Interview: Vince Venteno of El Barrio Car Club

Chicago Urban Art Society hosts Slow + Low on Sunday, August 14 to honor the pioneers and masters of the lowrider community, and you can’t talk about lowriding OGs in Chicago without mentioning El Barrio Car Club, which will be honored along with a special tribute for their founder “Gerry” Ramirez, who passed away in 2005.

Come out to see why Chicago’s lowriders can go toe to toe with any other in the country. Give us a full year to stunt, and we’ll be right there with anyone in the world. As Vince is about to tell you, the foundation has been laid for Chicago to flourish forever.

Gozamos: Hey Vince. Thanks for your time. So what’s the No. 1 thing you look for in a car and a potential club member?
Vince Venteno: First and foremost, we’re a car club, so a car is required. We look at the character of an individual, someone who’s not cocky or ignorant. We have no need for drama queens. We have a strict anti-drug policy, and we’ve had no drugs since the beginning. We all came from that gangbanging upbringing in the city, so we’re getting away from all that.

Tell our readers about the history of El Barrio Car Club.
We started in 1989, founded then by Gerry Ramirez, who passed away in June of 2005. Paul Anaya and Chino hung out all the time. They’re big car guys who were always in the garage working on their cars, and people wanted to cruise with them. It just took off from there.

How did you get started/interested in cars?
As long as I can remember, I’ve been into cars. I’d be washing it everyday, even in the cold. I’m a car guy. Back in the day, we’d go to Incinerators on Cicero and Division to race. I wanted to have what they had. You are who you associate yourself with, so if you hang out with knuckleheads, you’ll become a knucklehead. Also, knowing how to take care of your own car is huge, because you’ll go broke paying someone else to take care of it.

How do you feel Chicago’s lowrider scene stacks up with the rest of the nation?
Well, we’re limited weather-wise, going from basically mid-May to mid-September (maybe even less time than that), but the heavy hitters are here. Los Angeles can go year-round, but the heavy hitters are definitely here. We went down to Dallas, and we could’ve cleaned house there. We can definitely compete with anybody, and I love the competition.

What is your favorite thing about Chicago? Least favorite?
Favorite is downtown, the beautiful skyline and the sports. Least favorite is the expressways that drive me crazy. There’ll be traffic on 290 all day, even at 3:00 in the morning.

Why is lowriding important?
It all depends on how you view lowriding. To me, it’s a way out. It’s an expensive hobby, but I’d be spending my money on other dumb stuff anyway. Lowriding can be anything though. Cars, crazy paint jobs, imagination, all that’s important. Now that we’re older, our kids and our family come out to shows, so that’s important. It’s a lifestyle. It’s not just cruising.

What kinds of things can we expect from El Barrio in the future?
We’ve been around for 20 years, so we’re bringing up the second generation now. (Founder) Gerry’s son is about to get his license, and he’s a car nut. He’s excited about showing off some of his dad’s cars and getting out there. Other than that, we’re looking to throw our first ever car show of our own. We’ve done toy drives and food drives, we’ve never thrown a show of our own, so that’s coming up.

Do you have an all-time favorite car?
(After taking his time to contemplate) Impala. Everybody’s got them, but I’d do something different to mine.

What inspires you?
Family. Family, definitely. You got ups and downs in life, but family’s what you have to fall on. It’s the most important thing.

Any last words for the lowriding nation today?
We’ve been here for 20-plus years, and we’ll be going for another 20. You’ll be seeing us…