From Wicked Big Meet to Boxerfest, Robert Champion has built a dream career out of channeling passion for Subaru.
Growing up, Robert Champion knew what he was going to be when he got older: A computer programmer making apps with other ner … errr, software aficionados.
“If you’ve ever seen the show Silicon Valley, I thought that would be my life,” he says with a laugh. “I always thought I’d wind up in tech forever. I had no idea that dealing with real live humans would become part of my future.”
Life has a funny way of leading you in different directions, though, and Champion, 32, no longer spends his day cranking out lines of code or getting in flame wars over the pros and cons of Linux. Instead, he’s the event director for SubieEvents, coordinating meet-ups all over the country for drivers with love for all things Subaru. “In retrospect, it was the perfect fit for me – even though it was completely contradictory to my perceived future in being behind a computer,” he says.
Here’s how Champion moved from data to autocross: in addition to his love of technology, there was something else that drove him – his love of Subaru vehicles. “When I was 17, one of my friends had an Impreza 2.5 RS,” says the Vermont native. “We used to bomb through the mountains in the snow every weekend. To me, that was the coolest thing. I was like, ‘Well, this is obviously the best car because this is what it can do.’ Then, when I turned 18, I got my own 2.5 RS.”
The exhaust competition, a crowd favorite, at Wicked Big Meet. Photo: Ⓒ Ben Haulenbeek
Champion started doing autocross, rallycross, drag races, ice time trials and other events in his Impreza, and slowly got immersed in the Subaru scene. To find parts for his new Subaru, Champion created MySubie.com. It wasn’t the most technologically advanced site, but it was a good way for Subaru owners to meet, trade parts, get tips for souping up their Baja Turbo or WRX and more. As his site got more popular, he became more involved with the social element of the Subaru world.
Then, in 2009, a promising Subaru event called Wicked Big Meet had reached a sticking point – the Connecticut-based get-together was drawing a lot of Subaru fans, but the organizers weren’t sure how to get bigger. That’s where Champion, with his technological/social-network/marketing knowledge, stepped in. “At the time I had just quit my job so I figured I could try to focus on growing this Subaru enthusiast social network,” he says. “I thought, well, I could definitely do events too. I have the bandwidth.”
So it began, and Wicked Big Meet – and Champion – were off and running. Wicked Big Meet had 1,600 visitors in 2010, but he grew it to more than 7,600 last year, the largest Subaru-focused event in the world. Champion began working on other events as well, and he now puts together four big shows a year. These include Boxerfest, held annually in Landover, Maryland; Big Northwest in Portland, Oregon; and Rocky Mountain Subaru Festival in Denver, Colorado. The events include activities, focus on building community, and occasionally feature a big Subaru debut – in 2015, Subaru unveiled its new Series.HyperBlue at Wicked Big Meet and, in 2016, BRZ Series.Yellow.
While the end result is fun (and educational, and awesome) don’t get too rabidly jealous: The day-to-day details of Champion’s work can, at times, actually be a little mundane. The job requires a lot of coordination of various elements. “The other side of my day is still a heavy amount of software development and emails,” he says. So it’s not all glamour and fast cars. But however he’s doing it, it’s working: One of Champion’s biggest problems is that he’s been too successful, and he’s constantly having to upgrade his events to accommodate the crowds.
Robert Champion, left, and Bucky Lasek at Wicked Big Meet. Photo: Jon Difrancesco
“We have a history of growing too much each year,” he says. “Let’s say we design a system to accommodate a couple thousand people, and then two years later 4,000 people are there but we’re still using the same system and then we’re like, ‘Uh-oh. We shouldn’t have done it that way.’ Hiccups like that affect the overall attendee experience.”
Despite the occasional issue, Champion – who’s owned approximately a dozen Subaru vehicles over his life – says he can’t get over the enthusiasm he sees at his events. “I’ve seen more Subaru-oriented tattoos than I could possibly count, and I’ve seen people buzzing [Subaru-inspired designs] into the sides of their heads,” he says. “That kind of loyalty is definitely a far-out thing, but I get it because I have it, too. It’s part of my life.”
Indeed, Champion says his work has become much more than a job: He’s made some incredibly strong friendships through Subaru. “I would say that more than half of my friends have come from the Subaru community, and I mean close friends like people who will be standing around my tombstone someday,” he says. “It’s something that at first was just a car but is now more of a community and is just part of who I am.”
Boxerfest May 1, 2016
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Wicked Big Meet (WBM) June 11, 2016
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Big Northwest (BNW) June 25, 2016
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Rocky Mountain Subaru Festival (RMSF) September 10, 2016
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