Even when judging a car show, being positive is the best policy
I was invited by the Concours of America in Plymouth, Michigan, to serve as its grand marshal this July. It’s an honor I was happy to accept. CoA is a show I admire, for starters. More important, the role is a lot closer to being a show attendee than it is to being a class judge, and I’m always at my happiest when I’m a spectator.
My father took me to my first car show when I was three. It was the Model A Restorers Club of America meet at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, and I was hooked. Over the years, however, my relationship with car shows has changed. For a long time, once my business was in full swing, I restored and prepped customer cars for shows. Often I transported the cars and showed them for clients. I’ve also shown quite a few of my own cars, although in recent years, as my tastes have changed, they have largely been unrestored.
My father regularly used to turn down invitations to judge, and I’ll never forget his reasoning: “Because I would never want to find fault with someone’s car.” It’s hard to argue with Dad’s logic. For some owners, when you judge their car, it’s a lot like telling them they have a bad haircut or an ugly dress, even if that haircut or dress really is awful. Although it is an honor to be asked to judge, I never have a problem declining. That’s not to say I always do.
Although I had judged at smaller events, the first time I was invited to be a class judge at a major concours came at Amelia Island in 2009. I accepted the invitation largely because I’d never want to say no to Bill Warner, who is not only the concours chairman but a friend. When Bill first asked, he saw my hesitance, and he passed along the key to judging, which gave me some perspective to add to my father’s words many years before: “Just have fun and contribute to your judging team.” So that’s what I did.
A few years ago, I was invited to the Boca Raton concours to be a grand marshal for the first time. This honor recognizes someone’s accomplishments within the old car world, and more than judging, it is a big deal to me. A good grand marshal needs to attend all the weekend’s events and serve as a goodwill ambassador. I’ve been at concours where the grand marshal shows up for a half hour and then leaves without interacting with anyone. If you accept the invitation to hold the post, you have to fully invest your time and energy in it. My job that day was simply to wander the field, see the cars and visit with owners, and then pick one to receive the Grand Marshal’s Award. I went right back to something else my dad told me years ago: “Just pick the car you like.” That day, I absolutely loved a cream-over-green 1958 Mercury Montclair convertible.
When I was the grand marshal at a Hemmings concours a few years ago, I talked to an older gentleman who had a 1953 Dodge Coronet he had bought new. He told me about restoring it with his sons, and his story and enthusiasm for the car made the difference in my selection. The story behind a car and the owner’s relationship to it are most important to me. Being able to choose a vehicle this way means so much more than having to judge a class of eight or nine similar cars and work within a set of traditional guidelines when time is limited.
More than anything, whether I’m judging, spectating, or serving as grand marshal, I try to be positive with people at a show, partly because of something I learned from Jay Leno. Several years ago, he and I were talking at Pebble Beach. A guy wanted to reintroduce his son to Jay, who had met him a few years earlier. Jay couldn’t have been nicer and told the young man he remembered him from the earlier meeting. Both father and son were thrilled. Now, when people recognize me, I follow Jay’s lead.
I’d like to think I do a good job, too, because event organizers keep asking me to take part. I’m looking forward to the Concours of America, and I’m getting requests to repeat the role at other events. I sometimes feel a little odd coming back repeatedly, as I have at the Boca Raton and Hemmings concours, but I love that they want me back.
[This article originally ran in Hagerty magazine, the exclusive publication of the Hagerty Drivers Club. For the full, in-the-flesh experience of our world-class magazine—as well other great benefits like roadside assistance and automotive discounts—join HDC today.]