Start Line: The Ultimate Car Guy

Within a few minutes of meeting me, most people come to a common conclusion: I must be the ultimate car guy. Nearly every minute of my waking life is consumed with steel, glass and plastic, so certainly I am a car guy. But the ultimate car guy? Hardly!

If you want to meet the ultimate car guy, you should hang around with some of the people I know. You see, while cars do pervade most of my thoughts, dreams and actions, I do have a few other interests.

For example, I am fairly passionate about music, liking and collecting everything from Johnny Cash to Social Distortion. I tend to listen to surf music when cleaning, polishing and assembling trim yet prefer hard rock, like AC/DC or Puddle of Mudd, when welding or fabricating metal parts.

Unlike most car guys, I also follow stick-and-ball sports a bit. I go to Jacksonville Jaguars games and grew up 40 minutes from Foxboro, Mass., so I still have a soft spot in my heart for the New England Patriots. Heck, thanks to fellow car guy and one of our suppliers, David Wiegand, I was even there last season for the Orlando Magic’s one NBA Finals win.

The few weekends I’m not wrenching, racing or promoting the magazine, I also enjoy fishing. We have a little cabin in the middle of the Ocala National Forest where we enjoy some of the best bass fishing in the world. No, in the world of cars guys, I’m still probably a lightweight.

If you want to meet some real car guys, let me introduce you to Rennie Bryant. [Ed. note: That’s the ever-cheerful Rennie above.] Rennie has been to every Sebring 12-hour race since 1970—hasn’t missed one since. He has raced there, crewed there, spectated there and been an official there. Rennie would sooner fall on a sword than miss Sebring.

He also runs a BMW repair shop and is very active in the Florida Region SCCA. Instead of working on his own stuff on the rare free weekends—he has many cars, most of them wearing blue-and-white roundels—he is with me, tirelessly helping to keep the GRM fleet running. Rennie is a real car guy.

Next there is Steve Ekerich. Steve is also very involved in his SCCA region in North Carolina, where he helps put on hillclimbs. Steve and his wife, Vicki, (who is perhaps the most rabid car gal I know) race in the Improved Touring and Production classes while also hillclimbing extensively. They also crew for the SpeedSource Grand-Am Rolex team.

To go out to dinner with these two is to talk about nothing but cars. Just for fun, the last time we ate together I purposely tried to steer the conversation away from cars. I couldn’t do it. Within 10 seconds, every time, they were back on track and talking cars. Don’t get me wrong—I wasn’t trying to be mean. I like talking cars as much the next car guy, but I wanted to prove to myself that there were a lot more ultimate car guys than me.

Steve is also an incredible fabricator, driver, machinist and suspension designer. When we reached the end of our Berzerkeley project, one call to Steve put this little problem child in the hands of someone who could—and would—sort it out.

Another ultimate car guy is Tom Cotter. When I got into vintage racing, Tom was my SVRA mentor—kind of like a big brother. Tom was a vital part of how I learned to run with the SVRA, and he has since become a lifelong friend. And because I’m still a car guy in training, he remains an inspiration to me.

Tom successfully sold his public relations business a few years ago, and rather than kick back and take it easy, he went car crazy. He now organizes ride and drives for companies like Mercedes and BMW. He has also written a bunch of great books—all about cars, of course; his latest is an excellent tome on Ed Roth.

Tom also collects woody wagons, and I believe he has an example of every vintage Ford woody ever made, including a super-rare Marmon-Herrington 4x4 conversion. Tom is a sports car guy, too. He collects and fixes real Cobras while racing a vintage Morris Minor and a Corvette. He has also gotten very involved with the Amelia Island Concours. Tom Cotter can talk cars and car people. Tom Cotter, not I, is the ultimate car guy.

I could go on and on. Take Bill Warner, who runs the Amelia Island Concours and is one of the most knowledgeable car guys there is. If I need to know an obscure car fact, I call Bill Warner. If the subject is a person, place or thing associated with cars, either Bill was there or knows someone who was. He’s also quite a racer, owning two real Group 44 cars. He’s also a famous automotive photographer, having shot for Road & Track for nearly 50 years. Bill Warner is the ultimate car guy.

Then there is Andy Nelson. Andy, along with his family, has built one indecently fast Chevy-powered car after another for our Kumho $200X Challenge events. I have been to Andy’s shop; it’s an old barn up in Pennsylvania. This guy is the real deal, working night after night in what most would say is a rather austere setup. This guy is a real car guy.

There are some common qualities that tie ultimate cars guys together. First, I think a requirement is having a broad range of knowledge. Honestly, I’d rather talk to someone who isn’t just limited to one make or model, whether it be MG or Miata.

Most ultimate cars guys are also involved in racing. It seems that the unequivocal leap into car purgatory is racing. Guys like Warner and Cotter became truly imbedded in this world through motorsports.

These are also people of action as well. They join their clubs. They build their cars. In cases like Warner or Cotter, they write books, sell their photos or create the most impressive concours event in the country. These are real car guys.

One thing we haven’t talked about is money. Sure, some of the guys on my list are fairly well off, while others, like Jay Leno, whom I have come to know, are seriously wealthy. However, money does not necessarily beget being the ultimate car guy. Sure, it helps, but real car guys know that the pieces of their dreams can be found on eBay or at swap meets.

So, sure, some would say that the creation of the magazine, my racing exploits (as trivial as they really are), and the fact that I have restored nearly 40 cars during the last 35 years should award me the title of ultimate car guy. However, I’d have to pass and introduce you to a few of my friends.

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prcfrog
prcfrog
3/17/14 2:22 a.m.

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