As I wheeled the Mustang into the Shell station in Schaumburg for the Caffeine & Gasoline event yesterday morning I was delighted to see two red mid-60s Mustangs arrive at the same time. Shortly thereafter a number of other collector cars joined our gathering at the station where Shell provided donuts and coffee and gave out free gas cards to customers arriving at the pump. Not only did this generate good will for Shell but it provided an opportunity for ACM staff to interact with customers and tell them about The Drive Home.
We left Schaumburg and drove into Chicago down picturesque Lake Shore Drive before turning south and east into Indiana and our final dash to Michigan. Four collectors joined the caravan and escorted us for about 60 miles before turning back to Illinois. A number of these had been with us for all three Illinois events and had become good friends of the Museum.
We arrived in Birmingham at the Townsend Hotel where tonight we and the North American International Auto Show will host a private celebration on the eve of our final journey down historic Woodward Avenue into the Motor City. We have put over 3,000 miles on the cars on this amazing rolling celebration of Detroit and America’s cars.
We arrived with all cars in great shape– running better and faster than when we set out. The Drive Home crew had bonded on the journey through our shared experiences which included the ability to view the beautiful variety of the American landscape and to interact with car enthusiasts and curious public along the route. As we drew close to Birmingham I had a chance to contemplate the origins of the journey and all those who made it possible. While I have been the visible ‘face’ of so much of the journey the truth is that there are a number of individuals and organizations whose involvement is what ensured success and to whom we owe our most sincere thanks. It is with that in mind I want to recognize our corporate partners and give credit where credit is due.
First, of course, is our partner in The Drive Home — the North American International Auto Show and Detroit Auto Dealers Association and, in particular, Rod Alberts, the Executive Director of both organizations. Their involvement leading to The Drive Home began more than ten years ago when I, an unknown newcomer to the enthusiast community, approached Rod and shared our vision to build America’s Car Museum and asked if he would allow us to exhibit classic cars at the NAIAS to provide exposure to the automotive media, manufacturers and general public to promote our ‘brand’. Many busy execs would not have agreed to see an unknown person obviously wanting something, but Rod the consummate nice guy and also someone who is always exploring creative ways to refresh the Auto Show and stay ahead of his competition agreed to meet me for a cigar and cocktail at the Capital Grille one of his favorite haunts.
I shared our vision and learned about the Show, America’s #1 show, and among the top two or three in the world. Rod had limited space, but generously made room for an ACM exhibit and continued to do so for several years as we worked with him to help him start an early galleria event as well.
While we may have marginally helped the Show, what Rod and the Detroit Auto Dealers Association gave us was important — a world stage and credibility for the brand America’s Car Museum. He also agreed to lend his name to our efforts and joined our Steering Committee becoming an important advisor. I could not have found a better friend and partner for our efforts than Rod who has directed the auto show for more than 25 years now and is well-respected throughout the industry for his creativity, energy, leadership and integrity.
While we ceased regular exhibits over time (all things run their course), Rod and I would meet whenever I was in Detroit most usually to share a cigar and cocktail and sometimes a meal moving to Churchill’s a great cigar bar in Birmingham. And, similar in our approaches, we would bat about ideas to work together in new ways to promote our institutions and America’s love affair with the car.
In September 2014 Rod and I met once again at Churchill’s –seems to be a theme here–and began to talk again about how to collaborate in a way uniquely different than commonly done by auto shows or museums– who rarely partner anyway. We hit on the theme that cars are meant to be driven and the best way to promote enthusiasm for the car is to drive them and to let the public see them and appreciate them as moving art and as vehicles which bring us pleasure and autonomy in a too regulated world.
We knew that road rallies are nothing new but that winter rallies are rare. We recalled post WWII America when Detroit and the auto industry were on top of the world and car design reflected the boldness of the country. We recalled that everyone drove in the snow and ice resorting to all kinds of tricks–such as cramming cardboard in front of radiators to keep engines warm and assist heaters– as we drove on daily business and long trips through the worst of winters. It wasn’t brave or unusual. Few flew anywhere. We simply drove.
