Chairman has fond boyhood memories of Chicago Auto Show Bill Stasek remembers going to the Chicago Auto Show as a kid, awed by the wonderful world of cars.

He also has boyhood memories of hanging around the dealership where his father worked in the service department and body shop. "I remember thinking what a great business a car dealership is," he says.

Now Mr. Stasek owns his own dealership, Bill Stasek Chevrolet in Wheeling, IL.

And this year, he's the proud chairman of the 92nd Chicago Auto Show, the venerable event he remembers so fondly as a youngster.

It's a wonderful life.

"I can look over this and say I'm the luckiest guy in the world," says Mr. Stasek as he walks the show floor, noting its vast expanse (840,000 sq. ft. of the McCormick Center) and keeping the place clean as he picks up debris from the carpeting.

The February show attracts a lot of people - 1.2 million. Moreover, many of them are shopping for a vehicle, according to Mr. Stasek.

"This is a consumer show," he says.

Unlike Detroit's auto show in January and, to a lesser extent, New York's show in April, Chicago's is not a debut revue.

Instead, it's where serious car buyers check out the offerings.

Research indicates 60% of the visitors say they are likely to purchase or lease a vehicle within six months as a result of attending the Chicago show.

Consequently, most Chicago area dealers plug into the event through advertising campaigns and ticket give-aways.

The 800-member Chicago Automobile Trade Association sponsors the extravaganza. Eighteen association directors put in a lot of time and "many, many dealers cooperate in making the show come off," says Mr. Stasek.

The Chicago dealers association is the nation's oldest of its kind. Annual new-car sales of association members total $16 billion. Total sales are more than $28 billion.

A Chicago-area native, Mr. Stasek graduated from college with an industrial engineering degree. He then worked a few years for 3M.

But in 1972, Clarence Marquardt, an Oldsmobile dealer, for whom his dad worked, convinced Mr. Stasek to join the store's sales staff.

In 1973, he became used-car sales manager for Tom Todd, a Chevrolet dealer in Wheeling. Mr. Stasek became a partner in 1986, then bought out Mr. Todd last year.

As a General Motors dealers he's been heartened of late by some of the corporation's attempts to improve dealer relations that had soured because of several corporate initiatives. One of those was an aborted plan to buy dealerships.

Says Mr. Stasek, "That was not the way to go. Dealers provide a necessary and worthwhile service. I don't see a better way.

"Dealers like myself put our money on the line every day.

"I take seriously what I do for a living. I enjoy it, and I enjoy seeing customers happy. It's all about relationships."

Mr. Stasek became involved in the Chicago Automobile Trade Association early on, moving up the ranks to the prestigious position of auto show chairman.

"Next year it will be, 'Bill who?'," he jokes of his potentially fleeting fame. "But you know what? In a way I'm looking forward to that."