car city, usa
Things To Do
For free monthly updates, event invitations and exclusive deals, sign-up for our newsletter!
Car City, USA
March, 2013, Page 104
Photos - Clock-wise from top left: race fans John Campbell, left, and Darryl Lavoy, both truck drivers from Elephant Butte, New Mexico • NASCAR first-timer Bobby Boon of Tucson, who came for his birthday • Los Angeles residents Johnny Quinn and Natasha Kolbo, who have seen NASCAR events all over the country • Dylan Kwasniewski exults with his race crew after winning the Talking Stick Resort 50, part of a developmental series for younger drivers.
“It’s a necessary evil,” Linzer explains. “Stock-car racing is hugely expensive. The endorsements allow the sport to run at the high level it does.” Our conversation is made possible by Linzer’s two-way radio headset rig – otherwise we’d be screaming incomprehensibly into each other’s ears, like a pair of near-deaf centenarians on a patio in Miami Beach.
He helpfully points out interesting details about the race. For instance, the fact that some cars lack sponsorship: These are the untouchables of the stock-car world, the unproven race outfits scraping by on a dream. And not all sponsors are equal, Linzer adds, which is evident from watching the track: For every GoDaddy or Sam’s Club decal, there are four or five lesser benefactors like “Wood and Pellet Stoves” and “505.Chile.com.” He describes how most young drivers, especially those from humble backgrounds, start out racing go-karts, working their way up to off-road events and truck racing, before catching their break in the major NASCAR circuits. He explains that the difference between the Nationwide and Sprint Cup series is like “the difference between AAA minor league baseball and the Major Leagues... both are professional, but the Sprint Cup is the elite of the elite.” The Sprint Cup cars also have more horsepower, he adds.
Great Clips 200 winner Joey Logano in the winner’s circle.
For the NASCAR unitiated, this is the way to ingest the sport – with a stock-car sommelier to point out the various undertones and nuances. Once you achieve basic fluency, it becomes quite engrossing.
Dusk settles over Avondale, and the day’s crowd of 60,000 quickly evaporates; most have no interest in watching the late-afternoon undercard race, pitting up-and-coming drivers – many of them teenagers – against one another in slower, less well-endowed cars. But the fans don’t necessarily go home; thousands of them stay on-site at PIR’s adjacent RV campground.
It might be one of the great underrated sights in Arizona – acres upon acres of recreational vehicles, stretching to the horizon like prayer tents in Medina, many of them running flag trains proclaiming various NASCAR team allegiances (Miller Lite = Brad Keselowski, M&Ms = nemesis Kyle Busch), lands of origin (California, New Mexico, even a few from Canada) and cultural affinities (POW/MIA, “Don’t Tread on Me,” etc.). On the ground, this seeming RV ocean resolves into long, orderly rows where race fans string Christmas lights, hang plasma TVs and set out barbecue rigs – a thousand mini-habitats designed to sustain the weekend.
My first thought is: “Burning Man for Republicans.” Nothing wrong with that.
Except for a deeply inebriated neighbor who inexplicably took exception to my pint-sized, portable grill – in retrospect, I think it offended his sense of masculinity, and he might have had a point – the citizens of this NASCAR gypsy town are unfailingly neighborly. Kelley Madsen and her teenage daughter Kenzi, both residents of Wyoming, decided to make the weekend’s suite of stock-car races the cornerstone of a week-long Arizona vacation. “The nearest [NASCAR race] to us is in Iowa,” Kelley says. “But the weather’s nicer here, so we made the longer drive.”
Young Kenzi is particularly smitten with Kyle Busch and his “bad boy attitude.” However, she doesn’t admire the diversification efforts (read: Danica Patrick) designed to court new fans exactly like herself: “I’m not really a huge fan of girls driving NASCAR. I think the main issue is to make sure they can compete. A lot of them can’t drive.”
Exploring the trenches of PIR’s RV city at night is a highly worthwhile activity, full of free beers and backslaps and drinking games where you toss things into holes. There’s also a slightly combustible air of good ol’ boy brio. “I’m Cowboy!” a large, sunburnt fellow says in greeting. “This is my place!” A San Diego resident, Cowboy has been making the hajj to Avondale for the last eight years, staking out a large piece of campground where he builds a bar, lays out cornhole courts and strings beer banners. Corona is an unofficial sponsor – every year, beer distributors give Cowboy several kegs, which he taps and pours for free.