And so we decided to celebrate that era, the auto industry, and Detroit as THE Motor City by staging a cross country winter drive from the Museum in Tacoma, Washington, some 2,900 miles to Detroit to open THE Auto Show. What could be better than ‘America’s Auto Show’ and ‘America’s Car Museum’ to partner in this celebration of America’s love affair with the automobile across nearly the entire country!
We shook hands agreeing to see if we could get it done as it required the right cars, sponsorships, planning etc. We promised to do some background work and get back in touch. Little did we know that enthusiasm for the project would come so quickly and make it all happen. But it did.
The next morning I caught a flight for Bloomington, Illinois, to meet with Ed Gold, the Advertising Director for State Farm, with whom I had also formed a partnership and friendship over the years. Ed’s also energetic and creative and a car guy–Mustang enthusiast in fact –and it was Ed who developed the now decade old partnership between State Farm and ACM. Over the years State Farm has supported the Museum construction, its annual operations and to this day State Farm is the Presenting Sponsor of the Museum and has worked with us on a number of collaborations.
Ed also looks for innovative ways to promote our mutual interests and is particularly aware of the importance of effective social media efforts and so when I told him of the idea Rod and I were concocting he immediately said State Farm is in as your first sponsor and made a cash commitment that signaled to me that we could pull this off.
Turns out that Ed was really on to how social media would embrace and promote the drive around the world. News outlets–print, online, radio and TV have covered this in areas far from our route –as far away as Germany in fact. And so, it was with gratitude and excitement that our caravan visited State Farm headquarters several days ago and I could thank Ed for making this trip possible and for the continued State Farm partnership with ACM.
Next up was our other strategic partner–in fact our longest continuous sponsor –Hagerty the world’s largest provider of insurance to collectors of classic vehicles and wooden boats. Again as a newbie to the field, I knew we needed such a partner in the enthusiast community and began to check out a number of well known firms. As always, I knew that you are judged by the quality of the company you keep and it has always been my goal that ACM would be known as a first rate institution of high integrity and that we would align with the finest brands of similar ilk–if they as established institutions would join us.
As I met McKeel Hagerty and saw his organization at work it was immediately clear that Hagerty was the premier company of its type and partner I would want. Fortunately McKeel was also approachable, shared our vision and values and was a leader who ‘makes it happen’. I was fortunate that he immediately embraced our vision as a unique museum–one committed to serving the enthusiast community and promoting the use of vintage vehicles not simply a repository of lifeless vehicles. He agreed to join our board of directors and put the power of Hagerty behind the Museum and our Club Auto program.
McKeel and I became close friends and motorcycle buddies and he became a consigliere to me as I learned about the collector community. Over the years we worked together to create the Hagerty Education Program at America’s Car Museum providing training for young people for careers in preservation and restoration of collectible vehicles and boats–serving a critical need for the future of these vehicles and the community.
And so I approached Hagerty about The Drive Home and Hagerty was immediately on board providing a much-needed ‘advance’ SUV and road service, hosting an enthusiast event on New Year’s Eve at Club Auto Colorado, and promoting the tour and our events among the enthusiast community to help generate the sought after, grass roots, enthusiast involvement throughout the journey.
As NAIAS, State Farm and Hagerty put their vast resources in motion word quickly spread about our plans. Soon their partners, who trusted them and their choice of investments began to reach out to us. Immediately two very important corporate partners joined the endeavor. We had perhaps two critical needs for a cross country journey– appropriate tires and fuels. Think about it. Remember what tires were like in the 50s and 60s and how we struggled for traction in ice and snow, suffered flats and blow outs? Remember engines pinging from inadequate octane, engine trouble from watery gas, and oils which did not stand up to hard use or which were so thick you couldn’t get a cold engine to turn over? Well thank God that two of the finest providers of these products offered to supply them for the journey and provided cash support and technical assistance as well. Shell –the ONLY fuels I would use as a young man for my high performance motorcycles–and Michelin who interestingly to me also make high performance motorcycle tires which are great in the rain–came on board. Not only did they provide product and cash support of The Drive Home, but they offered technical assistance to our team so we would have the right tires and oils for each vehicle.
