The car world is full of jobs they don’t tell you about in high school
Justin Bieber likes hockey. Who knew? Well, apparently a lot of people in Toronto, as the Canadian-born singer is a regular at Maple Leafs games. But fellow Canadian slap-shotter Trevor Johnson didn’t know until a few years ago, when he was playing in the Italian national league. A friend approached him about setting up a private hockey game for Bieber, who was passing through on tour. This led to a side gig for Johnson organizing Bieber’s private games, which involves renting a rink, finding players, and booking rooms and catering wherever the entertainer is traveling. That led Johnson to another job they don’t tell you about in high-school career counseling: organizing car rallies.
Which sounds like a pretty fun way to prove your parents wrong about never amounting to anything because you like cars (or hockey) more than studying geometry and French. At least, it is if you enjoy spending hours negotiating with hotels that don’t appreciate their parking lots getting oiled, being on 24-hour call for wealthy folk who are used to getting their way, having contingencies at the ready for a gaggle of cars that might be a century old, and generally ensuring that a weeklong traveling roadshow with a million possible disaster triggers runs on time and without incident. “So far, no cops, no lawsuits,” says Johnson.
He had no idea that hockey would lead to Bieber, which would lead to old-car rallies until 2018, when another friend asked Johnson if he wanted to help with a 100-years-of-Bentley tour being run by a friend of mine, Craig Ekberg, who has put together several Bentley rallies on the West Coast. Ekberg and his co-organizers wanted to step up the rally’s game, with fancier hotels, finer food, gift bags for the co-drivers, and other accoutrements of the good life. “They’re paying you to drive their cars on public roads, which they could do for free, so you need to make it pretty damn cool,” Johnson says. The Bentley run was a hit, and it led to Johnson founding his own travel and events company, the Luxury Rally Club, in 2019.
Since then, and despite the pandemic, he has organized rallies along the old Route 66 and staged a run of 50 Lamborghini Countaches during the 2021 Monterey Car Week. He’s currently working on one-make rallies for the Mercedes-Benz 300SL and Porsche Carrera GT. The challenges can be daunting. Just finding cars with owners willing to pay $5000 to $15,000 to come along is his biggest task. “A lot of these guys don’t have Instagram; they can be hard to reach,” says Johnson. Another is picking the right regions and routes.
Do the job long enough and you’re going to see some stuff. Like the guy on the Countach rally who didn’t know how to put gas in his own car just minutes before the start. Or the Bentley owner who overslept and then loudly demanded that the organizers of the illustrious Quail Motorsports Gathering rip down a fence to let him in late (they did). And the mid-’60s Corvette Sting Ray that plowed into a feral hog at speed near the Grand Canyon, hosing the driver’s wife with pig innards. “She was actually pretty cool about it,” insists Johnson, though we might need a second source on that.
The point of telling you this: There are ways to be involved in and make a living from the car world that may not be obvious to young people of modest backgrounds who wonder if they’ll ever get to see a Ferrari in person. At Pebble Beach, at Scottsdale, and at every car auction and gathering that is more than a cars and coffee, paid staff make the wheels turn. It’s a business that runs on relationships, not on résumés or college degrees, meaning it rewards initiative more than much of the working world. And those relationships often forge best in buzzing auction tents or in hot hotel parking lots or out on lonely roads where an owner needs a flashlight held while he futzes with a Ferrari.
For most of us, this is a hobby; for people like Trevor Johnson, it’s a job—and by the looks of it, a pretty fun one that I wish someone had told me about in high school.