Doc Sheridan believes in the Vegas approach. Why put your name in 80-zillion-watt, flashing, cascading, 15-story-high neon nightglow when, for a few million more, you can get your name up above the clouds. The bigger the better. The louder, the brighter, the gaudier. He's the king of kitsch.He's the Leroy Neiman of lights.

So, obviously the D.C. Armory cramped Doc's style a little this weekend. Doc only got about a 30-foot square at the 24th Annual World of Wheels custom car show, which he did up nicely enough in red shag and then roped it off and watched it closely, in case some kid might become riveted by the lights and wander into the electronic field inside. Inside the ring of color blinking Christmas lights, inside the four spinning red/flash/blue/flash cherry tops, inside the frantic flick-flick-flickering of the strobes, inside the range of the head-on blasts of this stand-up, side-firing speakers of hard rock, which Doc liked to have turned up till they vibrate the gold chains around his neck and shake his socks down on his shoetops -- here, inside the electropulsating field, everything that could light up, did.

Headlights blinked. Taillights reddened. The interior flickered away on its own. The only all-digital Corvette dash in the entire state of Maryland blinked red digits. The wheels appeared to spin of their own volition. And the entire car twirled on an invisible turntable, like some centerfold model opening up to a camera.

As one final touch, as a hint of Doc's grandest visions, was his carpet of clouds, which he created by dropping blocks of dry ice into hot water, with the resultant for blown out of a tube underneath the objet .

There, spinning on his carpet of clouds, was Doc Sheridan's All-American Dream Machine, as it said on the banner overhead, a gleaming customized handstitched, pin-striped objet which once sat on a used car lot as just another '74 Corvette, and which even now was overwhelmed by the flickering, glittering light show which had drawn crowds five and six deep -- trying to capture this spectacle on Polaroid film -- along the roped-off field of electroadulation.

Yet, the objet lacked for something, seemingly d'art . For Doc's genius seems to be in Vegas lights, rather than custom heights; his spotlight on the spotlight. And this, it seems, is the direction the worlds of wheels are rolling these days. The Artiste

Steve Clark was working 17 hours a day. Daytime, he painted stripes because the Georgia country boys weren't into anything but big, wide, colorful stripes running down the sides and over the tops of their cars and vans. "I could knock out two of those a day," he said. It was the nights that Steve Clark lived for.

In the night he painted murals. The van he has now is his vision of hell. A black-haired, savage woman stands bare-breasted, with only a g-string of metal covering her, feet wide apart, a whip in her hand. A crouching black leopard, long of claw and baring its teeth, is approaching from behind her, toward a boiling opening in the earth -- a complete scene of satanic horror.

He did it with airbrush, he and his friend, Skip. Forty minutes at a stretch, for two years. It was their lunch breaks at the shop. He muraled the ceiling inside as well, doing a Michelangelo-Sistine Chapel number on his back.

These are not cartoon figures. These are flush-faced works of art, down to the gleam in the savage's eye. They are Steve Clark's creations. And he will sit straight up in bed at 3 in the morning with an image for the side of someone's door. He'll get out of bed at 3 in the morning. He'll sit up and drink coffee and let the images drift and wash across his mind's hood.

"my wife left me because of that," he said. "She came home one morning about 3 and found me asleep, in bed with the respirator hanging around my neck. I'd burned up a pan on the stove, the water had boiled away. I'd planned on going back. "when i woke up, she was packing. "i gave her everything. The van and furniture, everything. I got on a Greyhound bus with my airbrushes and a box of tools and my clothes, with $700 in my pocket, and came back to Baltimore."

That was four years ago when he says he was making nearly a hundred grand, a year painting stripes. Now, he is 32, making 14 grand a year, painting his visions. He is living with a woman who understands his passion, who knows when he doesn't come home till 4 in the morning that he's not in someone's else's bed across town, but breathing through an air respirator, airbrushing a piece of art across the side of heavy metal. The Heartthrob

That's "Dallas'" Bobby Ewing up there on the platform, sitting behind the table, signing Patrick Duffy on black-and-whites of his gorgeous face. Must be. That's what the sign says, though from here, from the back of the line, it's difficult to make out his face. It was taking 40, 45 minutes to get from the back of the line to where wives and girlfriends of all ages could lean over close enough to smell him, until they were blushing cheek-to-cheek for the camera.

For six hours on Saturday and another four on Sunday, Bobby Ewing is paid in the neighborhood of $5,000. "dukes of 'Hazzard" gets half that. Twiki, the robot on "buck Rogers" gets dismantled, crated and shipped on.

