Like many, I’ve been collecting Hot Wheels and Matchbox toy cars pretty much my entire life. My childhood cars were well loved, though I admit many fell victim to the cruel play of any 10-year-old boy, which often includes bricks, paint, mud, and a few explosives, just for good measure. It wasn’t until I started Redline Derby Racing that I started getting heavy into Hot Wheels collecting, which would eventually lead me to Nashville, Tennessee this year for a diecast car collector’s convention.
Not your typical convention
This wasn’t my first toy convention. I’ve been to my share of video game conventions and a few model train shows as a kid. I even went to Celebration III in Indianapolis to bear witness to one of the largest gatherings of Star Wars fans ever, but none of those prepared me for the Nashville Collector’s Experience. This wasn’t your normal convention where you walk into a giant hall filled with endless tables of people selling their stuff. Instead, collectors that were staying at the hotel where the convention was held opened their rooms up, allowing anyone to walk in and check out their cars for sale. You had to walk from room to room to see what people had for sale, often creating a somewhat awkward experience…it’s not every day you walk into someone’s hotel room to make a purchase. On top of that, people were scattered around the hotel so you had to jump floors to see everything. If you ask me, this room-to-room format really hurts the experience and in the long run I think it limits how much people can sell. Had everyone been in one spot I probably would have purchased more.
However bizarre this method of buying and selling was, it didn’t impact the quality of toys for sale or the deals to be had. Whether you were looking for ultra-rare diecast cars or just cheap cars to play with (like me), there was something for every type of collector. I saw some cars selling for upwards of $150 that I assume were custom made or possibly one of the original 16 Hot Wheels from the late 1960s. While I do collect Hot Wheels, I’m a not collector that is looking for rare, vintage cars or anything like that. I just wanted cheap cars to play with…and boy did I find them. Even today some 40 years after they hit the market in 1968, Hot Wheels are still incredibly cheap to collect, only a $1 for a new car at Target or Walmart, but that doesn’t beat the 30 cents some people were selling them for at the convention. I walked out of there with nearly 50 new cars and paid less than $25 for all of them. Not a bad haul by any stretch.
Ready, set, race!
Despite this convention being called the “Collector’s Experience”, I was really there for one thing and one thing only – racing. I mentioned starting Redline Derby Racing, which is an online fantasy league game for downhill diecast racing…kind of like the pinewood derby in Boy Scouts only with Hot Wheels instead. Through my Redline Derby web site I made some connections inside the diecast collecting community and found others that love racing as much as I do, and one of them was bringing their massive 50-foot race track to Nashville to be part of the convention. Long story short, I went to Nashville to take my racing on the road and hold a special set of races on this huge track, a slight step up from the 20-foot track I had at home. The racing went great and was made even better by the crowd that was on hand. While it wasn’t anything more than a couple dozen people, seeing everyone from kids to adults get excited about downhill racing was great to behold.
A little something for everyone
While the racing was a lot of fun, there was more to do at this convention than buying cars and sending them down a hill. Other activities at the convention included a customs contest that asked folks to customize a Hot Wheels and have it be judged. You might think the cars you see on the store shelves are fancy enough but let me tell you, you haven’t seen anything until you see a car that has been blinged out by a pro. The amount of detail these customizers get on a 1:64 scale car is ridiculous, putting any full-sized model to shame. There was also a famed diecast vending machine in the main convention hall. I had heard stories of this vending machine for a while, it seemed legendary, so I was interested to see what all the hubbub was about. Turns out this vending machine was exactly that, a snack vending machine that was altered to drop toy cars when you enter your selection. The fun part is you have no idea what you’re getting, you can’t see the cars inside. You just pick a number at random and whatever falls out is yours, but being a collector’s convention, everything that came out of the machine was of collector quality. With my vending machine pull I scored a re-issue of a vintage car called the Red Baron, which I then had signed by Larry Wood, one of the first Hot Wheels car designers, who was at the convention for autographs and photos. Larry didn’t design the Red Baron but it was still cool to meet the guy that had designed so many Hot Wheels for decades.
I was only at the convention for one day, so I’d be short-changing it if I didn’t mention a lot of the other stuff going on before I showed up. The in-room buying and selling was happening all the time, there were several special events going on for ticket holders, including bingo, a special version of UNO and even some late-night racing for cash and charity. And just about every activity at the convention resulted in you receiving a special, collectible diecast car. On top of the cars I bought, I walked out of the convention with at least a dozen free cars I got just for being there and having some fun.
Every hobby is better with friends
Most hobbies tend to only require one person, you, the collector. You can collect toys, trains, games, action figures or whatever by yourself. You don’t really need other people and collecting Hot Wheels isn’t any different. I can go to the store, buy cars, and come home and be done, but sharing your hobby and finding others that enjoy it as well is always more fun. Even though I got to race my cars on a big track and found crazy deals on new toys, the one take away from this convention was the comradery and friendships. This was my first diecast car convention so I was new to everything, but most of the people there had forged friendships from these conventions…from collecting toy cars…for years and it was great to see, and it was even better making a few new friend myself. Even though the convention was a little different than I expected, it was a great time and if another convention comes within driving distance I’ll be there with bells on…and with a couple hundred Hot Wheels ready to race.
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