When someone pointed out that the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance was entering its third decade last March time seemed to slow for a moment. We usually don’t have time to think about things like that. From here it all seems to have happened very quickly. I suppose time does fly when you’re having fun. And we are.
We have never forgotten that Concours Sunday at The Amelia is supposed to be fun. Someone actually called The Amelia “The Fun Concours” and we keep that in mind as we compose the classes, plan the schedule and lay out the filed. The whole thing begins to gather momentum when we name an honoree. That gives The Amelia a face. Then comes the creation of the poster and sourcing the cars of the honoree. For us that’s like a kid making the ultimate Christmas wish list.
With Hans Stuck as our 2016 Amelia honoree we knew this event was going to be fun. Nobody was disappointed. Alfa Romeo sent the 1977 Watkins Glen Brabham BT45B that “Streitzel” -- the nickname Stuck’s grandmother gave him as an infant -- drove in what can only be considered a wet weather clinic in the 1977 Grand Prix of the United States. Nobody could touch him in the rain that day. Stuck has earned his reputation as the rain-master and as we approached Concours Sunday I hoped his legendary wet weather magic would rub off on us and give us an edge with the meteorologists. I shouldn’t have worried.
The possibility of late afternoon showers certainly didn’t keep anyone away in 2016. As usual the field filled up early. The weather held off after an on-the-fly schedule modification made certain that everyone got to see the award winners get their trophies and ribbons and to see the Moet spray.
Again the hundreds of volunteers and our small staff deserve my endless thanks and appreciation. It would be impossible for The Amelia to exist without our 700 volunteers who never cease to amaze us with their helpfulness, charity and selflessness. It’s inspiring. They’re an extraordinary group of people. We were very pleased in June when we had the biggest turnout ever for our annual Volunteer Party at Amelia Concours headquarters. Once again, rain threatened but didn’t affect the celebration or the mood.
Friday’s The Power Brokers seminar got a little rowdy. There’s never a dull moment when you assemble a group like Alwin Springer, Roger Bailey, Spenny Clendenin, Ed Pink, Big Daddy Don Garlits and Leonard Wood. These are highly accomplished and knowledgeable people who have hefty credentials. They have earned their legendary status. Voices were raised and some people told me later that was more than they bargained for . . . in a good way. “That was fun!” was the most often heard comment. And that’s the point of the seminars.
Saturday’s Cars & Coffee At The Concours (still no admission charge) featured over 300 extraordinarily diverse entries from local car clubs. C&C has evolved its own rhythms and traditions in just three years and my favorite part is the family nature of it all with parents and children strolling the field, taking pictures with real cameras, not just phones. I think that’s a very good sign.
The Drivers of the Ultimate Driving Machine seminar on Saturday was a delightfully unrestrained affair. With several generations of BMW racers on the dais what else would anyone expect? Daytona Rolex 24 winner Brian Redman was joined by David Hobbs (both former Amelia Honorees), John Fitzpatrick, Bill Auberlin, Boris Said, old pal Dave Cowart and, of course, our 2016 Honoree Hans Stuck; old, young and in between they’re still a competitive lot. It must be admitted that it did get loud every so often. (No extra charge.) Host Tommy Kendall, as usual, held it all together and primed some of the best moments with his insights. He’s a rare asset with his business degree and keen understanding of the real world beyond motorsport.
The Great Trophies and the Cars That Won Them display in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton stopped people in their tracks. Our European guests were especially impressed with the display; particularly the seven-feet-four inches tall Wheeler-Schebler Trophy that made the trek from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum with the Indy 500’s fabled Borg-Warner Trophy. Having them together with the Vanderbilt Cup, the 1949 Le Mans trophy and the 1965 Le Mans trophy -- the first and last of Ferrari’s nine Le Mans victories -- and the Daytona 500’s Harley Earl Trophy plus the Race of Two World (Monza) trophy was an honor. Having them on the concours field on Sunday with the cars that won them was unprecedented and just the sort of unexpected thing we love to do.
I’m glad we had the rain-meister himself on our side this year. Thinking about those trophies -- even in their custom built cabinets -- in the rain is the stuff of nightmares.
After doing this for two decades I’ve come to believe that The Amelia is an event can’t be experienced anywhere else and the reason for that is people. That’s the only Amelia element that is more important than the extraordinary cars the event attracts.
And I’m flattered we get so many wonderful cars from around the world. That speaks volumes about The Amelia’s reputation. But it’s the people who bring them who have made The Amelia the award-winner that it has become. Watching them drive up the fairway to get their awards, to see the joy on their faces, is a priceless part of The Amelia. That connection between the human and the machine is something very elusive and very special. I suppose that’s why the people who don’t call the Amelia “The Fun Concours” call it “The Racer’s Concours” and understand what we’re trying to do.
A few years ago when Ed Welburn said “I like driving . . . “” in one of the seminars he spoke for all of us.
Cars are freedom. They give us the power to go where we want when we want. They demand our constant attention and involvement and the really great ones reward excellence. They can be objects of desire, beauty, utility, convenience and entertainment all at once and the people who love them know it.
That’s why we keep doing this.
Founder & Chairman