​Hot-rodding … Far East-style

Presentation is everything at the Yokohama Hot Rod Custom Show

One of the things that’s great about working at Progressive is that you never know where a casual conversation will take you.

A few weeks ago, I ran into Scott Menke in the break room. Scott works on our Web sales team, but that wasn’t what got us chatting.

Scott had recently returned from a trip to Japan—his first trip overseas. Never having been to Japan, but interested in its culture, I asked about his trip, and what brought him there.

Pinstriping … from cars to clocks

Turns out Scott’s been into customizing classic cars since he was a teenager—he even has a side business pinstriping anything from cars to clocks—and his trip to Japan centered on the 23rd annual Yokohama Hot Rod Custom Show. It’s a legendary show for custom car or motorcycle aficionados across the world interested in seeing what some of the most talented builders in the world have created.

“A co-worker of mine who works with Progressive’s classic car insurance partner, Hagerty, overheard me talking about how I’d love to go to the Yokohama show one day,” Scott says. “He told me he has a brother living in Tokyo who could show me around and be my tour guide. That was all I needed to hear—you never know when you’ll have a chance to do something like this.”

Zen and the art of custom car displays

Of course, there are tons of hot rod shows here in the U.S., and Scott has been to plenty over the years. But, nothing prepared him for what he discovered in Japan.

“Even while I was exploring Tokyo before the show began, I was blown away by the level of care and attention to detail everywhere,” says Scott. “For such a large city, the presentation of even the smallest items was incredible—from limitless selections of hot and cold beverages in fancy vending machines, to buying a donut at a bakery and watching the clerk carefully tape the bag shut and present it to me like I was making a high-end purchase. It really set the tone for what I’d see at Yokohama: presentation was everything.”

Once he got to the show—along with about 15,000 other folks—this pattern continued. Everything was well-thought-out and customized, down to the last detail.

“The displays themselves were over-the-top, even before I’d notice the car or motorcycle,” Scott explains. “One guy—displaying an awesome custom-painted motorcycle with layers of paint making the fuel tank look almost translucent—had an intricate, boomerang-shaped coffee table in front of the bike. He had carefully fanned his business cards out on the table, with a small, perfectly-placed fern tying it all together. It looked so cool; I had never seen anything like this in the States.”

“Be calm, not loud”

Another thing that stood out to Scott about this show were the dozen or so featured cars and bikes. These weren’t on the floor when the show started, but made grand entrances beginning outside the venue, through the throngs of spectators, and up to their exhibition spots. The crowd went nuts for these spectacles—all Scott could do to capture the moments was to hold his camera-phone above the crowd and hope for a few good shots. Even these grand entrances had a unique quality.

“The theme for this year’s show, ‘Shizukani—Be Calm, Not Loud,’ might seem strange for a hot rod show. But, the venue was close to several high-rise apartments and retail areas. So, out of respect for those surroundings, everyone was encouraged to tone things down—and people really did, even during these crazy entrances,” Scott says. “It was just another cool, ‘wow-factor’ about the show for me. It was wonderful seeing people so engaged, yet so respectful of everything and everyone there.”

Getting in the mix

A bonus for Scott was that the Yokohama shows also feature custom pinstriping contests, where each year artists show off their talents on a certain type of object. This year, it was clocks. Scott—who over the last 10 years has pinstriped hundreds of things, from motorcycle helmets to classic cars—couldn’t pass up the chance to enter something special.

“My entry got some attention because I was the only American out of the 100 or so entries, and it was really cool meeting the other artists, exchanging business cards, and so forth,” he says. “And some of the other entries were stunning—maybe not the easiest clocks to actually tell time with, but that wasn’t really the point.”

Now that he’s back in the States, Scott is getting ready to do some more pinstriping—this time at the Progressive Insurance International Motorcycle Show in Cleveland on January 30 – February 1, 2015. He’ll be a featured artist in Progressive’s “Garage,” doing pinstriping demonstrations on motorcycle helmets.

“After my experiences in Yokohama, I’m going to make sure I have my act together for the IMS show,” Scott adds. “I remember walking around and seeing guys with white gloves, furiously polishing the tiniest details of their cars, bikes and displays. I’ve always been a fairly neat person, but after seeing that I thought, ‘Man, the first thing I’m going to do when I get home is clean up and re-organize my shop!’

“After all, presentation is everything.”