Wheelspin: Annual Sunflower Swap Meet offers chance to socialize

If you don't understand what causes thousands of people to climb out of bed early on a cold February morning, drive perhaps hundreds of miles and then spend the day shuffling up and down aisles full of rusty old car parts, then I'm not going to be able to explain the Sunflower Swap Meet to you.

As you read this, I am most likely among those thousands and I am no doubt having a great time. And there's nothing in particular I am looking for.

The Wichita A's car club has been running the swap meet since 1983, after the two earlier Model A clubs in town joined forces. The meet itself began in 1976 at the Village Flea Market at Pawnee and Meridian, switching to the 4-H building at Tyler and Central the next year. The festivities moved to the Pavilions at the Kansas Coliseum in 1982 and have been there ever since.

John Stone has been involved in every Sunflower Swap Meet except the first two and says the event, along with the club's Christmas auction, has generated at least $65,000 in charitable donations and support for Wichita businesses to date.

A total of 1,050 vendor spaces guarantees there is something for everybody's automotive taste, and Stone said as many as 20,000 people have attended the swap meet over its two-day run in years past.

So how many people actually sell stuff at the swap meet? Stone has no way of knowing, but he figures about 25 percent of those offering cars for sale do sell them.

"A lot of them sell them a month later," he said. "I get calls from people saying, 'I saw this car, a blue Chevy, a '66, and it was about here. Do you have the name of that guy?' " Stone said. Most likely, he does, as he keeps records of each vendor's location. He sometimes is even able to track down specific parts for call-backs.

"It's really a social event, though," he said. "My brother came out from Tucson for it last year. It's something people look forward to... and it's cheap. A two-day parking pass only costs you $7," he said. It's often the only time some people get to see each other during the year, and the story-telling and kidding that take place are legendary.

In short, this is what car guys call "fun." We're lucky to have it.