When I was living back East, “Barrett Jackson” week was an event we all looked forward to with great anticipation. Typically way too cold to enjoy our own collector cars, we did the next best thing and watched TV coverage of the Barrett Jackson Collector Car Auction for hours. The following day was spent talking about the previous day’s sales. After watching the auction for so many hours and years, I never thought I would end up actually driving those cool cars and trucks (and other vehicles) over the block.
There are many other duties and activities auction block drivers perform before, during, and after the auction. What is seen on TV is a very small snippet of what must be done to produce a world class event. Driving at an auction is not for everyone, especially easily excitable people. However, drivers have been compared to football players and rock stars. The auction vehicles receive the most attention and the drivers are a close second. In this article, I will concentrate on the block activities.
Unless a driver has speciﬁc skills to drive a speciﬁc vehicle; I.E. motorcycles, Ford Model T’s, special engineered vehicles, the vehicle assignments are totally random. Once you receive the key bag, there are general instructions to read that apply to all auction vehicles, such as air ride equipped, battery location, fuel cut off, and many others. In another section you may ﬁnd “speciﬁc instructions” on how to start and handle an auction vehicle. I can tell you from experience, some vehicle builders are very imaginative on starting procedures, shifting procedures, and sequences needed to make a vehicle move.
Once the vehicle is located, we will perform a quick walk around to ensure it is ready to move. Signs, mirrors, and other obstacles need to be moved. If a sign fits in the vehicle, we will bring it along. Sometimes the consignors wish to drive their vehicles up on the block. At Barrett Jackson, consignors are welcome to do so, but it is a driver’s responsibility to direct, instruct, and remind the consigner how to properly navigate what happens next. In my experience, a little over half of the consignors decided to hand driving duties back to me. BUT don’t let them walk away. I encourage all of my consigners to stay with their vehicle to answer any questions. If a potential buyer has any questions, I can only refer them to the vehicle card on the windshield. If I end up driving the vehicle, now is when I must familiarize myself with the vehicle. Where does the key go, how do I start it, what must I do to shift gears, where is the battery, does it stop, does it move easily, does it have air ride, does it stay running. All of this will be vital to know if a mechanical issue makes the vehicle uncontrollable.
Assuming the vehicle will start, has fuel, the brakes work, and there are no serious leaks, the auction vehicle is then driven to a staging area where they are gathered in groups of 3 and sent to pre-staging. This is the long tent which may have as many as 75 cars parked in the lanes. Much of the inquiry activities happen here. I encourage sellers to stay and make themselves available for questions, as the potential buyers that are performing their due diligence are in this area deciding whether to bid on that vehicle, or not. While waiting for movement in the 4 lanes, a driver must stay within sight of their vehicle to open doors, hoods, start the engine, and other activities to aid potential buyers. We control the keys and the vehicles as if they are ours. Thieves look for opportunities and we guard against those opportunities.
The general public is allowed in this area and are generally the most inquisitive. Most of the time they want to talk to the drivers and have their pictures taken next to a particular vehicle. Same holds true for the consignors. Many are awesome car people, making a living doing what they love. And every January, there is a big “family” reunion at Barrett Jackson.
The next step is driving the auction vehicle from pre-staging to the actual staging lanes right outside the auction building. In that short drive, a ot can go wrong and has. Pedestrians typically will run out in front of the vehicles. Mechanical issues have
occurred, resulting in a temporary loss of control. We have found this weird fact: the louder the vehicle, the more people will walk over and stand in front of it no matter how fast it is moving. Once in the staging lanes, your world changes dramatically. Bidders and their guests only are allowed in this area. Celebrities and their entourages are allowed in this area too. Couple them with the media presence and things become even more exciting. But a driver’s purpose remains the same: assist potential buyers, assist the sellers, and keep your eyes on your auction vehicle. Sometimes it becomes quite a circus in the staging lanes but the security presence helps to control it.
Now it is my turn to drive into the auction building! Here I will encounter the block staff. Since I’m now in their world, I can only move in their direction and must remain inside the vehicle at all times. Eventually a bidders’ assistant will walk over and ask if the seller is around. Another vital team will remove any signs or other display material to present up on the stage. Then there are all of the enthusiasts just on the other side of the barricade trying to talk to me, waving at me, and whatever else to gain my attention. It is here in the auction hall where I must maintain my highest level of concentration. After all, I want to look good while all of those cameras are shooting photos and rolling video of everything I do. Now it’s time to drive up the ramp and onto the stage. Again,my eyes are on the block staff guiding me up, ignoring everyone and everything else! While the vehicle in front of me is selling, I’m busy answering rapid-ﬁre questions about the vehicle while keeping another eye on what is going on in front of me and listening for the hammer to drop. Hopefully the cleanup guys ﬁnish in time.
SOLD! Now it’s my turn! Again, I intently watch the block staff person in front of me guiding me over the camera pit and position the vehicle evenly under the BarrettJackson logo. After shutting the engine off and placing the shifter in neutral, I must continue to watch the block staff in front of me. If a camera is rolling, I cannot look at it or even acknowledge it is there. This is all about the vehicle, not me. I will admit while he was having difﬁculty looking a vehicle over, Mike Joy interviewed me about a 2008 Shelby Mustang I was driving. During that interview, my cell phone began vibrating because friends were contacting me while watching me on TV. While up on stage, you never know what will happen, and I have plenty of stories to tell from the years I’ve done this. Over the years, I’ve learned to stay focused while up on the block with greater ease, but it still is challenging.
Before the hammer drops, I am pushed to the exit ramp where the “sold girl” motions me to stop. Once the vehicle is sold and she places the sold sticker on it, I’m pushed out of the building while saying goodbye to her, but I’m far from done!
After hearing 20+ people shout “How much?” it’s time to drive through a maze of spectators and other auction cars as I drive by seemingly miles of tents. Spectators will continue to walk, run, and jump in front of me while I move at 5 mph. If it’s night time, the sold vehicle must be parked in the same space I retrieved it from. Tight spaces require assistance, and Barrett Jackson drivers have a very unique method of moving vehicles into and from the tightest of places. After all is said and done, I have to reluctantly (in some cases) return the keys to Key Central.
What are the take-aways of driving at Barrett Jackson? First, it takes a commitment to working up to two weeks. Some drivers are in a position to work the entire auction. Another attribute is to follow instructions to the letter, as all activities revolve around moving high-dollar auction vehicles around the complex in a safe and damage free manner. High levels of concentration are needed to accomplish this along with the ability to listen. Lastly, never eat or drink in an auction vehicle, never text or talk on a cell phone while in a moving auction vehicle, and NEVER EVER climb out of a running auction vehicle. Many eyes and cell phone cameras are possibly tracking our every move!
Photos by Rick Eckenrode
Photos by Rod Loveless