When I woke up at 5:09 am, I was already late. But as I stared at the ceiling of our hotel room, I questioned if I really wanted to do this all over again – all for a hat. Of course I would love to roll back over and go to sleep but knowing that wasn’t going to happen, I once again forced myself up and out of bed and into the dark. This would be my second year to find myself a Dawn Patrol Hat.
The Dawn Patrol Hat is the brainchild of McKeel Hagerty who started supplying coffee and donuts to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance early risers in back in 2000 only to supplement the annual event in 2006 with a limited supply of hats (rumor is each year is limited to just 100). But getting a hat is the tricky part as not everyone who shows up at dawn at the 18thgreen on Pebble Beach will walk away happy. Thus begins my quest for the ultimate sports car collectible – the 2019 Hagerty Dawn Patrol Hat.
For years I had heard of the Pebble Beach Concours Dawn Patrol hats but was never really sure about exactly when or where they were to be found but in 2018 I finally had my first shot at this elusive prize. Not knowing exactly what to expect I did know one rule – get there early and the earlier the better. Brave are the souls that try this while staying off property as they must wake up, drive to Pebble Beach, find a parking spot, and walk. For me, in both 2018 and 2019 I was fortunate enough to stay at the Lodges in Pebble Beach with Casa Ferrari just a stone’s throw from the entry to the Concours.
In 2018, when I stumbled through the dark to the 18thgreen, I met a crowd of several hundred all quietly sharing their stories in near pitch black next to a coffee and donut stand. But what’s next? Unsure I began my wait standing next to a parked SUV sporting small Hagerty stickers behind the coffee and donut stand. This must be the place I thought only to have my theory reinforced by a passing Concours judge who whispered that’s the place to be! His advice firmly stated that the SUV most surely contained hats. But nothing happened as the minutes ticked away towards dawn. Around 5:45 am I spotted an elderly lady passing off some important advice to a mother and daughter about watching the cars as they roll in. Perhaps she might know the inside scoop on these hats – and to my amazement she explained the whole ordeal is a secret sort of affair with inconspicuous people handing out the hats from backpacks all without fan fare or celebration (think the opposite of what happens at hockey games and the t-shirt cannons). Within minutes of her advice, someone totally out of the blue just a mere feet from me handing out hats. I didn’t see them walk up nor did I see where they went. Either way 2018 was in the bag and the hat was all mine!
Which brings us to 2019. Having contemplated passing up the whole affair, I once again found myself standing in the pitch black morning at 5:20 am waiting and looking. Gone was that Hagerty SUV and the crowd noticeably larger than 2018. Still not knowing how to spot those Hagerty hat folks, I saw everyone with a backpack as suspect. At first there were just a few but as the crowd grew as the clock ticked towards 6 am, backpacks were everywhere and anyone could be part of this hat-fest. So I stationed myself up above the coffee stand next to a young fellow dressed in all black with a black pack scanning the crowd thinking he must certainly be in on this and about to hand out hats any moment. But when to my surprise he bolted off into the crowd only to see him a moment later hat in hand, I laughed and knew once again I was off track. Whispers around the crowd began all saying they were all gone and I was too late. Well crap if 2019 was a bust I’ll at least go watch cars pull in further down the green where a very thin crowd was waiting for the drivers to start their engines. And what do I see in the predawn light? A young girl walking along the ropes handing out 2019 Hagerty Dawn Patrol Hats. I thanked her profusely as she disappeared into the crowd up the hill. I was two for two! Of course once I made it back to our room near Casa Ferrari, my wife promptly commandeered the hat as hers.