[Updated with a couple more photos] AMVIV is unique in the world of MINI events in that it’s not focused on a specific driving route, road or track. Instead it’s about people and their cars. It’s a place to meet, mingle and ogle the countless customized MINIs. And it all happens in the midst of the one of the world’s biggest parties: Las Vegas.

I had a fairly unique perspective on AMVIV this year. Not only was this was my first trip to AMVIV but also (gasp) my first experience with Vegas itself. Beyond that, I actually helped host what some would consider the highlight of the event, the AMVIV Banquet. So, instead of writing the usual event review, I’m just going to present something a little closer to a travel journal.

Be sure to click on each photo for a larger view and a caption.

Friday

I got in late Friday and just managed to check into my room before the strip cruise. The cruise is one of the high points of AMVIV. The gist: all MINIs at AMVIV gather just outside the city and head down the length of the Vegas strip. It’s an incredible sight from inside or outside the car.

I almost had the ride of a lifetime when Waylen (the same Waylen who runs Way Motorsports and winner of the NAMCC last year) invited me to drive one of his race cars down the strip as part of the cruise. Unfortunately, the idea came to a crashing halt when (after I was belted in to the 5-point harness) we couldn’t find the key. So I had to settle for shotgun with DB. The company was nice and DB’s modded Cooper sounds fantastic, but a bright orange MINI race car without windows or even a dash to rattle would have been slightly preferred. Maybe next year.

One little note about this year’s cruise – I can confirm shots were fired at at least a couple cars. I saw the resulting damage on both of them. It would appear it was the work of a kid with a pellet gun. Nothing sinister, but still unfortunate at best.

After the cruise, I got to spend some quality time with Todd, DB, Eric Savage from Helix, Randy Webb from Webb Motorsports and a bunch of other MINI owners. One word of warning – if you find yourself in the middle of a casino at 3am with a shirtless Randy Webb, it’s time to go to sleep. I wish I had. From what I can remember I finally closed my eyes around 5am. Unfortunately it was only three and a half hours later that I was in line for strongest venti latte money could buy.

Saturday

Saturday is the day that most of the drives take place. Since I was without a car, I focused on meeting as many people and seeing as many cars as possible. I also got a chance to visit with a number of MINI vendors and check out some of their newer products. To say the R53 mod market is alive and well would be an understatement. M7, Alta, Helix, Craven Speed, everyone seemed to have some inventive new products. And for those with R56s, the after-market is already knee-deep in new parts and ideas for plenty more.

One striking difference from an eastern US event like the Dragon, was the sheer number of highly modified cars. It’s pretty obvious that the car culture is a bit different in the western US as compared to the eastern and midwest US. Not to say one is better than the other – it’s just a different feel from what I’ve experienced at other MINI events. While there were certainly a number of questionable design choices made, it was a nice change of pace and great to see such a level of enthusiasm. There were a handful of cars there that simply blew my mind with engine, interior and exterior mods.

After taking a quick nap, DB, Todd and myself started preparing for our banquet MC duties. I can tell you it’s quite daunting when you realize you have to host an event attended by about 600 people. It got a lot more daunting when I saw the line outside the entrance. They looked as hungry as they were thirsty.

The food was surprisingly good, the staff was excellent, and crowd was happy to be there. Key ingredients to what turned out to be a very successful evening.

The rest of Saturday night/Sunday morning was similar to the previous one. The same bad cover band playing in the same “Irish” Pub following by more Vegas revelry. And after about 90 minutes of sleep, I found myself in the same Starbucks line buying the same six shot venti latte.

Sunday

Before leaving to catch my flight I met on the 6th floor of the parking structure with DB and Todd one last time where we managed to pull together enough of the language skills (in short supply I can assure you) to record a quick three minute recap of the weekend. With that and a bottle of water I stole from DB’s trunk – I was out the door and on my way to a delay-filled travel day home to Chicago.

AMVIV is such a great event it’s hard to believe it’s put one entirely by just one club – the Sin City MINI Club. What they’ve created is something that is uniquely focused on people and cars first and foremost. Combine that with a location that makes it hard not to have fun, and you have a weekend that won’t be soon forgotten.

I’d like to give a special thanks to everyone who made my first trip to AMVIV and Vegas so much fun. Between the list being too long and my memory being a little foggy, I can’t and won’t name everyone here. But you know who you are. Thanks for everything and I hope to see you next year.