When being a car show judge becomes very personal

When being a car show judge becomes very personal

It’s official! I’m a celebrity!

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Winning 1965 Ford Mustang | Nicole James photos

It’s official! I’m a celebrity! At least when I arrived in Lakeland, Florida, for Carlisle Events’ Winter Autofest, I was asked to be a celebrity judge for the car show portion of the four-day event. Without hesitation, I said yes.

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Interior view of the Mustang

The criteria for my judging was to be based on my personal preferences, I should select any car I liked for whatever reason. At first glance, this seemed like an easy request but, ballot in hand entering the show field, I realized I faced a difficult decision in picking which car should receive the award.

I found elements I liked in nearly every car, though I quickly skimmed over the garage queens and trailer kings and blew past the race cars, surprised to discover that I was more attracted to the underdogs of the show.

Going up and down the aisles, it took me back to when I first bought my car. I frequented car shows with friends who all drove imports. I knew at every import show they always managed to have an award for domestic cars or cars they considered lady-driven, and I figured if I bought a domestic I’d be a shoe in for such awards. But that didn’t happen and the entire experience quickly deterred my dreams of owning a show car. I realized fairly quickly that being a self-funded and working a job college kid at the time meant I couldn’t afford to buy the best of the best for my car or even to do a bunch of different mods all at once, so I did what I could and was proud of what I had.

My show car dreams turned into race car dreams but I learned the same lessons relatively quickly. Though I was olde, I knew a trophy wasn’t my motivation. What I liked was driving my car, experiencing the world around me, and enjoying it for what it was. My car and I embraced the idea of being labeled as daily driven.

So back to my judging duties this weekend. I selected a car that didn’t appear to be a garage queen, that wasn’t a racer, and was driven and loved. To me, the deserving winner was a light blue 1965 Ford Mustang.

My process was simple — I wanted the car to win that normally wouldn’t or was probably overlooked due to the wear and tear of everyday use and the owner’s limited means for doing customization.

The Mustang also reminded me of my first car. It was the same color, same body style, and seeing this one made me all kinds of nostalgic. Having owned Mustangs, I really didn’t want to pick a Mustang. But I couldn’t help it. As soon as I laid eyes on the car I knew it had to win.

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