“There’s nothing else like this,” he says, surveying the four dozen race fans in the makeshift nightclub. “Name another sporting event where this happens. You can’t.”
He has a point. This would never fly at Chase Field. The whole overnight RV scene is refreshingly unregulated and politically-incorrect – at least by “mainstream media” standards. The question is: Can it last? Over the years, NASCAR’s cloistered, one-dimensional demographic has protected it to some extent. We all know the NBA would dye its players green to put a few extra Martian butts in the seats, and NFL stadiums would fill their beer taps with raw broccoli juice if such a gesture stood a realistic chance of hooking vegans on football. In this era of development worship and focus-group obsession and wag-the-dog PR strategies, NASCAR was the one professional sport that seemed content to do things its own way: “Keepin’ it country” as redneck-proud singer Gretchen Wilson once put it. It was loud and dirty, but oddly pure.
But can that loud, dirty pureness survive the push for a kinder, gentler, more rainbow-y NASCAR? How long before Cowboy’s cornhole courts are gentrified?
This question nags me going into Sunday morning during the Sprint Cup main event. As the 43 four-wheeled billboards roar around the track at speeds averaging more than 110 mph, creating a cloud of pulverized rubber bits that you can feel in your mouth as you walk in front of the grandstand, it occurs to me that some of those bits must find their way into the wine glasses at the VIP grotto. That makes me smile.
The afternoon ends in spectacular fashion, with an intentional bump between racers Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer, which causes Bowyer’s car to crash, which prompts members of Bowyer’s pit crew to rumble with Gordon’s crew and Bowyer himself to leap out of his car and seek out Gordon himself. This also makes me smile.
For the time being, Cowboy and his cornhole courts have nothing to worry about.
A cinnamon pearl 1936 Ford custom roadster inches onto the auction block at Barrett-
Jackson. The car fetched $92,400.
A small mob has coalesced outside the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Collector Car Auction, packed so tightly around a 1913 Fiat Tipo 55 that the blocky roadster is concealed from view. As it turns out, the crowd’s fascination is less about the car – which looks a bit like a pygmy fire engine – than the man driving it: late-night funnyman and Barrett-Jackson habitue Jay Leno.
Later, a group of car fans similarly competes for a glimpse of a highly-modified, bubble-topped 1955 Lincoln Futura – familiar to car fans and TV junkies as the original Batmobile. When the orange-trimmed crime-fighting vehicle finally makes its appearance inside the auction tent, the crowds reacts as if Ghandi himself had walked on-stage – 30,000 souls joined in reverence, delight and disbelief. A collector from Ahwatukee Foothills claims it for a cool $4.6 million.
Across the Valley, a series of smaller but still-prestigious car auctions are simultaneously unfolding on this warm week in January – including the Russo and Steele, Gooding & Co. and RM auctions – along with dozens of seminars and car-lover confabs. By some estimates, more than 400,000 people will attend the events. “This is kind of considered the Super Bowl of car collecting,” Eric Deboer, a publicist for Hemmings Motor News, says of Arizona’s auction flurry. “Our industry builds its calendar around it.”
The auctions are a huge boon for tourism, plus sustain a robust auto restoration industry and give Arizona a healthier-than-average slice of the nation’s estimated $32 billion car-hobby market.
A Barrett-Jackson auctioneer solicits bids for a 1958 Corvette convertible owned by GM CEO Dan Ackerson. The winning $270,000 bid was donated to Habitat for Humanity.
According to Bill Gilmore of the Scottsdale International Auto Museum, two types of car collectors generally supply the “rolling sculptures” one sees at Barrett-Jackson and other elite auctions. The first are longtime collectors – or their heirs – looking to lighten their inventory of exotic mint-condition automobiles. Leno falls into this category. He typically auctions a vehicle a year at Barrett-Jackson (past specimens include a customized Star VMAX motorcycle and a car-towing tractor) and donates the proceeds to charity.
Occasionally, a so-called “barn-find” will make it to the auction blocks. These are classics that are babied and garaged by an owner unbeknownst to his family. When the owner passes, the family often has no idea of the car’s existence until somebody brushes aside cobwebs and finds it in the barn. That was the case with a 1965 Shelby GT350 that fetched $385,000 at Barrett-Jackson in 2009.
