This piece will be the first in a series that features the people who make the Keeneland Concours d’Elegance possible. This feature is on Ray Szeluga, the Director of Car Nomination.
Author, Andrew Marsh.
Ray Szeluga has been involved with the Keeneland Concours since 2016 when he took over car selection from Jim Levenson. Jim had run the car selection committee since the first show back in 2004 and asked for help at a local Cars and Coffee. As Ray put it, “wrong place, right time. I’ve been accused of being not very smart,” he said. “I raised my hand, and along I went.” But don’t let his self-deprecating wisecracks fool you, Ray has been a critical part of putting on the Concours over the last three years.
Ray’s job as head of car selection involves coordinating the efforts of class leaders who track down and confirm cars for the Concours. With the help of his co-chair Chris Cashen and the other class leaders, Ray has brought hundreds of incredible vehicles to central Kentucky.
Ray grew up in Rockford, Illinois, and has one of those warm midwestern accents that leans heavily on the “r” and really rounds out the “o.” Ray wasn’t into cars when he was small. His dad was not much of a car guy, but his uncle was a Mopar fan and ran a Gulf filling station in nearby Cherry Valley. At 14, Ray started working weekends at the filling station, pumping gas, changing tires, and learning how to work on cars. “I’d make maybe 20 bucks a weekend as a 14-year-old back in the 50s, which was a lot of money.”
Ray has a long car history, but here are some highlights. When he first met Mary Anne, his wife of 50 years, he rode around in a raked over ‘54 Mercury. “I’d come home on Fridays and pick her up from school, and I’d come rumbling in BRUHM BRUHM BRUHM BRUHM BRUHM.” Even though she wasn’t into cars, she was a fan. Ray would go on to own other Mercurys and Fords, including a 1960 Sunliner – “The first time I backed it up and looked out over the back I felt like I was driving an aircraft carrier” – and a ‘66 Mustang “4 speed, 289, four barrel … a hot little thing.”
Ray and Mary Anne loved the Mustang, but they knew it wasn’t going to work with a family on the way. So they went to see Ray’s uncle — the one he used to work for in Cherry Valley. They ended up getting a ‘69 Dodge Dart GT convertible in a brilliant shade of blue. Fifty years later this April, the Szelugas are still driving the Dart around town and in events like the Hot Rod Power Tour and The Great Race.
Ray subscribes to the philosophy that people make cars special by adding stories to the metal like a good layer of patina. When Ray talked about their Dart — how long they’ve owned it, the memories he and his family made in the car — you could tell that it is more than just a machine to the Szelugas. When you own a car for as long as they have it becomes more than what it was, a mass-produced Mopar compact.
When asked what his favorite part of the Concours is, Ray took a beat but his answer came fast and was to the point. “Just seeing everything, and hearing the stories. Forget the cars!” Some of his favorites include a Locomobile that was owned by silent film star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. But what has moved him the most over his tenure have been the times when people have gone above and beyond to get a car to Keeneland. There were two cars that he had in mind, a wonderfully restored 1970 Buick GSX and a Sunbeam Tiger that were brought to the Concours in memory of their owners — who had passed away a short time before the show.
Ray’s sentiment towards owners and their stories is fairly common amongst the people who run the Concours. Ken Hold, one of the founders of the show, said more or less the same thing in an interview last year. Ken loves bringing people together around their shared passion for cars, and Ray is the man who brings many of those people to Keeneland in July.
Getting them on the phone is one of Ray’s favorite parts of the job. When he took over car selection, he learned from Jim Levenson that many of the potential entrants are not easy to access. But he told Ray that once it comes out that you’re calling about a car, doors start to open that were closed tight before. This exact scenario happened to Ray recently, when he got on the line with an assistant. Ray told them who he was with and why he was calling, and in his words: “she goes, wait a minute… he’s giving directions, somebody calls, and the call goes through!”
For this year’s show, Ray is particularly excited about a Mercury Cougar Eliminator that he was able to secure with the help of the Cougar Club of America. There are five months until the show, and entrants are still being accepted. We don’t yet know every vehicle Ray will secure for the show field this year. But we do know that we are thankful for his efforts and his enthusiasm for bringing people to Keeneland!
This is Ray’s 1938 Ford four-door Deluxe.
Shown here is Ray and his wife of 50 years, Mary Anne.
This photo was taken at the ZMax Dragway at the end of the 2018 Hot Rod Power Tour.
This is Ray and Mary Anne’s Dodge Dart in the 2013 Great Race.