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DAWN PATROL

The 2018 Pebble beach concours d'elegance

I’ve been attending the Monterey Car Week for the better part of 15 years.  However this year, I was lucky enough to have arranged the ultimate trifecta: Friday – The Quail, Saturday – Concorso Italiano and Sunday – Pebble Beach Concours.  Throw in quick visits to the Porsche WerksReunion, Laguna Seca & some of the auctions and to say I was pumped up is an understatement.

 

However in what turned out to be a most surreal experience, I almost didn’t attend any of the car week events.  I had recently driven back to the Bay Area from Seattle and hadn’t felt great, by the Sunday before car week I definitely didn’t feel very well.  That was confirmed by a Monday 2am visit to the emergency room only to find out that I’d need gallbladder removal surgery right away!  Despite the great pain I was in (and the medication to soothe me) the first thing I asked was could I possibly still head down a mere 3 days later for the car events.  The doctors assured me that if I trimmed my schedule, took it easy and didn’t lift anything, that walking would actually be good for my recovery and I should still plan on a reduced Monterey schedule.

 

True to their prediction, I headed down Thursday afternoon and paired my schedule back to those three main events.  While I’ve been fortunate to attend The Quail in 2014 and been to almost every Concorso for the past 10 years, this would be my first time at Pebble since 2009 and my first covering it as a photographer.  I was immediately determined to be part of the famous ‘Dawn Patrol’ a group of media and fanatics that come out to the lodge to watch the cars drive up onto the 18th fairway for placement.  Actually ‘Dawn’ Patrol is a bit of a misnomer.  Having spoken to a few friend who have done it, the time for arrival seemed to be getting earlier and earlier every year with some people saying they’d get there by 4:30am, way before the actual dawn.  In fact this year the Concours announced that it wouldn’t open the gates until 5:30am to stem this tide of earlier and earlier arrivals.

 

Considered a rite of passage for the Pebble Beach crowd, the Dawn Patrol was actually coined by Hagerty Insurance.  Every year, they’d come down with a cart and supply coffee and donuts to those crazy people who came in the darkness of night to see priceless cars roll past them.  However the coffee and donuts, while appreciated, were of secondary importance to many of the people.  What everyone wanted was a coveted Hagerty Dawn Patrol baseball cap!  Now how can an inexpensive cap be such a crowd puller?  Every year Hagerty makes 500 of them and huge scrums would form as people fought for the coveted caps.  In fact, stories of multi-millionaires fighting and even stealing the hats right of the heads of a lucky media person were bandied about in the darkness as the crowd gathered.  In fact Hagerty, now gives out the hats in a very surreptitious way, they have small pouches or even keep the hats under jackets, coyly handing them out until the word got out, that the hats were there, then the surge of fighting people surrounded the poor Hagerty employee.   

 

Being my first time at the Dawn Patrol, I asked everyone I knew for advice.  The number one piece of advice?  Get a ride into the Lodge.  There is virtually no parking within the 17 mile area of Pebble Beach and those precious few spots are far away from the Lodge.  Unfortunately, the shuttles that run to those spots start at 8am.  Way too late to help me.  Get a friend?  Good luck!  I had lots of great friends down there that week, but no one willing to get up at 5am.  How about Uber or Lyft?  Well here in the Bay Area, you can schedule in advance, that little button is available on the app in Monterey.  Taxi?  Good luck.  I went to bed Saturday night without a clear idea of what I wanted to do.  At 4:30am I got up and packed the car and activated my Uber app.  Searching… searching… not a good sign.  After about 5 minutes, it became clear I had no chance of getting a ride share.  My only chance to get to the Lodge was to drive myself. I got in the car and I have to tell you, I was panicking.  I spent what seemed like an eternity driving around those dark winding streets of 17 Mile Drive looking for a spot that didn’t have that telltale ‘No Parking’ sign strung across the sides of the road.  I will tell you, in the end, I found the PERFECT secret spot to park.  Less than ½ a mile walk from the Lodge.  Clearly someone above was looking out for me.  I won’t share my spot, but if any of you are interested in attending, email me and I’ll share my secret.

 

As I grabbed my small flashlight from the trunk, I began the hike to the Lodge, it was a beautiful early morning, black skies turning just the deepest blue.  The old trees were dark and foreboding and I could barely make out the road, but the faraway sound of the surf hitting the shore kept me heading towards the Lodge.  Finally the lights could be seen and then a hub of activity, policeman, cars dropping people off, transport guys, so early and everyone was busy! Walking through the Lodge area, the manufacturers on the concept lawn were diligently cleaning their cars with lights being powered from portable generators.  On the north side of the Lodge, I showed my badge to the security guard and viola, I was on the there, on the green!  Time?  5:15am!  I was perhaps one of the first 75 people.  Heading to the string lights of the coffee cart, I quickly had my coffee and donut.  Looking around, it was difficult to recognize faces in the dark.  I chatted with Hagerty employees and eventually found some familiar faces and we all talked about the … hat!

