Barrett-Jackson Chairman and CEO Craig Jackson opens up about his 45th annual car auction
Barrett-Jackson Chairman and CEO Craig Jackson opens up about his car collection, his Scottsdale memories, and what the 45th Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction has in store for 2016.
By Sondra Barr
Most boys love fast cars, but it’s a rare few indeed who get to grow up surrounded by exotic and high-performance automobiles. For Barrett-Jackson Chairman and CEO Craig Jackson, his Scottsdale childhood was spent watching his father purchase and restore European classics, an endeavor that served as the impetus for one of the best known and successful collector car auctions on the planet. As the 45th Annual Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction rolls back onto the grounds of WestWorld in Scottsdale on Jan. 23––31, 2016, Jackson is reminded of how far the event has come from its humble Scottsdale beginnings.
Company founders Tom Barrett and Russ Jackson, Craig’s father, met in the early ’60s when Barrett was selling his 1933 Cadillac V16 Town Car. This fortuitous meeting between two auto aficionados led to their first joint car show, called Fiesta del Auto Elegance, a fundraiser that benefited the Scottsdale library and the community art center. The rest is automotive lore, but it wasn’t until Craig took over the company in 1995 that Barrett-Jackson accelerated to the forefront of the rapidly growing auto auction industry.
It was his decision to put Barrett-Jackson on the Internet in the mid-1990s and to grow the company via strategic television partnerships and venue choices that contributed to the auction’s dramatic growth. “Cutting the deal with Speed Vision, and then Speed Channel, and now the new deal with Discovery Velocity and the worldwide distribution of Barrett-Jackson––these are some of the milestones,” says Jackson. “Being the first collector car auction live on television and on the Internet definitely catapulted us into mainstream America.”
Under Jackson’s direction, Barrett-Jackson has held highly successful annual auctions in Palm Beach, Florida, and Reno-Tahoe and Las Vegas in Nevada. Meanwhile, 2016 heralds the arrival of the inaugural Barrett-Jackson Northeast auction that will be held in Connecticut in June. But it’s the signature Scottsdale event that holds a special place in Jackson’s heart.
“I remember being a kid going to the first car shows and really being intrigued,” says Jackson of his vivid memories of those early years, when the auction was held at the Scottsdale ballpark. “I had a Bantam that I restored that I showed and we won. That really hooked me. But I also remember going out there in the morning on the baseball field outfield and just walking those cars with my dad and thinking that was pretty cool that we put that show on. From that little car show, and it was a great show, because Tom Barrett and Russ Jackson had great cars, as did a lot of the other local collectors, it has morphed into what’s now known in Scottsdale, and worldwide, as car Mecca,” says Jackson.
In those early years, anything past Scottsdale Road and Shea was considered the end of the road. “There was Mag’s Ham Bun, a Circle K, a Tastee-Freez, and the little shopping center, and that was it. It was a dirt road all the way up to Pinnacle Peak,” says Jackson, who’d race his dirt bike up in that once desolate area.
Little did Jackson know at the time that North Scottsdale, an area he once considered “the end of the world” would become the ultimate home of Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale auction. “I remember we moved the auction out of Scottsdale because we outgrew the area. Every year, (Scottsdale) Mayor (Herb) Drinkwater would come to the auction and say, ‘You’ve got to move back to Scottsdale,’ and one day he tells my brother, ‘You’ve got to see what we’re building in North Scottsdale,’” explains Jackson.
“We met him at Drinkwater’s liquor store at Scottsdale and Shea and we got into his Suburban and we drove out there,” says Jackson of his first introduction to what would become WestWorld. At the time, Pima was a two-lane dirt road and there was just open desert. According to Jackson, Drinkwater was convinced that the area around what would be WestWorld was an ideal spot to bring signature Valley events like the Phoenix Open and the Arabian Horse Show.
“‘I want to build a place here for you,’” Jackson recalls Drinkwater saying. “My brother and I looked at each other and thought, ‘This guy is whacked; we’re in the middle of nowhere,’” recalls Jackson. “I told Herb, “I hate to break it to you Herb, but this is where we used to have boondockers when I was in high school.’”
Longtime Scottsdale residents likely recall the tenacity of Mayor Drinkwater, as does Jackson. “He stayed after us and by 1989 we moved the auction back to Scottsdale.”
The rest is history and thanks to the recent $42.8 million expansion project of the Equidome at WestWorld, Barrett-Jackson is here to stay and grow even bigger and better. The enhancements to the venue were readily apparent at recent auctions and provided not only more square footage in the enclosed and climate-controlled Equidome, it alleviated having to put valuable collector cars down in the flood-retention areas and made the event all-around more weather resistant. The bonus, as Jackson has notoriously pointed out: The updated venue means real bathrooms instead of porta-potties.
Following up the auction of the world-renowned Ron Pratte collection at the 2015 event, Jackson promises 2016 will top all expectations. Among one of the most highly anticipated items is a trio of VIN number one Corvettes from ’55, ’56, and ’57. Selling as one bid, Jackson expects it to garner in the multi-millions. “It’s a rare selection. We don’t want to break them up,” says Jackson. Indeed, the 2016 Scottsdale auction will feature perhaps the greatest collection of Corvettes ever. Other highlights include three highly sought-after DeSoto Adventurer convertibles and two Talbot-Lagos. “It’s a very diverse docket,” Jackson says.
Another notable aspect to recognize is the money Barrett-Jackson has raised for charity. So far, $84 million has been raised selling select cars for charity. “We raised $8.4 million in Scottsdale alone for charity,” points out Jackson. “Last year, Ron Pratte donated the General Motors Futureliner bus which brought $4 million. Then we got $600,000 raised in the front row by all the Nascar team owners who threw in $100,000 a piece.” Expect 2016 to generate even more for charity.
For Jackson, who’s seen thousands of cars pass hands throughout the years, people are always curious what cars are on his personal wish list. While he’s either owned or driven every car he’s ever desired, he admits to gravitating to cars with speed. Among his favorites right now is a ’71 Ferrari Daytona that he’s been restoring for seven years that he also painted with his son, a sophomore at Notre Dame Preparatory in North Scottsdale.
“We’re restoring and finishing up another multi-year restoration, a 1948 Talbot-Lago, similar to one of the ones we have in the auction,” says Jackson. “Both of those cars I bought and restored myself because I want to use them as rally cars.”
Another high point to his personal collection will be arriving soon. “I’m waiting for my GT350R to come from Ford. They’re only making 37 of them this year to commemorate how many they made originally back in the day. That one will be a keeper; it’s VIN 34 to go with the ’65 Shelby, the 34th one ever made,” says Jackson, who says the car world is experiencing an American muscle car renaissance right now that’s been a long time in the making.
Indeed, time doesn’t stand still. As Jackson points out, Scottsdale has evolved and is still evolving, but one thing remains constant. “I feel like Barrett-Jackson’s part of Scottsdale’s heritage,” he says.
Jan. 23–31, 2016
Weekly passes, daily tickets, and Family Value Day tickets can be purchased in advance online or at the gate at WestWorld, 16601 N. Pima Rd., Scottsdale. Car lists change daily, so check the website to find out when your favorite car will go under the gavel. Registration for an auction account or to consign a car can also be completed online at barrett-jackson.com.
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