World’s Largest Subaru Meet Proves Diversity Is More than a Marketing Message

Tim Stevens

Every car meet has its own vibe. Some focus on horsepower, some put more of a priority on hooliganism. Some crowds embrace cars that have seen some things, obsessing over original patina and the odors of a vintage interior, while other events take place within a veritable cloud of citrus-scented quick detailer. 

What was the vibe at this year’s Wicked Big Meet, the world’s largest Subaru gathering, located in Stafford Springs, Connecticut? It was all of the above, and then some. 

On one side of the parking lot, I chatted with a group of GC Impreza drivers, owners of the classic model that established Subaru’s motorsports pedigree in the late ’90s. Right next door, a fleet of overland-ready Foresters, Outbacks, and Crosstreks surveyed the action from high atop their lift springs. Meanwhile, an endless sea of pristine, new, VB-era WRXs glistened in the sun, their numbers punctuated by a fair few filthy rally-crossers carrying fresh battle scars. 

Tim Stevens

There were surely some themes at Wicked Big Meet, including more big wings and gold wheels per capita than anywhere else on the planet, but the only true consistency here was a lack of consistency. That, and a strong, mutual respect regardless of whether you cruised in with a bagged purple BRZ or a base Impreza L wagon.

I’ve been to plenty of brand-specific gatherings over the years, but I’ve never seen one so all-encompassing as this. In retrospect, that shouldn’t have been a surprise given what a volume player Subaru is these days. The company is on a 22-month run of consecutive growth, and sold over 630,000 cars in 2023, up from 556,000 the year before. It’s a mass-market success driven in large part by pushing its offerings into new niches. 

Lately, it’s all about the off-road crowd, with the Wilderness series spreading from Outback to Forester to Crosstrek. While lifted wagons aren’t new to the Subaru enthusiast crowd, they were certainly a rarity when Wicked Big Meet started in 2005. 

Adam Owens, DJ for 95.3 WDNH FM, has been the voice of Wicked Big Meet since the very beginning. “Coming up on eight or 10 years ago, SOA [Subaru of America] really got officially involved. And that’s when it just went straight up,” Owens told me. “It’s gone from a parking lot meet to, you know, the real deal.”

That original 2005 parking lot was the Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford, Massachusetts. However, the event’s growing popularity necessitated a change of venue. 

Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway has been the place for over a decade, right in the heart of Subaru-crazy Northeastern U.S. A half-mile oval track best known for its days on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour might not seem like the right venue for a brand whose motorsports exploits typically involve sliding over gravel, but it has proven to be an ideal spot.

For one thing, it has acres of parking, enough for the nearly 8,000 attendees and their bewinged cars.

But, perhaps more importantly, it provides an excellent space for hooning. This year, Subaru brought three stars from its various motorsports endeavors to the show: Rally driver and overall extreme superstar Travis Pastrana, his rally co-driver Rhianon Gelsomino, and pro skateboarder/rallycross driver Bucky Lasek. 

The trio was a huge draw for the attendees, who crowded the oval grandstands to watch as Pastrana and Lasek turned one set of tires after another into smoke. Pastrana wheeled the Family Huckster, a 1983 GL wagon that Subaru built for him to wheel up the hill at Goodwood in 2022. With 862 horsepower on tap and some wild active aero, the donuts and drifts were extreme.

Though Lasek’s former Subaru rallycross machine, which he calls “Betty,” wasn’t nearly as powerful nor as advanced as Pastrana’s, he found the momentum and the commitment to sling the thing sideways through turns one and two and halfway down the back straight before physics finally caught up. It was a mighty drift by any standard.

Tim Stevens

These are antics designed to woo a younger crowd, but the packed grandstands featured just as many gray beards as dark ones. Age, too, was a demographic this event spanned with ease.

Of the attendees I spoke with, Shane Chaudhry was the newest adherent of the brand, making the trip to Connecticut for his second Wicked Big Meet after getting his first Subaru two years ago. He brought that car, a 2018 WRX Premium, from his home in Arizona when he relocated to New Jersey. But it didn’t take him long to add another to his collection, a 2018 WRX STI Type RA. 

Tim Stevens

Chaudhry and friends started Project Mayonaka (“midnight” in Japanese) as an ode to the iconic Mid Night Club in Japan, which, officially at least, no longer exists. But, unlike its namesake, Project Mayonaka isn’t about skirting the law in the wee hours of the morning—this club is more about 2:00 am boba runs.

“When we first moved out here, we wanted to kind of start creating our own little crew, that idea of the late ’90s car culture,” he said. “We’re big into food. We’re big into these late-night runs, but we’re not those drivers where we try to race or anything at night.”

Respect and appreciation of Japanese culture were certainly on display all over the show floor, including plenty of cars with kanji and katakana decals, but the overall feel of the event was all-American. There’s an open, friendly feel here you can’t miss. Everyone was happy to talk about their own cars, and everyone took great pains to express their admiration for everyone else’s machines—even those that wouldn’t turn heads in a grocery store parking lot.

“The coolest thing about Subaru is that it doesn’t matter what kind of car you have, and it doesn’t matter where it’s at in the build process,” Chaudhry told me. When he attended his first Wicked Big Meet last year, he was nervous because his only mods were reproduction wheels and a wing. “Everyone loved the build,” he said. “They were all complimenting it and making me feel really good about it.”

“The original motto of Wicked Big Meet was ‘Come for the cars and stay for the people,’ and they’ve gotten away from that motto, but it still remains true,” Nick Rabchenuk told me. “You can show up and talk to anyone about their car and they will be just as passionate about your car as they will be about their own.”

Rabchenuk owns a 2001 Impreza RS, modified to the hilt “except for the engine,” he said, in an ode to the “slow car fast” ethos. Rabchenuk volunteered at the original meet series when it was just a gathering in that ski resort parking lot, but stepped back as it transitioned to its current, bigger status in Connecticut. 

While the culture has evolved during that time, Rabchenuk said, the overall vibe continues. “It’s a weird thing to describe because the culture, by and large, remains the same, but the audience that the culture takes hold of changes. So, you’ve got a lot of younger generations that are appreciating the newer cars and what they can do out of the box, which is a lot. The cars have become a lot more capable, regardless of if you’re off-roading, or if you’re into street performance, or if you just want a family wagon that is kind of peppy and has an aftermarket,” Rabchenuk said.

“And then you’ve got the weirdos like us that pay attention to the 20-year-old cars. Like, we reverse engineer floormats and stuff like that,” Rabchenuk said. As a fellow weirdo, I can appreciate that shift, but Rabchenuk says that Subaru has done a great job of catering to the niche despite its overall market swelling further into the mainstream. “I don’t think they’re any less enthusiast-focused,” he said.

And the proof is in the car that Subaru of America unveiled at this year’s Wicked Big Meet. The new WRX tS is a special edition of the WRX sedan, featuring a few choice upgrades that enthusiasts have been clamoring for, like adaptive suspension, a six-speed manual transmission, and sports seats. 

Tim Stevens

This follows last year’s WRX TR, itself delivering features that enthusiasts had demanded online, sometimes impolitely. Despite their gregarious nature in person, Subaru fans are notorious for harsh tendencies in online forums, complaining about anything that doesn’t look and drive like a 22B and isn’t available for under $30,000.

If there’s one thing those fans complain about the most it’s a lack of a modern WRX STI, but Rabchenuk doesn’t pay the haters much heed: “Oh, they don’t have an STI anymore,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Who cares? They have a WRX that’ll out-handle an STI from 10 years ago. It’s all what you make it.”

Regardless of the lack of an STI trim on the current WRX, “what you make it” was indeed something that all the participants at Wicked Big Meet lived up to. Young or old, factory-fresh or ’90s vintage, dirt or tarmac—everyone here made the event their own, and didn’t hesitate to share their passion.

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Comments

    Some great cars there. Maybe I’ll have one someday.
    Quite a few crewcuts and workboots. Then there were the men.

    You guys, it’s clouds of vape smoke that come standard with every WRX. Now the Foresters on the other hand…

    I’m surprised that the Airslayer was not onsite…or maybe it was and was not mentioned. Maybe the badest Subie of all!

    I would have liked to have seen pics of some late 80s Subaru XTs or RXs. They are almost extinct, nobody thought of ever saving them. I know they are anemic by today’s standards – even pretty slow by 80s standards – but they were very unique looking inside and particularly on the outside and were some of the very, very few passenger cars that had AWD in that era.

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