The second main artery that delivers high-value cars to the auctions is the classic-car restoration industry – professional shops that acquire classic cars and refurbish them. The Valley is replete with such craftsmen, who typically restore three to four cars a year, according to Al Tracy of nationwidecarshows.com. One of the most prominent is Bob Adams Jr. of Scottsdale, nicknamed the “King of Kaisers” after his affinity for the Kaiser-Darrin, a fiberglass-body roadster built by Howard “Dutch” Darrin. Just 435 of the dimple-nosed two-seaters were built in 1954. The car never made waves on the auction circuit, fetching no more than $80,000 for top-quality models. Enter Adams. In 2007, the auto restorer – who grew up fixing cars on his father’s American Motors dealership lot in Wisconsin – tackled his first Kaiser-Darrin on a tip from an acquaintance. “‘I’ve got your next Barrett-Jackson car,’” he recalls him saying. “So I bought the thing for $25,000. It was definitely a challenge.”
Prospective buyers look under the hood of a 1941 Willys Swoopster roadster. The car, which sold for $60,500, has an after-market 550-horsepower Corvette engine.
Owing to the car’s age and miniscule production run, finding existing parts was virtually impossible. Adams had many of them custom-machined by third parties. For example, the Kaiser-Darrins’ unique forward-sliding doors require special aluminum rails. Adams presciently commissioned a machinist to manufacture four of the rails, in case he decided to restore another two-door Kaiser-Darrin. It cost him $350 for a set that probably ran no more than $1 when the car was sold new in 1954 for about $3,000. After a year of labor, Adams put his roadster up for auction. It fetched $160,000, shattering the record for a Kaiser-Darrin. Adams was hooked. “I ran out and bought as many [Kaiser-Darrins] as I could find,” he says. “They were just laying around. But then after three years in a row of setting records, everybody started to restore them... More of the cars were out there in working condition, and it kind of softened the market.” Now, he restores one or two a year.
The Valley’s abundance of auctions also blesses it with a robust and growing car museum scene. Mel Martin owns all but five of the 54 pieces in the Martin Car Museum in Phoenix. Located off the Black Canyon Freeway, the warehouse opens up to reveal a fantastic automotive stash, including a magisterial 1930 Duesenberg valued at $2 million, and a Rose Parade-ready 1930 Buick LaSalle phaeton that Martin has driven on two cross-country road races.
Martin, who invites schools and nonprofits to the museum for free, says living in the Valley makes it easier for the 70-something to stoke the flames of his automotive love affair. “I usually will pick up a car or two at Barrett-Jackson,” he says. But he doesn’t claim to be the Valley’s most prolific car collector – that distinction, he says, must go to Ron Pratte, the media-shy multimillionaire developer who paid $5.5 million for a Shelby-Cobra and is rumored to keep upwards of 120 cars in his Chandler hangar. Even for comparatively modest car collectors – say, those with 119 or so fewer cars than Pratte – the Valley is a special place. “You can enjoy your cars year-round, which I like,” Adams says. “Back in Wisconsin, when the winter comes around, nobody is thinking about cars. And there are shows going on year-round... I just wish I moved out here sooner.”
Martin Auto Museum: Auto collector Mel Martin’s personal showroom in Phoenix is impressively stocked with 54 vintage cars, including perhaps the only Model J Duesenberg (1930) in Arizona. Th-Sa, 12-5 p.m.; 17641 N. Black Canyon Hwy., Phoenix, 602-971-4753,
Scottsdale International Auto Museum: Soon to be a misnomer, this nonprofit that showcases more than 150 vehicles is in the midst of relocating to the Metro Center in Phoenix. The star: a 1936 Lincoln V-12 once owned by Howard Hughes. 9617 N. Metro Pkwy., Phoenix, 602-230-7111,
Penske Racing Museum: Peruse a showroom filled with Formula One racers commemorating the achievements of the Penske racing team. M-Sa, 8 a.m-4 p.m.; Su, 12-5 p.m; 7125 E. Chauncey Ln., Phoenix, (480) 538-4444,
© 2007 Copyright Phoenix Magazine 15169 N. Scottsdale Road Suite C310 Scottsdale Arizona 85254
Travel & Outdoors
Best of The Valley
Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine
Advertise With Us
Web Site Design