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At a Barbie-pink car show, a Tampa woman finds community

It was an explosion of bubblegum, fucshia and pastels in Orlando on Sunday.
 
Ashley Witt shows off her 2014 Nissan Rogue at Auto Barbie Orlando, Florida’s first all-pink car show, on Sunday, July 9, 2023.
Ashley Witt shows off her 2014 Nissan Rogue at Auto Barbie Orlando, Florida’s first all-pink car show, on Sunday, July 9, 2023. [ CHLOE TROFATTER | Times ]
Published July 11, 2023|Updated July 19, 2023

ORLANDO — Sunburnt and exhausted, Ashley Witt shuffles through songs until landing on one that feels right. Lil Wayne seeps through the speakers. She cranks up the volume.

Her car comes to a crawl on the streets of Orlando and a kid walks past, eyeing the vehicle with a huge smile. This happens a lot. It is pink, teal and purple with glowing lights underneath, after all.

Witt is heading back to Tampa after spending the day with a bunch of other people who own vehicles that can also literally be spotted a mile away. Back home, she’s one of one, and that’s the way she’s grown to like it. But when Alexa Portillo, co-owner of the Lake County car shop Eccentric Garage, told her about an all-pink car show she was hosting in Orlando — possibly the first of its kind — Witt couldn’t say no.

She’s a working mom with her hands full, but this was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” So, she re-tinted her windows, cleaned the car out and got up early on Sunday to make the trip.

The 32-year-old didn’t know what to expect at the show. She certainly didn’t expect to win any prizes.

“Most of the time, I lose to a car with one sticker on it,” Witt said.

She was nervous, though. Maybe that’s why she arrived at 11 a.m., as early as participants could. The show didn’t start until 3 p.m.

Ashley Witt attended Auto Barbie Orlando, Florida’s first all-pink car show, in her 2014 Nissan Rogue on Sunday, July 9, 2023, at Dezerland Park.
Ashley Witt attended Auto Barbie Orlando, Florida’s first all-pink car show, in her 2014 Nissan Rogue on Sunday, July 9, 2023, at Dezerland Park. [ CHLOE TROFATTER | Times ]

In the middle of Orlando’s touristy strip on International Drive lies Dezerland Park, where the show was held Sunday. Straight across from the park’s entrance, Witt reverses her car into a place on the grass. The show is called Auto Barbie, and even though there’s no official connection to Mattel, people understand the assignment. There are Barbie cups, Barbie hats, Barbie shirts and even a Barbie doll on the dashboard of one car.

Witt herself is wearing a Barbie chain necklace and is nearly head-to-toe in pink attire. The bright pink and teal extensions in her bleach-blonde hair pair well with her neon sneakers, a hot pink fringe tank top and her teal tongue piercing. Her nails have the classic “B” for Barbie and “Barbie Ashley” on them, complete with shimmery charms.

Then, there’s her car: a 2014 Nissan Rogue with no rear windshield wipers (it looks cleaner that way, Witt said), teal wheels with spiked lug nuts and a heart-shaped exhaust pipe. Accenting the windows are phrases of the empowering and explicit variety. Inside, there are bedazzled seat covers, bow headrests and teal-colored cupholders and vents. Gwen Stacy, the Spider-Man character, is referenced everywhere, from figurines glued onto the dashboard to a hanging spider on a grab handle. Oh, and there’s also a teal detachable steering wheel.

Pink and teal have become something of Witt’s signature. They were the colors of the St. Petersburg house she grew up in and the colors of her previous car, a Mitsubishi Lancer.

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It was love at first gear shift with her Lancer, but not so much with the Rogue. It’s taken time to make the SUV her own, and she’s changed its looks as recently as last November. She knows it’s a good-sized car for her kids, but she can’t help but miss her old one. The upside, she said, is people don’t typically enter SUVs in car shows.

Cars line up at Auto Barbie Orlando, Florida’s first all-pink car show, on Sunday, July 9, 2023, at Dezerland Park.
Cars line up at Auto Barbie Orlando, Florida’s first all-pink car show, on Sunday, July 9, 2023, at Dezerland Park. [ CHLOE TROFATTER | Times ]

On Sunday, it seemed like she was right. At Auto Barbie, the section for SUVs and trucks is one-third the size of the one for cars. Her Rogue is quiet compared to the car engines that roar, pop and command attention when driven.

The Rogue is Witt’s everyday car. She drives her kids to school in it. She goes to her job at the Citrus Park mall in it. When she re-dyed the leather accents in her car purple before the show, her cat hopped in and left marks. It’s well-used, and you can tell.

But that’s what makes her different, Witt said, and she’d rather that than the opposite. She said having pink cars is trendy now, but she always knew she’d own one. At 12, she started going to street races and her friends in the local car scene taught her how to drive. For two decades now, cars have been a big part of her life.

She doesn’t have the money to devote to the hobby like some do. She has put about $3,000 into customizing her car, she said — change compared to the tens of thousands others spend. Because of that, she sometimes feels judged. Being in the car scene can be hard, Witt said. There are mean comments, favoritism and unfriendly people. She’s found more camaraderie in men than women.

Before coming to the show, Witt said she reached out to a few other participants. She didn’t hear back from any but one: Ciji Payne. Payne brought her cheetah-print Mustang from Georgia for the show. Together, they talk about the dynamics and unspoken rules of car shows, like not touching the vehicles. Payne mentions hearing about last-minute work being done to some of the show cars. Witt isn’t surprised.

Throughout the day, people come and gawk at the cars. Some get more attention than others. Witt isn’t a fan of those entering or coming to shows to gain social media followers. She’s grown a small following largely because of her car (she advertises her Instagram handle on it), but she said she isn’t in it for that.

This doesn’t stop her from wanting to meet an influencer she follows on TikTok. Ree Williams lives in Miami and has been riding motorcycles since 2004. She’s the only one at the show with pink-dyed hair. Witt and her quickly get to chatting, and eventually, Williams is filming Witt’s car and interviewing her for YouTube.

Ree Williams (left) films Ashley Witt’s (right) car for her YouTube channel at Auto Barbie Orlando, Florida’s first all-pink car show, on Sunday, July 9, 2023, at Dezerland Park.
Ree Williams (left) films Ashley Witt’s (right) car for her YouTube channel at Auto Barbie Orlando, Florida’s first all-pink car show, on Sunday, July 9, 2023, at Dezerland Park. [ CHLOE TROFATTER | Times ]

For motor-obsessed people, the draw of a car show isn’t just the chance of winning or seeing other neat cars, it’s the thrill of being surrounded by others just like you. Witt said there are usually just one or two pink cars at other shows she’s been to.

Witt had largely written off entering shows as a waste of time and gas. She hardly wins, and at Auto Barbie, her luck doesn’t change, but something was different this time: She wasn’t alone. There were other moms — a fellow participant who brought her kids said that moms deserve their own categories at shows — and other people with a penchant for pink and driving fast.

While she’s quick to point out that she liked the color before it was trendy, she admits it’s nice to go to a show where your car isn’t questioned but celebrated.

Long after most cars have left, Witt peels out of the park and onto the road. She had fun, something she hasn’t felt at a car show in a while. She’s already looking forward to her next one — Tennessee’s Slammedenuff Gatlinburg — in the fall.