Most collectors are completely aware of the usual places to look for sports autographs, such as stadiums hosting professional sports teams, athletic training facilities, sports memorabilia shows, Hall of Fame facilities at induction time, NASCAR and IndyCar tracks, golf courses hosting PGA and LPGA events, racetracks during major events like the Kentucky Derby, and so on. But would you ever think of dropping in on a muscle car show?
That had to be the question recently going through the minds of collectors who concentrate on signatures of race car drivers, as the 57th edition of the Chicago World of Wheels auto show opened its doors to car enthusiasts of all kinds March 8-10 in Rosemont, Illinois.
Held in the same facility that has been hosting the National Sports Collectors Convention on and off over the last couple of decades, the attendance at World of Wheels is so great that moving around the National would seem like a breeze compared to getting around World of Wheels.
In fact, the promoter of World of Wheels, a company called Championship Auto Shows, Inc., of Auburn Hills, Michigan, reported that last year’s total attendance over the three days of the show topped 90,000. And that was nothing compared to the reported attendance for the most recent show in Detroit, which was almost 150,000 people. And, when you add in the total attendance at the other half dozen or so shows that CASI operates around the country, on an annual basis almost half a million people get to see thecustom car owners strut their stuff.
So, why do so many folks come to these shows? Well, if you like to kick the tires on some pretty wild customized motor vehicles, it is the only place to be. It does not matter if you are into classic throwback cars, muscle cars, motorcycles, lowriders, or even recreational vehicles, if it has a motor and can be customized outside the factory, someone has brought one of these vehicles to show off. The people who read Sports Collectors Digest like to think of themselves as collectors and hobbyists, but those who attend the World of Wheels, or its sister show, Autorama, are convinced that they are the real collectors and that what they do is the real Hobby (with a capital H).
Also of interest is a description of the folks who attend this show. They come in all sizes and shapes, all genders and all ages. And don’t think that you have to sport a tattoo to get in. Not a chance. Those showing their ink and those wearing comfortable conservative-looking clothes walked around the show floor shoulder to shoulder, all commenting to each other about what they may have seen under the raised hoods of the endless array of cars and other vehicles.
For most exhibitors, the reason for participating in the show is the thrill of being able to show off their handiwork and discuss their customizing techniques with other exhibitors and the public at large. These customizers, without exception, take great pride in their craftsmanship. Some of the exhibitors also do their customizing work for profit, so perhaps they were also hopeful of attracting new customers. Several large parts manufacturers and car dealers also had booths and advertising signage around the venue to help drive new business to their establishments.
For some, however, the stakes were a little higher, as they were vying for trophies and cash prizes for their handiwork. The way it works for those people is to submit an application to be judged by members of the sponsoring organization’s advisoryboard. The vehicles submitted are put into various classifications andjudged by advisory board members who walk around and inspect the vehicles. The vehicles are judged on style and design, workmanship, degree of difficulty, engineering, presentation, theme and detail.
The original list of vehicles being judged is narrowed down to the Top Twenty on Friday, and then, in a second round, the Top Twenty are further narrowed down on Saturday to the Select Six. Finally, the Select Six are reduced on Sunday to the single winner of the Legend Cup, which carries with it a cash prize of $10,000 and bragging rights until the following year. Smaller cash prizes go to the vehicles judged as the Best Rod, the Best Restored, the Best Custom, the Best Truck, and so on. Young exhibitors between the ages of 15 and 25 can also win $50 gift cards as Rising Stars.
So, what does all this have to do with collecting autographs? Well, as an added boost for attendance, and wanting to reach out to race car fans of all stripes, each year World of Wheels brings in at least one top notch celebrity to sign for the crowd on Saturday. This year that celebrity was retired NASCAR and open wheel driver Tony Stewart. Last year it was Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and the year before that it was both Richard and Kyle Petty.
And best of all, there is no additional charge for the celebrity’s autograph. The only restriction is one autograph per person, because the celebrity is there for only two hours, but you can bring anything within reason that you want signed and the celebrity will sign it, usually with a big smile. You can also bring your own camera in order to get a photo with the celebrity and the show will provide someone to take the picture for you if you are alone. Furthermore, if you don’t bring anything of your own for signature, the show will provide you with a free large size photo for the celebrity to sign.
In addition to the principal celebrity, the show also brings in additional celebrities for the balance of the show, although the latter celebrities may have a connection to a particular exhibitor or sponsor. This year you could find WWE superstar A.J. Styles at the show, as well as TV star Dave Kindig. The Smokey and the Bandit Traveling Museum also paid a visit to World of Wheels this year, where you could get your picture taken with an actor dressed up to resemble Burt Reynolds. The resemblance was actually quite remarkable.
Rick Firfer is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest.