019 WAPA Rally wasn’t with a car, though, but with Lisa Barrow, who works with FCA North America as the company’s PR in their eastern U.S. region.
For those of us who’ve watched MotorWeek back in the mid-Eighties and early Nineties, though, Lisa was the program’s longest-serving industry news reporter. She was the second person I met at the dinner the night before (the first being WAPA president William Hopper), and one of the people I spent the most time talking with at the rally itself. She’s truly one of the most wonderful people I’ve met.
Here’s where I give a few shoutouts, beginning with William Hopper for bringing me into the fold, and Lisa Barrow for being awesome. A few more go to Matt IcIvor of Real Posh Cars, Jake Thiewes of Out Motorsports, Bonnie M. Morét of Southern Belle Supernova, Tamara Mlynarczyk at Mazda, Steven Oldham at Nissan, Corey Proffitt at Toyota, Carter McLeod at Carfax, Rhonda Belluso Bambrick at Ford, the lads at Maserati (whose names I’ve forgotten, alas), and everyone else I’ve met at the rally.
And finally, a special shoutout to Shari Afrons at McCullough Public Relations. Without the email she sent to me two months ago about a special Ford Bronco in SoCal, I wouldn’t have a post.
I’ll be back next year.
Photos: Cameron Aubernon/Aubernon Highway