Every year, the world’s auto enthusiasts travel to the Monterey Peninsula to participate in the Car Week that culminates with the luxurious Concours d’Elegance classic car competition.
But the real enthusiasts, the hardcore vintage car nuts, can be found on the 18th green at Pebble Beach -- in the dark, clutching paper cups of coffee, observing the annual ritual that has come to be known as “Dawn Patrol.”
Like migratory birds instinctively drawn back to the water’s edge, several hundred found their way through the darkness to the final green of arguably the nation’s best-loved links.
Some had been on the lawn for a full hour before the clock ticked past 6 a.m. and the rosy fingers of dawn began tickling the eastern sky.
Then, with a roar, the first of the dozens of vintage vehicles came to life. The faithful prepared their cameras and cellphones, and the parade of classics began. The first car to roll toward the fairway was a cream-colored 1950 Ferrari coupe.
Some enthusiasts worked harder than others to get to Dawn Patrol, attendance at which can require careful planning, string-pulling and secret tactics -- just to get to the Lodge at Pebble Beach and onto the 18th green.
Paul McNabb, who writes about classic cars for various specialty magazines and has attended many previous Pebble Beach events, said he solved the logistics problems by sleeping in his car and walking to Dawn Patrol, from the nearby community of Carmel, a 40-minute trip on foot.
“I just love being here,” McNabb said. “I just love cars.”
By 9 a.m., all of the cars had made their way onto the Pebble fairways, and had parked in their assigned spaces, where through the morning the judges would assess them and their competition in order to determine who would win the prestigious Concours d’Elegance prizes, in a ceremony scheduled to start at midday.
By then, some of the Dawn Patrolers would be gone already -- out of gas before the first ribbons were awarded.