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The Amelia Experience      by Roland Via

Having come to Daytona Beach in 1962 as a twelve year old, I became an instant fan of stock car racing and thoroughly enjoyed the annual roar of the racing engines at the huge 2 ˝ mile international track. We had the advantage of Bill Tuthill’s Museum of Speed in South Daytona which connected fans with racing’s past with Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird beach racer that obtained speeds over 300 miles per hour.

Another tradition was the post Thanksgiving Gaslight Parade in Ormond Beach, the ‘Birthplace of Speed’, and the impromptu hot rod car shows at the Bellair Plaza that grew so large that they had to move to the spacious confines of the Daytona International Speedway. Now there are two of those shows per year.

I was thoroughly spoiled with all of the many types, styles makes and models of cars that appeared here over the decades. The Daytona Beach area is truly a Mecca of automobilia.

That is, of course, until myself and a group of folks began our yearly pilgrimage to the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance north of Jacksonville on the luxurious grass of the exclusive Amelia Island golf course.

Having been part of the ‘Birthplace of Speed’ Centennial Committee that hosted antique auto racing’s historic beginnings on the hard-packed sands of Ormond Beach, we heard about the awesome car show put on by Bill Warner on a luxurious gold course. Curious we were, and as I do an auto racing show on radio and host several racing websites such as www.MRHAWeb.com, we trekked to the car show.

What we found totally and completely bedazzled us as we discovered a world class automotive experience.

From one-of-a-kind prototype autos, to the rarest of rare antiques, unique automobilia and select vendors, the multi-day experience is like no other. Each year the event has grown and the participants clamor to be able to enter their precious automobiles, motorcycles, displays and vendor booths. Each year features a connection with racings past feature the elite drivers, car owners and others from a varied racing history. The likes of Bobby Unser, Sam Posey, Vic Elford, Bobby Rahal, Richard Petty, Johnny Rutherford, Parnelli Jones, Carrol Shelby and so many more have graced the ultra manicured grass and it is an intimate way to meet with the legends of the past, despite the fact there are thousands of attendees.

From the before the show auctions, to the seminars, to the concluding car parades and judging, it is an experience that anyone could enjoy with the professional attention to detail and the ability to rub elbows with the automobile elite, Hollywood stars, sports stars, legendary racers and the pageantry of the attendees themselves. Prepare to walk, taking your time, as you breathe in the details of the hundreds of things to see.

For me, I thought that I had seen it all in the automotive world, that is, until I found I cannot wait for each March for our sabbatical to the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance to always see something new and that we may never have the opportunity to see again.

Roland Via is the host of a daily radio show on WELE 1380 AM radio and host of the Totally Racing race show. He hosts several automotive related websites such as www.MRHAWeb.com, www.TotallyRacing.com and www.LegendsofNascar.com.

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Top notch car show is a wonderful affair      By Dan Smith

Those of us who enjoy a lifelong love affair with the automobile are proud to live in the Daytona Beach area. Around the world and across the states there are probably only a half dozen cities whose name is instantly connected to the motorcar. Daytona Beach is certainly near the top of that list.

Just up State Road A1A a bit, the elite little seaside community of Amelia Island has quietly been making its own name in the car community. Just north and a little east of Jacksonville, Amelia Island has built a reputation for showing exquisite classics that would rival the world's greatest car event at Pebble Beach.

Each year on the second Sunday of March The Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance is staged on the golf course of the stately Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Begun in 1996 by Bill Warner, a former writer and photographer for "Road And Track Magazine," it has quickly become the premier auto event on the East Coast of the United States. This is a must see for all dedicated gear heads and certainly a display of interest for all historians.

More than 300 examples of perfectly restored automobiles are shown alongside the latest models from big dollar manufacturers like BMW, Mercedes, Rolls, Cadillac, Ferrari, Maybach and many more. It is the type of auto show where gentlemen dress and ladies wear hats - truly a high-class affair.

To be invited to show your car there is the ultimate in prestige, and once there, to actually win an award - well that is just too heady for words.

Back in 2006, that honor befell me when I took The City Of Ormond Beach's 1906 steam powered racer to Amelia. Bill Warner and I had both worked hard to get the steamer running and available for the Ormond Beach Steam Centennial and then the Concours d'Elegance. When word got out that we were working on the racer I even had telephone instruction from Jay Leno, who is a big fan of the steam car. In return for Bill Warner's efforts I managed to encourage a large turnout of steamers at his event. I can tell you that when I drove that old steam racer up the fairway of the Ritz-Carlton to receive the award in front of thousands of onlookers and many TV cameras, it was one of the highlights of my automotive life.

Through the years I have worked closely with Bill to help get the fine autos needed to stage such an event. In 2008 I provided a list of ancient beach racers for the Concours to draw from and the turnout was phenomenal. I also wrote the feature story in the impressive event program that is itself very collectable. One of the reasons for the rapid success at Amelia Island is Bill's close ties with motor sports. Each year there is a racing theme that prevails over the entire show. One year when I served as judge, the crowd at our complimentary lunch was a who's who of racing. At my own table was two-time Indy winner Bobby Unser, racer and TV commentator Sam Posey and legendary customizer George Barris. It is not unusual to see drag racing legends Don Garlits and Don Prudhomme or NASCAR greats Richard Petty and Bobby Allison. Endurance racer Hurley Haywood is a regular and open wheel racer Johnny Rutherford has been featured. Many Hollywood-type celebrities come to show there cars. John Travolta, Jerry Seinfeld and Tim Considine have been on hand, as has Edward Herrman. This year, Natalie Wood's Mercedes sports cars was there, as was Fatty Arbuckle's Marmon.

For me, the true celebrities are the famed collectors who bring a different car each year. Bill has a rule that no car can be shown within five year of its last showing. That insures the show will remain fresh. A good share of the proceeds go to Hospice of Northeast Florida.

On Saturday, May 5 The Art of The Automobile will be held in downtown Daytona Beach. This is an up and coming event and will surely whet your appetite for next year's Amelia Island. If you truly love motorcars you should stop by and then begin making plans for the 2013 Concours d'Elegance.

Dan Smith is a book author and a weekly contributor to the Hometown News. He is also on the Birthplace of Speed Centennial Committee and is a board member of Motor Racing Heritage Association.