I should get excited when I’m paid to go to car shows but I admit I wasn’t exactly gleeful when I heard I was to cover Goodguys Great Northwest Nationals in Spokane. On one hand it was a blessing; I have lots of pals in Spokane and every year I use the show as a good reason to visit them. And to be fair the event is pretty good: it attracts a number of feature-worthy cars. But would it attract enough cars to warrant full-blown coverage, much less a Painless Performance Products/Street Rodder Top 100 selection?

Mine weren’t the only reservations. Goodguys established the show 10 years ago and for just about as long Spokane locals have pondered its fate. You see, Spokane is a neat-looking oasis in the middle of pretty much nowhere, a way station rather than a destination. That isn’t a critique, mind you; the city owes its existence to its proximity to really remote industrial areas. Case in point, investment by Northern Pacific, Union Pacific, Great Northern, and Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific railroads once made Spokane one of the country’s most critical junctions. In fact the city’s 600,000 residents make it quite a populated place.

Unfortunately, you’d have to cast a net several hundred miles wide to double that figure, which is really necessary to underwrite a good event. Denver, for example, has effectively the identical population as Spokane, however, the metro area has 1.9 million more people. What’s more, west Colorado and most of Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, and parts of Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico are within half a day’s driving distance of the Denver Metro area.

But unless one lives in the immediate area, attending an event in Spokane is a fair bit of investment. For comparison, the Colorado Nats get about 2,000 cars. Spokane gets a bit more than half of that and somehow I recall that the threat of rain last year or the year prior seemed to discourage even more potential attendees. What’s worse, since so many come from so far away they often leave early on Sunday or even Saturday night, if only to get home early enough to rest up for the upcoming week. People simply flee the grounds on Saturday afternoon.

This sort of played on my nerves. It may seem fun at face value but selecting Top 100 cars is a real chore; to do it properly means striking a balance among early, late, high-tech, traditional, big-budget, and low-cost cars. Would I have the luxury of that variety? Anticipating the worst, I actually began scouting cars at the Pacific Northwest Nationals in Puyallup. And if I were to find 10 cars worthy of Top 100 status at Spokane would their owners stick around for the Sunday awards ceremony? For that matter would they stick around on Saturday night if I wanted to shoot their cars?

I wouldn’t quite call it surprised but I was certainly relieved by this year’s turnout. The event was—at least based on my experience over the past few years—the best I’d seen. And I wasn’t alone, either. Attendees often judge events on where they had to park, a big deal if the promoter doesn’t pay attention to the grounds. Most people I spoke to were enthusiastic about this year’s event and even their parking places. And enthusiasm is sort of a consumer-confidence index; people are happy if they feel they got their money’s worth.

But that’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement. One thing that the Great Northwest Nats lacks is a center. Pleasanton, for example, has a really pretty main street lined with cafes and shops that fill up as the fairground empties. The fairground crowd hardly disperses at night during the Pacific Northwest Nats in Puyallup. Specifically Saturday night, attendees stick around well beyond the official operating hours. Goodguys capitalizes on it by hiring entertainment.