Every January, as the New Year dawns there is a pilgrimage to the desert Southwest by car enthusiasts from around the globe. In a display of decadence by a very large group of people who have more money than people should rightly have, people purchase cars that were originally priced at a few thousand dollars for hundreds of thousands more. The thrill and competition of a no-reserve auction – coupled with egos of people who are used to getting what they want whenever they want it – turns a sleepy racing offseason into a made-for-television event that’s the definition of the word compelling.
This annual event is the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car auction. Running for six days, this year the Scottsdale, Ariz. event sold 1,200 cars for a staggering total of more than $80 million. In the process, any car that you have ever dreamed of owning likely went across the auction block, a selection that’s truly the cream of crop when it comes to classic automobiles. Anything from Volkswagon Microbuses to Corvettes to Robosauruses are on the block – if you can dream it, you can find it in this six-day oasis of car craziness. But not only do you see some very cool vehicles, you also get to see some celebrities, including some of NASCAR’s stars. Ray Evernham, Tony Stewart and Ken Schrader routinely make appearances at the auction; Stewart purchased cars during the auction on Thursday and Friday, and Evernham purchased at least one car throughout the weekend. When testing at Daytona earlier this month, Stewart even made mention of the importance of the auction to him – it’s become a yearly trip he makes with his buddies before Daytona, the last leg of offseason fun he gets to put in before the gruntwork of Speedweeks begins. And as the “A” list stars pile in and the money piles up, the fun does begin in earnest – it is always interesting getting to see what kind of vehicles strike the fancy of the people that we watch on Sundays.
All too often, you’ll see a famous face appear from the crowd to snag the winning bid, for cars most haven’t seen on the road in decades. Interestingly, though, the entire auction has taken a turn in the last few years. Once dominated by the ’30s and ’40s classics, attention now shifts to the muscle cars of the ’60s and ’70s. The people who grew up in the ’60s and couldn’t afford the muscle cars of the era now have the means to buy the toys they have always wanted – and their enthusiasm shows up in the money they throw up for bid.
Another fun tidbit that comes out of the auction is that there are always several NASCAR pace cars that go across the stage during the show. Some are actual pace cars that paced races, some are the replicas that are available at dealerships when a car is going to pace a famous race, and some are replicas of pace cars that have actually been made by car aficionados. But that’s not all; fans will also see actual racecars go across the block. This year, that included Stewart’s car that he piloted to all three of his victories in 2007; of course, that model was the Car of soon-to-be-Yesterday, no longer usable under the current Nextel Cup rules. So, instead of selling it to an ARCA program, the Barrett-Jackson proceeds from the Stewart car sale went to support various charities instead – a novel idea that also was tied to several other racecars on the block. It was refreshing to see; even when you are seeing millions of dollars flying around, people will still take the time to direct some of that money to charity.
In one interesting twist this year, Richard Childress was auctioning off a special version of the Camaros that he is going to be creating this year. The one that he auctioned off was number three in the production line, with the RCR engine in it that Dale Earnhardt ran at Daytona in 2000. As part of the auction, Childress included a tour of the RCR engine shop. Considering what came along with the car, it was quite surprising that Ray Evernham didn’t put in the winning bid… surely, that would have made for some interesting press if Evernham had been touring the Childress engine shops. I’d have liked to have seen it, that’s for sure…
Surprisingly, Robosaurus – the mechanical dinosaur that was a fixture in pre-race shows for Bruton Smith for years – and cost $5 million to build – only brought $475,000 at auction. While a shocking development, the bid simply proved that a good auction takes two people who have a desire to own the item up for sale. While it was entertaining in its prime, there simply wasn’t the desire for anyone to own a 40-foot-tall mechanical dinosaur in their backyard.
During the nuclear winter that is the offseason for NASCAR, watching the Barrett-Jackson auction is a very interesting diversion. And one other thing you will learn is that Mike Joy is one of the most knowledgeable car guys around. He knows more about more cars than anyone else that you’ll find in the booth or garage at a NASCAR race. The auction gives him a chance to freshen up his announcing skills with Speedweeks just around the corner… and it gives a bunch of lucky fans a chance to get one last offseason fix before the real 2008 begins.