A Driving Attraction

If you truly love cars, then these are the events you don't want to miss

At the start of the new year, upward of 32 auto shows will be staged in two dozen U.S. cities — and that’s just a warm-up. For car enthusiasts nationwide, the coming months will be a time to check out the latest in hot rides.

For the auto retail industry, which tallied nearly $700 billion in total dealership sales in 2003, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association (www.nada.org), the American auto show circuit is a valuable lifeline to soccer moms, budding car buffs, and die-hard collectors. These glitzy, grand platforms are where the industry’s Big Three (General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford) and other global brands convene to unveil luxurious limited editions, preview practical family vehicles, and forecast the future of car design.

For enthusiasts like Dwayne Thomason, a computer scientist in Pittsburgh who has attended the Geneva International Motor Show and the Milan Auto Show in addition to shows in Los Angeles, Detroit, Atlanta, and New York City, it’s a very personal and emotional experience. “When I saw the Ferrari 350 Dino concept car [in Milan] that was the closest I could get to heaven without dying.”
Thomason, 42, changes cars every two to four years and attends auto shows primarily to conduct research and gauge trends before he buys. He has owned a Volvo, is on his third BMW, and will own an Infiniti G35 Coupe by Christmas. For Thomason, the opportunity to go one-on-one with manufacturers at the shows is a bonus.

Known as the premier show domestically, the North American International Auto Show (www.naias.com) in Detroit attracted a record 808, 833 spectators, raised $7 million for children’s charities, and introduced 79 new vehicles this year. “Shows in the big northern cities are perceived as the better shows because these markets attract [broad selections of] exotics by European and Asian car makers,” offers Thomason. He explains that shows hosted in “secondary cities” such as Atlanta, Chicago, and Houston mostly showcase vehicles like family cars and gas-saving hybrid’s.

Across the Atlantic, European shows, says Thomason, tend to feature six-figure, high-performance vehicles that may hit the U.S. market the following year. Britain’s Goodwood Festival of Speed claims to be the world’s largest and most diverse classic motorsports event. There are races, sales, and exhibitions, as well as live music performances.

Most car manufacturers provide a list of their auto shows and driving opportunities online. A list of events for car enthusiasts and Website links to the smorgasbord of domestic and overseas auto shows are available at www.caranddriver .com,,www.motortrend.com, www.carshownews.com, and www.gayot.com/lifestyle/ automobile/autoshows.html.

The following is a list of other auto events that promise to take the road test to another level:

By Invite Drives: AUDI
Once a year, upward of 500 Audi owners and aficionados are invited for a thrill-filled day at the Audi Quattro Challenge, www.audiusa.com, hosted at premier racetracks in Chicago and New Hampshire. In groups and one-on-one sessions with pro driving instructors, participants navigate a course during four uniquely challenging and breathtaking exercises: wet handling (which demonstrates the ins and outs of precision braking on

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