Life In the Fast Lane

Dukes of Hazard was the rage when Mike Garland ’01 was young. He was so captivated by the series that he named his dog, Bo Duke, after the show’s fictional main character. As public relations manager at Carlisle Events, one of Garland's dreams came true when he worked with John Schneider, aka Bo Duke, during an event featuring the show’s famed 1969 Dodge Charger.

Mike Garland '01 and Sarah Burkarth '14 at their Carlisle Events office.

Mike Garland '01 and Sarah Burkarth '14 at their Carlisle Events office.

Ford Nationals at Carlisle Events.

Ford Nationals at Carlisle Events.

The Carlisle Events Corvette show is so popular that Corvette honored Carlisle Events with its own color—Carlisle Blue.

The Carlisle Events Corvette show is so popular that Corvette honored Carlisle Events with its own color—Carlisle Blue.

“This is a guy I admire and got to watch on TV,” he said. “Now I get to have a drink with him and hang out with him.”

Garland has met a handful of celebrities and their legendary rides over the last six years as he has promoted dozens of car shows for Carlisle Events in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. A large chunk of that promotion is done in partnership with Sarah Burkarth ’14, who took on the company’s new social media coordinator position last year.

Garland said their workday is as fast-paced as the sports cars they promote. “I probably fit twelve months of work into ten months. It’s such a breakneck pace,” Garland said.
In 2016, they’ll promote eleven shows to local, national, and international media.

“This is the type of job that you can easily work from 4:00AM to 11:00PM, but I’d rather have a twenty-hour day than eight hours of doing nothing,” he said. “There’s a lot that comes up in this job.”

Mention Central Pennsylvania to someone from out of state, and don’t be surprised if they have a connection to what many motor heads call their “automotive hometown.” For more than forty years, Carlisle Events and the Carlisle Fairgrounds have hosted some of the largest car and truck collection events in the country. From its first event in 1974 that drew 13,000 spectators, the company today attracts nearly 100,000 car enthusiasts during its spring show—the largest annual event. Other locally held shows feature import and performance cars, Ford, GM, Chrysler, trucks, and, of course, Corvettes. The latter is so renowned that in 2012, Corvette honored Carlisle Events with its own color—Carlisle Blue.

However, Garland is quick to point out, “We’re not just cars in a field. These events are like a big festival with live music, good food, and tailgating.”

Burkarth said she enjoys the family-friendly atmosphere at these events. Garland added that if you like museums and history, you’ll find plenty to enjoy at a car show. The events include nearly 100 years of automotive history on display, he said.

“You don’t have to be a car geek to have a good time here. We’re looking to promote the whole company and its events.” Among other responsibilities, Garland works with local and national media, special guests, celebrities, and production companies to promote events. He also works the grounds during shows and cohosts events. Garland describes the workload as demanding but rewarding.

42

seasons at Carlisle Events

500,000+

visitors from around the world
over the course of the season

$100 million

local economic impact

100

years of automotive history on display
at Carlisle Events

1913

oldest vehicle displayed,
De Dion-Bouton Trike

$181,000

highest-selling vehicle, Burt Reynolds'
Smokey and the Bandit  
1977 Pontiac Trans Am (Spring Carlisle 2015)

“The key to working here is that there’s something different every day. It’s not wash, rinse, repeat.”

The challenge today is to attract a younger audience, which is where Burkarth comes in, Garland said. “New media is the way of the future. For our company to be successful for another forty years, we need to be on that.”

Burkarth said that starting her position with fresh eyes was an advantage. “Honestly, that’s what my supervisor liked most about me, that I wasn’t biased.”

Each event is a learning experience as she gains more knowledge about the cars and the visitors they attract. As part of her job, she interviews guests and writes a profile on them.

“One man wrote me a letter saying he was so touched that, after his wedding and the birth of their child, Carlisle Events was one of the best experiences of his life,” she said. “People like when we can make them feel special.”

Mike Garland hanging out with the one-and-only Burt Reynolds.

Mike Garland hanging out with the one-and-only Burt Reynolds.

She said much of her early work with social media was trial and error—posting daily, monitoring which posts did well, seeing how her audience responded. Right now, her audience is mostly middle-aged men who are dedicated to their cars. Their goal is to use social media to diversify the existing crowd. Thanks to her work, Carlisle Events already has seen a 35 percent increase in social media engagement over the last year.

5,000+

Corvettes on display at
Corvettes at Carlisle

55,000+

visitors to  
Corvettes at Carlisle

3,000+

Fords on display at  
Ford Carlisle Nationals

50,000+

visitors to  
Ford Carlisle Nationals

Chrysler Carlisle
Nationals

World’s largest all-mopar-
themed swap meet:

“I like that this isn’t a conventional job,” Burkarth said. “I don’t just sit at a desk. I learn more every day.”

Their mutual Ship connection is an added bonus. Both communication/journalism grads, the two enjoy sharing and comparing their classroom and social experiences. Although they graduated years apart, Garland and Burkarth learned key lessons at Ship that led them to where they are today—get involved, work hard, be diverse, and network. They also work with Ed Buczeskie ’99, who earned a BSBA in management and is now the event manager for the Carlisle Chrysler Nationals and co-event manager of the Carlisle Import and Performance Nationals.

“I still have good connections with core people at Ship, and some I still work with,” said Garland, who returns to campus to speak with communication/journalism majors. “The media is ever-evolving, but at the end of the day, we still have these Ship experiences in common.”