 

As we were all talking, eventually you heard a muffled yell, “over there” and a group rushed off to scrum for a hat.  I stuck next to a guy who has 18 of these hats, Cars Yeah host Mark Greene.  He knows the Hagerty guys really well and was sure that they will take care of him.  After the second scrum, I began to get nervous that I’d made the wrong decision.  However a few minutes after that, a Hagerty gal came by and gestured under her jacket, you guys need a hat?  We sure do!  I was now in possession of what apparently many multi-millionaires would be so desirous of, a free nylon, Chinese made baseball cap!

 

With that my attention shifted towards the far end of lawn right towards the ocean.  That’s where they had set up the ropes for the cars to drive on to the 18th fairway.  15 minutes later we could hear the first rumblings and some enormous pre-war beasts came into view belching and burping as they ambled their way from the parking lots and transporters.  What makes this a fun moment is seeing all these people driving some of the best prepared cars in the world.  Decked out in their finery, with significant others or mechanics, they all had huge grins on their faces as the crowd erupted every time one went past.  This procession would follow for the next hour or two as all the cars got ready to be placed.  There were a few specialty classes at this year’s concours, the first were the OSCA’s, they all look splendid and sleek in their 50’s custom shaped bodies.  You could imagine these cars competing the Targa Florio, the Mille Miglia or simply driving along some Italian back roads.  The other special class was the cars of the Maharajas.  Now they were definitely all a site to see, huge cars decked out to the hilt.  The very definition of “traffic stopping”.  Finally, they had a very special class in my mind and that was the Tuckers.  The largest gathering of Tuckers all in one place in decades.  Many have been worked on for years, just to be unveiled at this time, at this show.  Both the “Raj” cars and the Tuckers got the prime place of being placed against the backdrop of the ocean.   They all looked amazing.

 

That 7am-9am time period was super busy, I was trying to snap as many pictures as I could.  Amazing how many people clogged the fairway before the concours was even ‘open’!  After that, it got busy quick, I was reminded that this car event is truly unlike any other event here in the USA.  Perhaps the famous Villa d’Este in Italy might rival this for grandeur and stature.  I was able to connect with Bob Goldberg who in the last issue gave you an great account of the event with the two Alfa’s present both taking home awards!  Together, we had a great time marching around and interviewing people.  We bumped into Wayne Carini, Jay Leno and other manner of car ‘celebrities’.  I think both Bob and my favorite however was in the press tent.  We ran back there to drop of some of our gear and while we were sitting there, Alain deCadenet walked in and sat a few feet from us.  As we got up to leave, I just had to stop and tell him what a fan of his old ‘By Design’ shows I was.  We talked about some other mutual events we had been to and next thing I knew, half an hour had gone by and we it felt like we were chatting with an old friend.

As we left the press tent we went back out to the concours field and as we started up from the south side of the 18thfairway, slicing through the thickening crowds, past the lovely OSCA’s, I got the shock of my life.  As the crowd parted, there at the racing and sports Ferrari class, front and center stood David Love’s old Testarossa.  Sitting up in the passenger seat, was a print I had made of this very car with the late Phil Hill sitting in it.  I had only sold one of these prints.  Back in 2007 at the Danville d’Elegance, we auctioned this piece signed by Phil Hill and myself and we raised a lot of money for The Parkinson’s Institute.  I hadn’t seen that print since.  But here it was right in front of me.  I found out that after David Love passed away (both Phill Hill and David Love had Parkinson’s by the way) Tom Price had bought the Ferrari.  When asked by a young lady if he has raced this car much, he bellowed, I’ve raced against it maybe 80 times!  I just had to interject and introduce myself to Tom and ask him where he had acquired that print.  He told me that the original winner had given it back to the Parkinson’s Institute to hang in their facility.  When they heard that Tom had acquired David’s car, they let him know that they had it and Tom agreed he had to have it – after a nice donation to the charity!  I found out that the piece that sold twice to raise a lot of money for a great cause now hangs in Tom’s office.  He felt it just had to be displayed with the car on the lawn.

 

Man, they say life is stranger than fiction.  In this particular case I had to agree!