Most Friday nights, Ryan Dzurilla jumps into his souped-up black Chevy pickup to attend informal car shows in restaurant or shopping mall parking lots across Northern Virginia.
The 20-year-old Ashburn resident and about a dozen of his friends usually head in a caravan to Sterling, where more than 100 cars -- from one-of-a-kind classics to somewhat newer Mustangs, Mini Coopers and sporty, modified late-model Hondas and Subarus -- gather in the Chick-fil-A parking lot at Dulles Town Center.
Drivers pop the hoods of their vehicles to show off new gadgets that increase their horsepower and speed. Others let their vehicles, some gleaming with chrome accessories, sit pretty as the sun sets over the giant asphalt stage. Spectators, who often bring their children and pets, admire the cars and talk to the proud owners.
"It starts a conversation by opening the hood," said John Robertson, 55, of Reston, who drives a yellow 2003 Mini Cooper that looks like a giant wind-up toy because he added a metal accessory to the rear tow hook.
The informal show, known as Classic Car Cruising, began three years ago when Sam Fletcher, 57, of Herndon drove his white 1962 Chevy Impala to the Chick-fil-A to ask the restaurant to sponsor his annual Sterling Classic Car Event. They gave him 200 sandwiches for the event, which raises money to fight muscular dystrophy, and asked him to come back with his friends and their vehicles on Friday evenings.
Since then, it has grown into one of the most popular of the 20 or so informal car shows that take place in the Washington area every weekend, weather permitting, attracting anywhere from a few dozen to more than 100 spectators in addition to those who bring their vehicles. Participants say the Sterling show stands out for the size of its crowd and its open welcome to any and all vehicles.
The gathering has become so popular that Chick-fil-A is considering limiting the show to older cars, said John Barton, marketing director for the Sterling restaurant. The Silver Diner in Reston already limits its popular Saturday car show to models made before 1974. Cars usually aren't considered classics until they are about 25 years old, Fletcher said.
"We're just thinking long term," Barton said. "We don't have any plans yet to cut down participation."
One recent Friday, Chuck Mecca, 61, of Falls Church parked his curvy red 1956 Ford pickup a few rows away from Dzurilla's 1999 Chevy S10 Xtreme. Like Dzurilla and his friends, Mecca and his wife, Kaye, sometimes spend their weekends at two or three car events.
"These are our weekends out," Kaye Mecca said. On Sundays, she said, they sometimes head to Auto Advantage, a car detailing workshop and accessory store in Leesburg, to talk with other classic car owners.
Most weekends, Dzurilla and his friends head to the spacious parking lot of the Burger King on Nokesville Road in Manassas for another informal car show, which they consider the king of Saturday night car rallies because hundreds attend when the weather is nice.
Informal car events in the Washington area come and go, with some shutting down when parking lot owners receive too many complaints and others opening when public interest increases. Many participants can rattle off a list of new and defunct events in the area.
"They die down and start up somewhere else," Fletcher said.
On the first Friday of some months, Fairfax Town Center lends the top two floors of its parking garage to more than 100 new, imported cars and their younger, louder drivers, some of whom also go to Sterling.
The Sterling show runs every Friday from April to October, from 5 to 8 p.m. The classic cars come earlier and usually head home by 7 p.m., Fletcher said. The newer sports cars roll in later and sometimes stay past 11 p.m.
Older vehicles are the main draw, participants say, because of their uniqueness and nostalgic value.
"A car has to be at least 30 years old for it to be magnetized for people to want to see it," Fletcher said. "They say, 'I used to have one just like it, same color!' "