Between work, play, and family, Las Vegas is like a second home. This time around, work brought me to the City of Sin a week before Thanksgiving. I flew in Friday morning to walk a stage lighting trade show that day. My job requires I walk shows in search of new markets or product ideas. I landed early but was able to check into my room at about 9 AM at no additional cost. The show didn’t open to the public until 11 AM and after waking up at 4 AM to make the first flight out of Long Beach, I decided to take a nap.
I woke up around 10:30 refreshed and ready to catch the monorail to the convention center. I’ve made this trip so many times it’s become mundane but things were about to take a positive turn on this trip. As the train approached the convention center station I could hear revving engines in the streets below. Being from L.A., I simply assumed someone was flooring the gas pedal at the green light. The blasts continued and grew louder as we reached the station and the doors slid open.
I stepped outside and looked all around to figure out where the commotion was coming from and noticed barricades and traffic cones in a parking lot. The train and other station structures obstructed the view. Then—like a wildcat jumping out to ambush its prey—a neon green Dodge Challenger leapt out of hiding and onto a makeshift racetrack. The car drifted through two figure-8 patterns while plumes of smoke escaped from between the pavement and burning rubber tires.
After only a few moments of staring at the scene below, I had lost all interest in walking a lighting show. I made my way out of the monorail station and stood atop the escalators for a few more minutes getting a full glimpse of the action. In a partnership with the Mecum Auto Auction—a traveling auction for car collectors—Dodge had built this drifting track for all visitors.
I stared at the makeshift track for a while but eventually pulled myself away to go walk the show that brought me to Vegas in the first place. I needed to finish the work before I got down to playing in Las Vegas. I knew I would find my way back to the cars at some point that day.
It took a few hours but I did eventually make my way back to LVCC South. Approaching from the other halls made it easy to spot the crowd lined up for the Dodge Hellcat Thrill Ride. I walked over and parked myself at the end of the line.
The line moved quickly and the drifting action kept everyone entertained for the duration of the wait. There was also a Dodge emcee that kept the crowd engaged giving away small prizes for answering car trivia. He would also sprinkle tidbits about the cars in the demo—none more interesting than the tire facts. The demo went on nonstop from the start of the show until sunset and each set of tires lasted about two hours. They were running through 10 sets of tires per day and this was only day two of a four-day show.
My turn came up and I hopped into a beautiful Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. The driver introduced himself and proceeded to the starting line as I buckled up. He asked if I was ready as he approached the line without ever coming to a complete stop (what we Angelenos recognize as a California stop) and hit the gas!
The car pushed out of the starting position without hesitation and immediately made a hairpin turn to the left. It quickly exploded again through a short straightaway before the real drifting began. The Hellcat maneuvered through the turns in a matter of seconds. Each turn tossed me off to one side while the driver remained still and in control. Coming out of the last turn, the driver smashed the gas one last time to push the car to the drop-off point. The last growl of the beast subsided to an impressive purr as it came to a complete stop. I exited from the demonic feline under an adrenaline rush and made my way to the auction entrance.
The south hall of LVCC had never looked this large. There were cars as far as the eye could see, each asking to be ogled, caressed, and driven. There were dripping wet hot rods, freshly waxed GTO’s, pristine Camaros, and mint-condition cars of the 30’s and 40’s.
My biggest car obsession has always been the Ford Mustang. The infatuation runs so deep that I find every version of the car exciting—even the 80’s compacts with lackluster power. Every decade, every generation of the famed pony car was represented inside the building. My mind drifted. I could see myself driving from Buena Park to Echo Park each evening in one of these horses. The irritations of the daily traffic jam dissipated with a Mustang engine at my command.
I spent a few hours perusing the aisles: taking pictures, feeling leather interiors, and daydreaming. After making it to the end, I worked my way back to the center of the action. No visit to an auto auction would be complete without pausing to witness the spectacle. There were rows of seated collectors waiting for the right car to be pushed through the red carpet before them. As the sought-after vehicle approached, they waited patiently for the auctioneer to introduce the features of the car before seamlessly transitioning into the signature rapid-fire auctioneer vocalizations. He’d throw out a number, point to the hand in the air, and move to the next bid up and continue the process until hands stopped going up. Hands went up emotionless, like poker players refusing to reveal their hand.
Once the bidding stopped, the car was pushed away from the viewing area. A worker would hop in the car, start it up, and drive it back to its designated parking area for the remainder of the show. The car then sat marked “sold” until the buyer claimed it at the end of the weekend.
The sounds and smells familiar to car enthusiasts were everywhere. You could hear a Corvette roar to life, see a Plymouth Superbird cruise through the halls, and spot a restored Model T shake and rattle its chrome components. The aroma of gasoline permeated throughout the hall. In today’s world of the silent Prius, self-parking Fusion, and self-driving Tesla, the Mecum Auto Auction was a reminder of how driving a car should always feel.