“The Cowboy.” That’s the monicker most car people joyously recall when regarding their interaction with JD Pass. Many people know Pass to be the man behind Mississippi’s number one collector car showroom, The Vault and thevaultms.com. Unlike other famous car guys, very few know the story of the man behind the hat. Vault Dog Media organized a sit down with the rodeo star turned auctioneer turned automotive titan to get the full story on JD Pass and how he became the man he is today. It all starts with his upbringing a few hours west.
Pass grew up in the Oklahoma rodeo world and ranching tradition. He milked cows, rode broncos, and won roping competitions during his developmental years. “My babysitter was a horse named Sparkplug,” he recalls proudly. When we asked him about how he made the leap from being a born and bred cowpoke to big business he recalled the story of his chance encounter with a local livestock auctioneer.
“I needed a set of chaps and spurs,” he said. “So I went to the Enoch Watterson’s place to trade my cow for chaps and spurs to go to the 4H FFA show. I went to his house, he had a big white pipe fence with a big circle driveway with a goldfish pond in front of his horse barn. I thought he was the richest man on the planet. I wanted to be like him.”
With that, Pass went to auctioneer’s school in Mason City, Iowa and came back to Ardmore Livestock Auctions which, as fate would have it, was owned by the father of one of his best friends. Dickey Cain, gave Pass a few phrases to say to chant at the block and the rest was history. From there, Pass would go far beyond his roots and expand into the oil field industry and heavy machinery. In this field, he’d learn all about big business from the auction team as well as the industrious men who would come to sell.
Connections are obviously the key to any success story and another connection would prove beneficial as Dan Kruse, owner of Superior an oil field auction house, had a brother who noticed Pass’ talents as an auctioneer. The brother, Dean Kruse, sought out JD on selling his collector cars. Pass gave us the story, “This was 1988. I said, ‘absolutely I’d love to be there.’ So I showed up, he handed me a bunch of tuxedos and for the first time, instead of wearing a cowboy hat, I would wear a fancy bowtie and cummerbund. I looked like I was going to a wedding but I was an auctioneer in the big arena! I was selling for the ABC television magnate, Mr Jimmy Leake in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Mr Leake was ICONIC in the collector world and I was representing him.” The collaboration with Kruse would prove to be a mystic moment for Pass for as he began auctioning the cars, a new love would begin to swell.
“I found out that I had a passion for cars because there were a lot of memories. When I was growing up that’s all I had was old cars and trucks. It bought memories back as the cars would go across the ramp and it attracted me to it.”
With nostalgic passion, an opulent change in clientele, and the opportunity that could be had in the industry, JD Pass began collecting assets. His first was a 1927 Ford T-Bucket followed by a 1974 Pontiac Trans Am with T tops and a four speed. Before long, he was building a fleet of 400 stunning collector cars from all throughout automotive history. However with family necessities on the horizon, lifestyles changes, and fluctuating economies, Pass realized something had to be done.
“Some are independently wealthy riding around the world in yachts. That wasn’t me. So I always needed to figure out how to support my hobby without taking away from my family’s money to support that. Therefore, I had to start a business. I had to figure out how to turn my assets into cash.”
That is where The Vault was born. After purchasing a 150,000 square foot concrete warehouse in the then, undeveloped industry park in Jackson, Mississippi; Pass parked his fleet and began staffing, marketing, and selling his wares. He did this and ALSO found a way to support his hobby by helping others sell their cars, while going out to find more rare collections in the world. “Now we have a full business, full time employees, full media team and we’re doing a really good job at what we’re doing,” Pass said.
To this day, JD Pass has been involved in the acquisition, marketing and transfer of serious assets, having achieved over $5 billion in conversions and counting, It’s safe to say he is among the industry’s elite. Across his many ventures and travels, he’s acquired extensive multi-market experience and in-depth knowledge of market trends and cash values of multiple industries. His far reaching industry connections and networks allow him to bring a true, clear, and quick market vision to the task at hand. In April 2021, Pass brought out fellow automotive titans Richard Rawlings and Dennis Collins to The Vault’s inaugural car show anticipating 2 to 300 cars and people. The Vault’s 390 Car Show would defy expectations by becoming an 800 car event by 11 a.m. with an estimated 10,000 attendees. The show would be a massive success that took up the entirety of the Industrial Park in Jackson, Mississippi and ran into the upscale Fondren district only a block away. No surprise for the vision of a man who’s put it all on the line in every industry he’s aspired to from the start.
“I think this whole thing is about my lifestyle on both areas whether it’s the cowboy, or it’s the cars, or the cowboy and his cars. I’m transparent and straight forward and in the rodeo arena, you have to lay it all out on the line. You got to get’er done and you can’t leave any stone unturned. Here [At The Vault] we do the same thing. We push very hard everyday to provide customer service and consumer confidence which in turn produces results and record sales. In a world that’s now moving steadily to an online world where most of our clients are global. We are at the tip of the spear.”
When asked about the future of his company, JD simply stated that he had no idea what to expect. “Right now, we have a lot on our plate where The Vault is relatively new. We are growing and we have monumental opportunities in front of us. As our business continues to evolve, we’re blessed all the more. So who knows what paths we’ll take? Right now, we’re just going to hone our craft, stay the course, and be ready for what the future presents.”
From the boy trading his cow for used rodeo attire to an automotive expert managing hundreds of millions in assets daily, JD Pass continues to thrive in the world of cars and tame the trials of business the same way he’d tame bulls and broncos in the arena many years ago. It’s no wonder he’s known in the industry as “The Cowboy.” He’s always in the saddle, ready to ride out; going into any arena ready to take home the grand prize.