Always, it's some young heartthrob. Someone to attract the women who are seldom enthralled with a chromeplated manifold. Bobby Ewing's face brings in the other half of the house and doubles the gate. The Modle Man

Joe Kessler's cars come in boxes. They're like life-sized versions of the plastic '57 Chevys that you glued together when you were a kid. His is a bucket on rods. It comes in a kit and you put it together. Joe's street rod, "Smokey Joe's," has gone through 4 paint jobs, 3 interiors, 3 sets oe rear wheels and tires, 2 rear ends, 2 brake systems, 2 engines. It changes when ever he has a whim.

"e everything here is a whim," he said.

Joe's setup isn't as elaborate as Doc Sheridan's, but he did'nt just roll the sucker in and park it, either. He spread the carpet, rented the lights, set up the mirrors, yanked the floor speakers and stereo system of out of his living room, and bought the potato chips and dip for the show.

Joe is 24 now. He runs and autoleasing company out in Beltsville. He has $20,000 in his car and, well, it's not quite as exciting as he imagined. He remembers coming to those shows with his dad, remembers the time the guy let him inside the rope so his dad could take his picture standing beside some outlandish street rod, leaning as casual as he could against the oversized tires. My god, that was great.

"it doesn't seem like there are stars anymore," he said.

Big Daddy Ed Roth. Carl Casper.George Barris.

Maybe its's just his perspective. Mayber he now knows that all glitters is not good. Some of it's anodized aluminum. Trends

Gold is in. For as long as there has been customizing, chrome has been the standard. Suddenly, about a year ago, spotted throughout a shining sea of silver cams and lifters and manifolds was the gleam of gold. A bolt here, a rod there. Twenty-four-karat gold-plated.

At least, they said it was 24-karat. There are doubters. Some of the older guys will suggest that some of those parts are as 24-karat as the watch you can send for with $8.95 in check or money order. If one takes aluminum and anodizes it -- voila ! -- gold.

Still, the color of gold is coming. Gold parts, gold-based paint, gold-leaf lettering. Everywhere, gold.

What else?

Digital dashboards.

Foreign cars, old 240 or 260Zs. Mustangs are in, too. Vans are going, going . . .

And remember when every car was raked? First, they dropped the rear end and raised the front and they couldn't see. Then they raised the rear and lowered the front and they kept sliding under the wheel. Then they dropped the whole works. Then raised the whole works. Well, lower is the current passion.

And real hot? Turbochargers. Last year, they migh have been three cars in the Armory with turbochargers. This year, 15. The Pin-Stripe Star

Neil is 20, 21. Not very old. Half the guys who know him don't even know his last name. All they know is that he's hard to get a hold of, and that he has the best hand they've ever seen. They tell stories about Neil.

Other pin-stripers get down real close and steady their drawing hand on their other hand, slowly, tediously making their way down the line of the car. With Neil, it flows on. Smooth, easy, fluid, nearly flawless strokes. cNeil had done about two-thirds the metal in the Armory.

When Neil was 10 or so he would take his pictures up and down the street where he lived, selling them. Neil apparently turned professional early. He used turned professional early. He used to practice on the sides of junked vans and trucks. Then, after dark, he'd sit at home and practice his strokes on newspaper, the swirls and curls and Qs. Today, in this whole East Coast region, Neil Madden has no peers. Neil is a star. The Showman

Doc Sheridan's last creation, a gorgeous white pearl Corvette, he called "Bandit." He showed it three years, won 45 trophies. Best in Show, Most Popular in Show. Best Interior, Best Pearl (that's paint talk). "Plus a lot of cash prizes," Doc says. "They ain't much, $40 maybe. But $40 for Best Pearl means something. Means something to me."

Bandit was sitting downstairs in the Armory, sitting along one wall. Without the light show, no one even noticed. They passed by like it was a '73 Torino with holes in the floorboards and accordioned fenders. It's packaging. It's gimmickry. Trick painting and mirrored floors. In fact, if Doc could convince the PR boys at General Motors to come up with a little sponsorship green -- maybe just absorb his light bills into their regular first-of-the-month deficit -- why, then, Doc could really wind up his imagination and let it fly.

Doc might have to begin requesting outdoor space for all future shows. Doc could put his 'Vette up in the clouds and spin it. Doc could make it irridescent. He could light it up like a torch. Bring in a couple dozen searchlights and have them waving and beaming into the night. You could pull back your drapes from anywhere in the District and see Doc's monument in the sky.