Michelin and Shell’s assistance was critical to our success. The tires were flawless in snow, slush and ice and ‘footing’ felt secure. Grip was great. And I was stunned by how quiet they were at high speed. Shells high octane fuels, at times in the west ethanol free, had the cars running increasingly smoothly as the trip progressed. Cautious about speeds early on, by Missouri we were running regularly at 75 mph at length with occasional higher spurts.
I am delighted that Shell has signed a five year deal as the Official Fuels of America’s Car Museum and as we do driving events in the future Shell scientists will evaluate and report on the conditions of our engines pre and post trip. I have no doubt that engine conditions will show improvement for I have experienced it in the performance of our cars on The Drive Home.
Meanwhile the NAIAS introduced me to Lisa Dancsok, VP of Rock Ventures and associated with Opportunity Detroit which is doing so much to promote Detroit’s resurgence. As a major purpose of The Drive Home is to celebrate Detroit as the ‘spiritual’ home of the auto industry and to promote the NAIAS, Opportunity Detroit became an important partner to our efforts. Lisa knows how to make things happen and once again I found a new friend with vision, energy and the knowledge and ability to bring resources to bear to promote The Drive Home and create a celebration of its arrival in Detroit as a perfect stage-setter for the NAIAS one of the City’s most important institutions for the past century. Lisa put her efforts to bear even flying to Tacoma this fall to learn more about the Museum and work on plans with me for The Drive Home. As a result we are trilled that tomorrow Opportunity Detroit will stage our arrival in the city and host a major celebration on Cadillac Square tomorrow night.
In addition Lisa brought us into interaction with the Robb Report which is covering The Drive Home and sent a film crew to Tacoma to cover the departure. Only the massive floods and flight schedules in and out of Kansas City kept the Robb Report from joining us for the leg of the trip to Chicago. I was thrilled with the ‘reunion’ with the Robb Report for they too had provided early promotional assistance to establishing the ACM brand when Robert Ross arranged a major feature story on our efforts to build the Museum back in 2004. Another important lesson in the importance of relationships!
These important sponsors provided the critical resources for this wonderful adventure which has captivated enthusiasts and media these past two weeks. As we put out word of our itinerary and called for others in the community to join with us to create events along the way the response from clubs, museums, and businesses was overwhelming. We received offers of assistance, provisions of meals and coffee and event venues along the way from Keith Martin and American Car Collector in Portland; Walt Tomsic and Deni Sullivan in Bend; a number of clubs in Boise and Salt Lake City including Mustang, Nomad and Porsche; Glenwood Springs Ford; Jeff Thisted in Silverthorne; the Intrigue Collection in Lakewood; Ace Cafe Orlando in Kansas City in partnership with the Kansas City Automotive Museum; Mark Hyman Classic Cars in St. Louis; the Pontiac-Oakland Museum and Tourism Bureau of Pontiac and the Collector Car Garage in Chicago and The Townsend Hotel in Birmingham. All these wonderful friends–old and new–made The Drive Home a rolling celebration of a shared experience in our love affair with America and America’s cars!
What was amazing to me was the response of countless individuals who drove to meet us and urge us on at stops along the way. Some drove hundreds of miles in the old cars they loved and some attended multiple events. And inevitably THEY thanked us for coming and bringing these cars to life and to them!! Incredible!!
The Drive Home has demonstrated to me anew the power of relationships and what can be achieved when you collaborate with institutions of vision, quality and integrity as has happened here. America’s Car Museum is blessed to have such partners and it is those partners to whom credit and our thanks is due! Tonight is our opportunity to thank these partners Paul Sabatini, the dynamic Chairman of the Detroit Auto Dealer’s Association, Corry McFarland, ACM’s Board Chairman, Rod Alberts and I host them to a private celebration of our combined efforts at The Townsend. As a side note, Paul and Rod flew to Tacoma to join in the send off and drive the first leg, so it is fitting to celebrate together here.
Tomorrow is the final drive into the Motor City. The big Chrysler, cool Nomad and spirited Mustang will arrive home.
As activities end and the NAIAS opens, I know that Rod and I will soon enjoy another cigar and conversation and come up an even more interesting The Drive Home II in celebration of Detroit and America’s love affair with the car.
With gratitude to all,