Doane Yawger: Car enthusiasts will miss Fresno event

March 17, 2012 

Doane Yawger, Sun-Star reporter

MERCED SUN-STAR

Genuine disappointment is the best way to describe my reaction when I learned the longtime promoter of the Fresno Autorama would no longer be producing his annual custom car show.

I always want to be genuine; for sure it's a bummer of epic proportions. It leaves a major void.

Blackie Gejeian has staged the Fresno Autorama since 1958; the show was last held in 2010, and the 2011 event was canceled because of Gejeian's ongoing health problems. The 85-year-old Gejeian recently announced continuing medical trouble has made producing such an event impossible anymore.

I've been going to the show since it was held at the Fresno County Fairgrounds. The event moved downtown to the Fresno Convention Center in 1999 and just seemed to get better each year.

There aren't any more big custom car shows in the San Francisco Bay Area either. Now the closest show is in Sacramento and I plan to keep attending that one.

Equivalent events are held in Portland, Ore., and Pomona. It's much tougher to find the time, or money, to justify going that far away.

You might ask why someone else couldn't take over the show. It could happen at some point, but Gejeian is a tough act to follow and anyone who attempts the feat might be doomed to criticism and failure.

A hot-rodder since the 1940s, Gejeian certainly has an eye for groundbreaking hot rods and customs. He was the only car show promoter in the country who personally invited all his entrants.

If Gejeian didn't like your car or truck, it just wouldn't be invited. That meant he had to attend the other big car shows throughout the United States to see what struck his fancy.

Gejeian personally arranged where each car would be positioned on the show floor and was sensitive to certain paint combinations, or worse yet, color clashes. It's doubtful anyone else would have the skills and energy to accomplish such a detail-oriented task.

There's quite a bit of thought put into how show cars and trucks are displayed and the lighting needed to highlight all the dazzling features. Gejeian was an unrivaled master of these techniques.

I've got plenty of memories stored up from my visits over the years. Many times one or more of my car buddies and I would go to the show on Saturday and have a nice dinner afterward before heading home.

There was always plenty to talk about and my friends took pictures they later shared. It made for a terrific and manageable day.

My hobby room has a colorful fabric banner advertising the 2001 Fresno Autorama that Gejeian personally signed. A few years later, my grandson and I attended the autorama.

Now 18 years old, my grandson stood in line waiting for the always gracious customizer-designer and "Overhaulin' " television personality Chip Foose to autograph his picture. Each time I attended, Gejeian found at least a few minutes to chitchat about car stuff before other details intervened.

Cruise nights are wonderful and the outdoor car shows are great, too. The indoor events are terrific as well, but one of the best is gone.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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