Owner's Club News
By Enrique Zuniga
Even as a convention advisor it is not often that one has an opportunity to visit the venues of an upcoming convention, so when I received an invite to attend an evening convention planning meeting late last fall, I did not hesitate… and the visit quickly became an overnight stay at the convention hotel with a preview of what was in the works for our annual AROC gathering.
I fired up the Spider engine at 5am on the day of the meeting, setting off for the six-hour drive from northern NJ to Pittsburgh via the route with the most curves – the one that cuts through the mountains, of course… It’s always a joy to hear the engine purr turn into a roar as the nimble bella macchina cuts through the curves and cold morning air as the sun keeps rising.
Despite the forecasted possible rain that materialized into a full snow for forty-five minutes, I made it on time to the first venue: DoubleTree by Hilton Pittsburgh Cranberry hotel.
Upon exiting the Spider I met my host: convention organizer and Pittsburgh chapter secretary, and 2019 Convention Chairman, Bernie Martin. I had spoken with Bernie many times over the phone and via video conference, but this was the first time we got to shake hands. As we stepped into the hotel lobby, I was taken in by the spacious feel and natural bright light afforded by the modern, totally open, layout.
The lobby, lounge, dining room and bar are completely unobstructed from any view point and the elevator’s glass wall allows for panoramic observation while riding up five stories. As we toured the hotel’s meeting rooms and business facilities, I took note of the gym, as well as an indoor pool and another pool outdoors. My room was impeccable, and my overnight stay would turn out to be most pleasant.
When we exited the hotel, Bernie pointed out that we were only 20 minutes from the second venue on our list: Pittsburgh International Race Complex. This re-modeled site offers perhaps the most comfortable setting we’ve ever had for our traditional Track Day.
In addition to the expected driver and meeting room facilities we will have access to the air-conditioned VIP area which is often used to host large dinners and gatherings. I can see many of us enjoying a drink in total comfort while watching the competition taking place on the track below.
We will be running on a 1.6 mile course with 13 turns and exiting changes in elevation. As the track manager drove us around the course a few times, with the fun meter revving high, we commented on the opportunity for every AROC convention attendee to drive this course through what I am calling an Enhanced Parade Laps Experience.
Our traditional Autocross will also take place at the track premises. With the largest
paved area for an autocross that I have ever seen at a convention, this is a course
designer’s dream. Seasoned competitors and their cars will have ample staging room.
Furthermore, we will have a low-key staging area for a Novice Only group. As a full
motor sports facility, this complex also has a Go-Kart course. Karting has become very
popular because it is a blast and the course will be open during our Track Day.
The third venue stop was Jergel’s Rhythm Grille. From the onset, an evening at Jergel’s has been an enthusiastic component of the vision for this convention. Upon reading the website description however, “Jergel's Rhythm Grille" offers a unique live music experience in the Pittsburgh area with a 600-person capacity, full restaurant menu, cigar bar and patio!”.
My vision was that of crowded bar, with loud music that made it impossible to communicate without screaming and appealing only to a very young age group.
Well, I could not have been more wrong. First, the setting is impressive and enormous. The pictures on the web do not do it justice. In the main floor, off to the side, there is a very cool looking and inviting oval bar with comfortable seating for at least 100 people. Yes, I counted!
The well-thought out bar area is not just generously spacious all around, but it does not collide in the least with the stage and main viewing area in front of the stage. In addition to the first floor, there is the even better second floor, which is the one negotiated for our convention. It is accessible via stairs or elevator, as the Jergel’s manager giving us the walk through pointed out.
Our convention will have full and exclusive access to the second floor, which has capacity for 250 people. The second floor has a square opening that overlooks the first floor, including the stage. The opening is built with a ledge for drinks and food and furnished with 60 plus chairs, each of which provide a front row seat to the stage below.
This floor also has an inviting bar, off to the side, with comfortable seating for 45 people. Furthermore, almost an entire wall of the second floor is lined with large booths and there are plenty of tables arranged throughout. I can honestly say that my vision of a crowded room was replaced with the reality of an easy-to-walk-around-and-mingle adult setting. Two-hundred and fifty of us will fit nicely and none of us will have to fight for a chair.
At this point it was clear that Jergel’s has a great setting, good food, drinks and reasonable prices, but I still had to ask about having to scream over music in order to communicate?
As it turns out, Bernie was already several steps ahead of me. The evening reserved for the convention features the music of accomplished musicians "Three Car Garage" who have already been selected and confirmed specifically by our chapter hosts. We will be on the second floor enjoying a lovely evening, and others not associated to our convention may also enjoy our evening, but from the first floor only.
Last, the main parking lot in front of the entrance has been reserved for Alfa Romeo cars only.
The last venue we visited was the Pittsburgh Golf Club, founded in 1896. The convention will hold a Friday dinner at the Club as well as Car Show and Concours weekend. As expected, the grounds are beautiful, the place is immaculate, and classy with a sophisticated vintage feel. Our Alfas will feel very much at home in such elegant premises.
After a very full day, Bernie and I returned to the convention hotel for a full planning meeting. I got to meet some great AROC members. The majority were from the Pittsburgh chapter, of course, but there were other volunteers from neighboring chapters as well. A lot was discussed, but it is very important to note that while our convention is taking place, the city of Pittsburgh will be hosting the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, a major charity event which includes two weekends of historic races.
Our host AROC chapter, Three Rivers Alfisti, has been proudly participating heavily in the PVGP event for many years. While our convention is a distinct event, with activities open to AROC members only, the Car Show and Concours weekend will take place within the PVGP setting, which also includes spectating the historic races that take place on that weekend.
Furthermore, Alfa Romeo has been named as one of two featured marques of this year’s PVGP, and therefore AROC convention attendees may register for overlapping activities. All PVGP historic Alfa Romeo racers, AROC members or not, will be staying at the convention hotel.
The following morning, I got into the Spider for the drive back to northern NJ. This time however, hoping to avoid another unpredicted snow storm, I opted for the reliable, albeit boring, interstate highways. The interstates have these wonderful easy-to-read and up-to-the-minute informative electronic boards. As I drove these kept displaying a warning for “POSSIBLE EXTREME WHITE-OUT CONDITIONS”… Thankfully those conditions never materialized, and I was able to think about my Pittsburgh visit and enjoy the notion that we are going to have a great convention!
Here you will find the details about upcoming and past events as well as member profiles.