MINI drivers thinking big

HOUGHTON – When BrewFest weekend rolls around August 15-17, don’t be surprised if you see a MINI Cooper or two zipping around Copper Country roads. Don’t worry if you see dozens, or hundreds, in fact – it’s not because you sampled too many microbrews.

The small, boxy, mostly British-made sportsters will actually be in town for the first ever Keweenaw MINI Rendezvous, a gathering of the iconic cars and their owners dreamed up by BrewFest organizer Mike Rose and fellow MINI owner Keith Riley.

The pair have created a website and Facebook page to recruit MINI enthusiasts from all over the county and beyond, and are putting the call out locally to MINI owners who might want to participate in the event, which they hope will draw between 100 and 300 cars and drivers for a weekend of camaraderie and high-performance fun.

“Last summer, when they tried to break the record for MINIs in one spot, they had 840 cross the Mackinac Bridge in a row,” Rose said, noting that local clubs of MINI owners are known to gather regularly with others to celebrate their stylish rides.

“I always wondered how to make an event that would bring people from outside the area,” he said. “I don’t know if people will come this far, but if the model works we could do Corvettes, bikes, whatever.”

Part of the plan, he said, is to increase BrewFest ticket sales, thus raising money for the Keweenaw Community Foundation. Profits from the rendezvous’ $40 entry fee would also go to the foundation.

Riley said his MINI had long been more than just transportation, but he didn’t realize how many other people felt the same until recently, and how much energy they put into personalizing their vehicles.

“The owners treat it like a lifestyle,” he said. “These people are really passionate about their cars. It’s hard to find two alike.”

Riley added he’d like to see an informal U.P. MINI-drivers group grow out of the rendezvous, and possibly meet a few times each summer.

They could be called “the Yooper Coopers,” he suggested.

Rose said the biggest draw to the MINIs was the unique driving experience.

“MINIs like to go around curves. It’s like driving a go-cart,” he said, except that his MINI also has a 133 mph top speed. Of course, the tiny vehicles are also fuel efficient – the reason for their original design – and get about 40 miles per gallon on the highway.

The handling, Rose said, is what should make the Copper Country such a big draw to MINI owners, as the main event Friday Aug. 15 will include a round-trip drive from Houghton to Copper Harbor, exploring some of the curviest roads to be found in the Midwest.

The day will start with a gathering at the Michigan Technological University SDC and a parade through downtown Houghton and Hancock before the drivers split up and choose their own routes to Copper Harbor. They’ll regather there for lunch, then return to town on their own before getting together again that night to celebrate at the Continental Fire Company.

On Aug. 16, MINI drivers can check out local attractions or sample the BrewFest in the afternoon, with their driving for the day behind them.

Riley said he and Rose had so far contacted about 30 MINI clubs and 25 dealers within about a 1,000-mile radius of the Keweenaw.

“Right now we’ve got registrations from five different states and Ontario,” he said.

To learn more, search Keweenaw MINI Rendezvous on Facebook, or to register, go to keweenawminirendezvous.com.