If the annual MINIs On Top event in Bartlett, New Hampshire were to have its own catch phrase, it might well be, “The show must go on!” Celebrating a 19th straight year, MINIs On Top has seen highs and lows, but it’s one MINI event that has never wavered is its ability to draw in MINI owners no matter what conditions are.
This year, being on the heels of a global pandemic, attendance could have been abysmally low; in fact, several early signs suggested just that. For example, at previous MINIs On Top events, dozens of MINIs gathered in staging at MINI of Bedford in Bedford, NH, before the drive up to Bartlett, but this year only three MINIs lined up for before the drive up. Oddly, the Lyon-Waugh dealership didn’t send out anything to their mailing list indicating their support of the event and when to show up, which almost certainly contributed to the small staging turnout. Even more strange were the four MINI owners who showed up for the MINI of Bedford swag, but said they were off to do something other than MINIs On Top – very weird and un-MINI (and unkind to the event organizers and the dealership welcoming them and handing them a goodie bag of free things).
Thankfully, 220 enthusiastic attendees, and 120 MINIs, showed up at the final destination and reminded those who have been before of why we keep coming back to MINIs On Top. Best of all, around 60 of the attendees in 2021 were new to the event.
Although MotoringFile didn’t cover MINIs On Top 2020, the event indeed took place. MINIs On Top 2020 was postponed from June to August 2020. With extra safety measures in place, 100 MINIs and 175 people braved the event – if nothing else, NorthEast MINI owners are tenacious. Maybe the fact that the event takes places in the Live Free or Die state helps.
For those unfamiliar with MINIs On Top, it is a two-day event that starts on Friday with an Ice Cream Social at Attitash Grand Summit Hotel. Friday night is when motorers mingle and get to know one another, while an Event Coordinator hosts a themed trivia contest for a cash prize. Most years I have attended, the winning team donates their winnings to the event’s charity.
Also present for everyone to review in the ballroom on Friday evening, are donated prizes from sponsors like OutMotoring, MINI of Bedford/MINI of Peabody, and many more.
Each year MINIs On Top donates some of the proceeds to a selected charity, and this year’s charity was Friends of Forgotten Children.
Saturday morning, all attendees met up in a large parking lot where several activities happen before noon, including:
• A boot sale – MINI merchandise is on sale from local vendors
• Concourse D’ Elegance – Attendees vote for a select group of MINIs who’s owners put them up for judging on things like Most Radical Engine, Cleanest MINI, Dirtiest MINI, Most Creative Display, Best Custom Interior, Best Vinyl Graphics, Best Custom/Unusual Paint, and Best Duck Display (more on the ducks in a moment).
• Route selection – drivers choose which route they want to drive when everyone heads out.
• Driver’s Meeting – Event Coordinators brief all drivers on rules and safety.
Among the attendees this year, and in years past, was Pat McKenna, Department Head, Marketing, Product, Events and Strategy at MINI USA. I had the pleasure of catching up with Pat at MINIs On Top and captured the conversation for a wonderful MotoringFile Podcast where he talks about why MINIs On Top is so special to him. During the Saturday morning festivities, Pat gave an inspirational speech, where he told the crowd why this event is special, and he filled everyone in about the forthcoming MINI Together event, slated for July 24.
Rubber ducks are a staple of MINIs On Top. They are given to attendees in memory of MINI motorer, Ed Smith, who began the tradition before his passing in 2005 to remind people to enjoy life. More on Ed’s legacy at MINIs On Top can be found on the MOT website.
After the driving runs, everyone gathered back at Attitash and winners of the Concourse and all raffle for prizes from the event’s sponsors were announced, along with entertainment, which this year featured a DJ.
To cap off the “On Top” portion of MINIs On Top, most of the drivers and their passengers then headed out to Mt. Washington to ascend all 6,288 ft. (1,917 Meters) of the Auto Road. A time-compressed, 3.5-minute, full 360º view version of the ascent, taken from the top of my JCW (GP) Coupe at this year’s event is available for viewing on YouTube. The views from Mt. Washington are nothing short of spectacular, and you never know whether you’re going to get to the top of the mountain and be surrounded by clouds instead of scenic vistas. Fortune smiled on this year’s event because despite very strong winds, the views from every side of the summit made participants smile. Mt. Washington is a functional scientific observatory so having a time block exclusively for MINIs to be “on top” is a real treat.
The event ended on Sunday. You can view a 16-minute highlight reel of the event here.
Looking at this year’s MINIs On Top, the pandemic put a damper on many things, and this New England classic not only persevered, but seems to be rebuilding. Still, I couldn’t help but recall my first MINIs On top with over 300 cars in attendance, and wonder how we got in a place where rebuilding was needed. Many factors have led to a decrease from the event’s peak turnouts, not the least of which is the large Canadian contingency who normally attend MINIs On Top and weren’t able to enter the US due to travel restrictions in 2020 and 2021.
2021 marked the second year of running the show for Event Coordinator, Keith Fitts. Keith told MotoringFile, “(in 2020) We were so lucky to be able to hold and enjoy a safe event. We knew that MOTorers needed something to look forward to — we also knew that we have the best group and that they would work with us on all safety precautions. I believe we were THE MINI event of 2020, so I am glad we made that call. For 2021 we were fortunate to have receding restrictions on our side — it made organizing the event a piece of cake versus 2020.”
When asked about what some of the factors might be for MINIs On Top attendance being off from the peak of over 300 MINIs, Keith said, “MINI as a brand has evolved since MOT’s inception. While they are still very fun cars, fun is no longer their main purpose. This isn’t a bad thing, but I believe this is why we see lower numbers. We are in touch with a few people from MINI USA and are working on improving the ownership experience and enhancing events like ours. It looks like we are on the cusp of a new era, one where the magic is back and stronger than ever. I am also pleased to see the number of new attendees every year — this means word is getting out and the strength of the MINI community is bolstered. That’s exactly what we need.”
With attendance increasing, the world opening up, and the 20th anniversary of MINIs On Top coming next year, the future of MINIs On Top looks very bright.