Concours on Course

Charlie Goodman, a former mayor of Ross, tells the story this way: “Al Boro, you know, the mayor of San Rafael, and I first talked about it during the 2006 Great Race, where these vintage cars raced 4,100 miles across America and into San Rafael.” The “it” Goodman refers to is the First Annual Marin Sonoma Concours d’Elegance, set to become a reality on Sunday, May 17, on the grounds of the Marin County Civic Center.

“There hasn’t been anything like this in Marin or Sonoma counties in years,” says Goodman. In the more than two years since he and Boro conceived the idea, Goodman and a group of volunteers have raised more than $100,000 in underwriting costs and recruited most Bay Area media as in-kind sponsors (including Marin Magazine); they’ve signed up nearly 100 classic car entries; enticed dozens of Marin businesses and individuals and car clubs to participate; and they’ve named the Hospice Of The Bay as the event’s beneficiary.

“Trust me, Charlie and his group are passionate about this,” says Jim Farley, director of Cultural and Visitor Services  for the county and overseer of the County Fairgrounds, where the event will take place. “Every successful event has good advance planning,” he adds, “and Charlie’s had a great start on this.”  

However, as event planners well know, the critical element in the lofty title of First Annual Marin Sonoma Concours d’Elegance is that pesky word first. Here’s how Goodman described the challenge to a recent meeting of car-loving volunteers, gathered at his office off Smith Ranch Road in San Rafael: “Any regional event’s first year is always its toughest. That’s because everyone—sponsors, exhibitors, advertisers, even volunteers—all want to play ‘wait and see.’ They want to know an event will be a success; then they’ll jump in. Well, we don’t have that luxury; anyway, this event will be a success from the get-go; and I’m going to prove it.”

You can’t help but admire Goodman. More than two years ago he had a grand dream, and now he’s mired 24-7 in myriad details. Are ads in the show’s program selling? What about Porta Potties? Who’s handling VIP invites? What kind of insurance is needed? As he puts it, “some days it’s a smooth ride.” Others “are really bumpy.” However, now, in front of the show’s volunteers, many of them car collectors, Goodman has his mojo in gear.

Marin Sonoma Concours d’Elegance
May 17, 2009
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Marin County Fairgrounds, Marin County Civic Center
General admission: $15
Seniors (65 +): $10
Children under 16 free, when accompanied by an adult

“We’re expecting over 5,000 people to show up,” he tells them. “In a few years, the Marin Sonoma Concours will rival Pebble Beach. We have everything going for us: a beautiful, central place to display cars, sunny weather, car collectors living all around us, and picturesque country roads for tours to take place.” That pronouncement is a swipe at the famed Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, which for decades has attracted thousands of car connoisseurs to a remote, weather-challenged area to drool over the finest in antique and classic automobiles.

From there, discussion among the volunteers turns to grassy portion of the fairgrounds where the event will take place, the possibility of a flyover by antique airplanes, and the alternative fuel cars that will be on display, including the Price Family Dealerships’ famed Fisker Karma, a plug-in hybrid capable of 125 mph, along with a Tesla, several Zap cars and electric-powered motorcycles, scooters and bicycles.

Two weeks later—less than 90 days before the big event—Goodman calls to order a meeting of the show’s committee members. This time the setting is the Larkspur Landing boardroom of Hospice By The Bay. Surprisingly for a volunteer effort, with all eight men and four women seated and eyeing their agendas, the 8:30 a.m. meeting starts precisely on time. Hospice CEO Sandra Lew welcomes the group and emotionally thanks all for their “unbelievable” efforts and dedication. Chairman Goodman’s first item of business is sponsorships. “Of course you know Tom Price, who’s with us today, is our major sponsor. Fireman’s Fund and R.A.B. are also on board—and recently we’ve met with Bank of Marin’s Russ Colombo and Larry Brackett of Frank Howard Allen; both agreed to be sponsors—so now we’re real close to our $100,000 goal,” he reports. The room erupts in applause, cheers and chatter.

Goodman then switches the subject to trophies. “California Mortgage is offering one—so we now have seven,” he says, adding, “We need 11 more. Trophy sponsorships start at $250.” Next topic is finding a sponsor for the Saturday, May 16, grand tour of classic autos along the back roads of West Marin. “The great classic car legend Martin Swig is chairing this,” Goodman announces with a chuckle. “It starts at 9:00 a.m. at Poggio in Sausalito and lunch, catered by San Rafael’s Il Davide, will be at the French Cheese Factory outside Petaluma.”

Next up is committee member John Nirenstein, an avid car collector, with a report on exhibitor registrations. “As you know, we’re hoping for 180 cars in 21 classes, everything from Duesenbergs to horseless carriages to Ferraris to motorcycles,” he says. “We have about 70 now and they’re coming in at about five cars a week.” At that rate, with 10 weeks to go, a quick calculation indicates Nirenstein will still be short of his goal. “But don’t worry,” he says, “word is out among the collectors and, like everyone, they wait till the last minute, so entries will accelerate as we get closer to our date— our website is getting 60 hits a day.”

Nirenstein then notes that the “Cars of the Stars” category has a commitment from Marin rocker Sammy Hager to exhibit his restored 1967 Mustang, a prized Chevy El Camino and both of his late model Ferraris. “We’re awaiting word from Metallica’s James Hetfield with custom cars, and from Journey’s Neil Schon with his Lamborghini,” Nirenstein says. “And it looks like we’re getting one of the first cars to ever drive over the Golden Gate Bridge.”

The meeting moves on to the nitty-gritty: “The Saturday night kickoff party is coming along beautifully,” says Hillary Adams. “Get me your invite lists as soon as possible.”

“We’re using hand stamps, not wristbands,” says Steve Bajor, the event’s professional planner and site manager.

“We still need volunteers for parking directions, ticket taking and site control,” says Dave Devlin, who’s in charge of spectator services. “We’re at over a hundred but remember, we need two hundred.”

As the meeting winds down, Goodman reinforces his call to action.

“Hey guys, we have a story and this event is the perfect way to do it,” he says, his voice firm. “We want to bring to life a history many people nowadays never experienced. That’s what a concours d’elegance is all about. These cars are works of art. And the Marin Sonoma Concours will be great thanks to the determined efforts of all of you. It’s all for Hospice By The Bay, so that people are cared for during life threatening illnesses. And don’t forget, an event’s first time is the toughest, but we’re going to do it and do it right, because of all of you.”

Meeting adjourned, Charlie Goodman walks across the Hospice by the Bay parking lot, gets in his classic deep-maroon, 45-year-old Studebaker Avanti, and drives away lost in thought.

CAPTION: (Above) Committee members Gary Cohen and Bob Capurro flank Concours d’Elegance Chairman Charlie Goodman at the fender of Goodman’s supercharged 1937 Cord convertible.