In The Driver’s Seat With The Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Counsours D’Elegance
Author: Lindsey Harrell | Photographer: Photography by Anne
When started in 2002 as a fundraising effort for the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, those involved in building the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d’Elegance began with the notion that quality was critical. Attracting influential exhibitors, sourcing noteworthy cars, recruiting top level sponsors and selecting a venue that exemplifies Hilton Head Island and the surrounding Lowcountry were all significant to building the reputation the event has now established.
While they knew the show was good, those who started the event did not realize that the two-day event would grow into The Ultimate Motoring Festival, one of the premiere automotive events in the country. With its four signature events—the Savannah Speed Classic, the Car Club Jamboree, the Motoring Midway, and the foundation of the festival—the Concours d’Elegance, Hilton Head Island has set itself apart from the hundreds of other Concours events.
With two venues separated by a state line, over 10 days of festival activities, more than 500 vehicles on exhibit from all over the world, 75 managers to oversee many of the details, over 300 volunteers to work on site during the event, 13 dedicated board members, a selection committee, two advisory committees and a staff of four, a full year of planning is necessary to present the best event each year to continue to place Hilton Head Island on the motoring map.
Celebrating a milestone, 10 years of car show magic, this year, October 28-November 6, the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d’Elegance has made its mark on the motoring world. You might ask yourself, “Who is the Motoring Festival’s Oz?” It’s time to pull back that curtain and unveil a few of those members of the large support team that drive the Motoring Festival, making sure that all of the moving parts come together to create the most memorable show each year for attendees, exhibitors and sponsors.
Phil Capossela: The Ring Master
Born with motor oil running through his veins, Phil Capossela has had a love for automobiles from as early as he can remember. From the swooping lines and smooth design to the smell of the gas and the rubber to the roars of the engines and the screeching of the tires, he had an automatic attraction. Time spent in his grandfather’s service and repair station in New Rochelle, New York as a young boy only furthered his love and knowledge.
And, like his grandfather, Capossela was fortunate, turning his passion into a 35-year career in the automotive industry. Unlike most who are involved, he actually got his start with the event on the other side of the drawing board.
Working at BMW of North America, Capossela was instrumental in introducing one of only three charter sponsors to Hilton Head Island’s Motoring Festival.
When organizers got wind of Capossela’s move to the area, they quickly recruited him to bring his passion for automobiles and motorcycles to the Motoring Festival team. Now living on Hilton Head Island with his wife Suzie, 2011 will mark Capossela’s third year as chairman of the board for the event.
Capossela is particularly excited to further showcase BMW as the 10th annual event’s Honored Marque. Selecting BMW will give attendees a rare glimpse at an unbelievable array of BMW vehicles. Challenging to obtain as there were so few made of each model (in comparison to its major competitors), the festival will have an exciting exhibit featuring everything from prewar cars to racecars and motorcycles to tuner cars. Capossela can’t wait to stand on the fields of Honey Horn in awe with the rest of the people on the grounds.
Bob Craig: The Man Pushing the Accelerator
Since the move of the Savannah Speed Classic from Bloomingdale, Georgia’s Roebling Road to the spectacular Grand Prize of America road course situated on the river between Savannah’s famed River Street and Hutchinson Island, Bob Craig has been invaluable to the event’s success. Moving to Hilton Head Island after retiring from his role as the president of a Dutch multi-national functional chemical company with operations in 54 countries, Craig’s extracurricular background in motorcycle and sports car racing lent itself perfectly to working on the Speed Classic.
Craig’s need for speed, style and danger came early. At age eight, with his parents out of town, he recalls propping himself on cushions to drive his father’s 1946 Lincoln Continental V-12 while wearing his fedora. During his early joyrides, Craig didn’t know that he would one day become a critical part in creating the “Monaco Motoring Week of North America,” a title he believes the Motoring Festival will one day assume. With a love for speed and competition, Craig is ecstatic to share two new features at this year’s Speed Classic: the appearance by the Vintage Indy Racing Group and the Inaugural Car Club Challenge, pitting BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari racers against one another.
Craig has enjoyed surrounding himself with the other creative and successful people involved in developing the event, year in and year out, to bring the greatest show possible. The success of the Motoring Festival shows the wonderful quality of people in the community both on Hilton Head Island and in Savannah.
Paul Doerring: The Man who Pulled a Rabbit Out of His Hat
Growing up in Iowa, Paul Doerring, the event’s chairman emeritus, had an innate love for automobiles. He recalls his parents recounting times, even as young as three, that he could easily identify each automobile in a parked row. With that intrinsic infatuation, Doerring always knew that cars would be a part of his life; he just wasn’t sure exactly how it would all play out.
With stops in Des Moines, St. Paul, Stanford (where he received his PhD in psychology) and Detroit, Doerring and his wife Gerry relocated to Hilton Head after they fell in love with the island’s charm during a visit one year for The Family Circle Cup tennis tournament.
Once on the island, the Doerrings immersed themselves in the area’s diverse volunteer culture, starting the Jazz Society and the Island Tennis Association, and were critical in the staging of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Doerring reconnected with his love of automobiles when he started Cars at the Creek, a miniature Concours held in Moss Creek where the couple resided. It was this that led to his involvement with the Motoring Festival.
With his knowledge of and enthusiasm for automobiles, he was approached by organizers to recruit vehicles for the inaugural show. Despite an already busy schedule consisting of other volunteer positions, his psychology practice and a teaching position in the psychology department at USCB, Doerring made the conscious decision to follow his passion. He took on the role with the event, and with no road map in place or instruction manual to guide him, worked tirelessly to get not just cars, but the best cars. It was with Doerring’s persistence, passion and dedication that the Motoring Festival has become what it is today.
Carolyn Vanagel: The Woman with the Magic Wand
It’s a safe assumption that Carolyn Vanagel did not think her next move after leaving as a principal of Korn/Ferry, an international recruiting firm, would be to head up a car show on Hilton Head Island. Growing up in Indianapolis where racing and cars rule the city, Vanagel’s interests focused around natural horsepower, competing in national horse shows in the hunter/jumper division.
After moving to Hilton Head Island 14 years ago and adjusting to her role as a new mom, Vanagel took on a part-time position with the event as advertising manager. Impressed with her passion and energy, organizers approached her soon thereafter about coming on board as the event’s first executive director. Seeing this opportunity as a challenge to establish the Motoring Festival as one of the top events of its kind while adding to the many attractions Hilton Head offers as a destination, Vanagel accepted and is now leading the force as the event’s president.
Since joining eight years ago, the event has evolved beyond the typical one-day Concours formula into an overall Motoring Festival experience. The only event that can claim a similar approach is that of Pebble Beach.
As a non-“gear head,” Vanagel enjoys building those exhibits that appeal to the vast majority of people. In 2010, the Ketel One “Cartini” Lounge was introduced, offering area restaurants the opportunity to create their signature Cartini recipes, the winning one to be sold on site in the lounge. In 2011, Vanagel’s equestrian background influenced the creation of the Life in the Whoa Lane exhibit to showcase horse drawn carriages. Vanagel is excited to share all of the surprises in store for this year’s 10-year celebration with the projected 15,000 in attendance.