It was in 2017, when Stuart Sobek was attending the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for the 30th time in his 57 years, that the light bulb glowed brightly.
“We have everything in Las Vegas,” he realized. “Professional ice hockey, the (Oakland) Raiders are coming, women’s basketball and Triple-A professional baseball. Why not a world-class concours d’elegance in my town?”
After growing up in the San Diego area, where he became a Navy contractor, and after moving to the San Francisco Bay area and working in commercial real estate, Las Vegas had been Sobek’s town for only a couple of years. But he was determined to add a world-class concours to the menu of Las Vegas attractions and the “inaugural” Las Vegas Concours d’Elegance is scheduled to take place October 25-29.
We put “inaugural” within quote marks because there have been at least two other Las Vegas concours staged in recent decades. My recollection is that one lasted two years, twice as long as the other.
But neither of them had Stuart Sobek’s commitment to the cause, a commitment that has had him pretty much living on the road for the past two years, visiting concours and car shows and car collections on multiple continents to assure that this concours, his concours, won’t be a one-hit wonder.
Nor will it be a one-day event, just a fancy car show on a golf course fairway.
The concours weekend begins with an opening night gala at the spectacular, Frank Gehry-designed Keep Memory Alive Event Center, where Wolfgang Puck will serve as chef and where the first Helene Awards will be presented to those who have made a significant contribution to the automobile and the collector car hobby. (More on Helene momentarily.)
The concours will be staged Saturday, the 26th, on not one but two fairways of the DragonRidge Country Club at MacDonald Highlands, a golf course in Henderson, up on the slope of Black Mountain and thus offering a sky-high overview of The Strip.
Two more Helene Awards will be presented at the conclusion of the concours, to the Best of Show-winning car owners, one in the post-war category and the other for a pre-war vehicle.
The concours already has announced the first three Helene winners — photographer Michael Furman, the Art Center College of Design (one of the concours’ beneficiaries), and to Sheri Goldstrom, a tireless supporter of charitable causes and manager of a family owned Las Vegas car collection and museum.
The awards are named for Helene Rother Ackernecht, who fled Germany before World War II and immigrated with her daughter to the United States from France in 1941. An artist and textile and jewelry designer, Ackernecht was doing illustrations for Marvel Comics when Harley Earl hired her as the first woman to be part of his team at General Motors design studio.
Sobek notes that Ackernecht was the first woman to address a meeting of the Society of Automotive Engineers, telling them they needed to pay attention to women as decision makers who, she said, make 80 percent of family decisions and control 120 percent of the money.
As for the concours, it will offer many of the usual classes, such as European Classics: Pre War and American Post War (1948-1970), but also some more unusual — and appealing — groupings: two classes of Chevrolet Corvettes, an American pony/muscle car class, significant racing cars, a class for cars that were popular during Las Vegas’ “Rat Pack” era, a class comprised of local resto-mods and another for cars owned by the residents of the multi-million-dollar homes around the DragonRidge golf course, as well as a class for Sobek’s beloved Dodge Vipers — in a variety of “candy colors” — and a class of “Future Collectibles.”
In a twist on the usual golf-course display, the cars will share the 10th and 18th fairways with $40 million worth of sculpture by Richard MacDonald. Another twist will be the fact that five of the homes along the golf course will offer open-house, walk-through tours.
Sobek said securing a world-class field of cars turned out to be easier than expected.
“It’s because of Las Vegas,” he said. “People can see the potential here. In effect, this will be a pop-up museum.”
And the concours awards presentation only marks the midway point of the event.
“A lot of concours have a drive and that’s always been my favorite element,” Sobek said. “I love that part. For me, that was a natural.”
So, from 10 a.m. until noon on Sunday, October 27, concours cars will cruise the Las Vegas Strip, which will otherwise be closed to traffic.
And on Monday the 28th, concours participants will be back at DragonRidge for a celebrity golf tournament.
“We’re Vegas and we have opportunities,” he said, noting an ability to include celebrities in the gala and the golf outing. And, regarding the golf event, he added, “I thought it would be fun to do something different, to go back to the course a couple days later and to see the (golf) course that way.”