Starting a car club was never in Clint Powell’s plans.
Getting together with his buddies to show off his 2010 Chevrolet Camaro, 1977 Chevrolet Corvette and 1969 Mercury Cougar XR7 was a favorite pastime for the 49-year-old Aberdeen resident.
But “I had no intention whatsoever of starting an actual organization,” he says.
That changed when one of his friends was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.
“I wanted to do a car show and use the proceeds to help him out financially and to boost his morale, but I quickly realized that you have to be a real organization, or sponsors and businesses don’t take you seriously,” he says.
So in 2012 he created the Pistons Street Rods, a nonprofit organization that he’d use not just for organizing car shows and sharing a common love for classic automobiles, but to help community members going through tough times.
“Once I created the club, local help started rolling in and made life a whole lot easier,” says Powell, who serves as president of the club. “Once that happened we realized we couldn’t stop here. We had to keep going and keep finding people to help out.”
The club now has around 30 members and holds around eight to 10 events each year with proceeds or donated items going to a person or organization they select.
Members say socializing with other automobile enthusiasts is a big draw to the Pistons. The group can be seen cruising their cars outside Churchville’s Arctic Circle restaurant on Wednesdays, weather permitting, where curious spectators often approach with questions. There’s also some playful boasting among members.
“We get together and lie about how fast our cars are even though we don’t drive them like we did in high school,” says Russell Yocum of Bel Air, a three-year member in his 60s who owns a 1998 Chevrolet Corvette.
The Pistons also show off their rides on the third Friday of each month at Aberdeen Festival Park, where they hold an annual Christmas Toy Run Car Show each December.
Instead of an entry fee, those entering their cars in the Toy Run are asked to bring an unwrapped toy for the Harford Community Action Agency, which offers programming and services to county residents experiencing financial hardship.
The show has generated as much as three and a half pickup truck loads of toys, with cars numbering in the hundreds.
The cause hits close to home for club member Karen Wilhelm.
“My boy is a teenager now, and to see his face in the morning when Christmas comes is priceless,” says the 52-year-old Whiteford resident. “You have families who can’t afford to buy their kids any kind of toy at all, so it’s nice to know that we’re helping in some way to make sure that some children will wake up and have some kind of present that they wouldn’t ordinarily get. ”
Wilhelm has been a member for five years and enjoys bringing her 1965 Ford Mustang Coupe to events. Though she likes the club’s fun, competitive nature — “We do have a great time teasing each other and saying ‘my car is better than yours’ and vice versa,” she says — the cars are just a bonus.
“A lot of us are working to barely make ends meet, but you don’t realize that there’s a lot of people who can’t work and can’t make ends meet because of medical problems or a loss in their family,” Wilhelm says.
When the club first approached Aimee Grebe saying that they wanted to raise money to help her out, she didn’t want the funds.
Her fiance, Patrick Dailey, died in a shooting along with fellow Harford County Sheriff Deputy Mark Logsdon at Panera in February 2016.
They had dated for more than eight years before that tragic afternoon, but because they weren’t married, Grebe didn’t receive monetary benefits (like life insurance payouts) after his death.
She ran a graphic design business that Powell and the car club used through the years. So when Powell heard of her loss, he jumped at the opportunity to hold a car show and donate the proceeds to Grebe.
“When the club came to me and said that they chose me as a [beneficiary], I was not on board with that at first because there are so many other people who need it more than I do,” Grebe says.
But after talking with some friends, she went along with the plan and said that she was shocked at how people were willing to help.
“It was a tough situation that I was in because some people thought that I had gotten some money after Patrick’s death,” Grebe says. “I was so extremely grateful because I didn’t work for a long time and really needed some money. I was so very appreciative, and it was very humbling.”
In many cases, though, the club is a behind-the-scenes benefactor, a role members like Yocum relish.
“We don’t talk about it a whole lot because it’s more fun to stay semi-anonymous,” he says. “You can be extremely helpful without anyone ever saying thank you.”
Toy Run at Aberdeen Festival Park
Dec. 9, noon-3 p.m.
Bring an unwrapped toy to enter the car show, or spectate for free.