HOW I GOT INTO CARS & THE AUTOMOTIVE AFTERMARKET INDUSTRY
My first recollection of a cool car was in 1978 (I was 10). My next door neighbor had a 1966 427 Stingray convertible (white with side pipes). We accidentally received an Eckler's Corvette catalog which I read cover to cover...I always loved machines and wheels! In 1980, I saw the car I now own in my grandfather's garage (see My Car Story below). Yeah, that's me when I was 11 with my mom, Uncle Al the hell raiser and my awesome Grandpa Frank (I matured early for my age). Here's a funny side note...Half way through my freshman year in high school I moved from Illinois to Texas and went to Marcus High School (freshman only school at the time with over 1,000 students). Because I looked about 25 years old with a full beard, almost no one talked to me. Later, I found out why...they thought I was a undercover narc. Hmmm. A narc, with braces....yeah, that's the ticket (whatever).
After seeing the Javelin AMX in my Grandfather's garage, I was hooked. I read every car magazine from Hot Rod to Popular Hot Rodding and saw every car movie I could find. My favorites were Gumball Rally (1976), Vanishing Point (1971) and Mad Max (1979). Along the way, I called ALL of the aftermarket speed parts manufacturers including Summit Racing Equipment. My mom used to call me Calc because I was always figuring horsepower increases and how much I had to save to buy the parts I dreamed of. When I was 16, I didn't get the Javelin as my Grandfather had promised which devastated me. Instead, I got a 1971 Dodge Challenger R/T 440-6 (V-code) with automatic and 3.54 gears (lemon twist with white interior)...needless to say, I still wish I had that car!
Believing that too much horsepower was never a bad thing, I called Paxton Superchargers (owned by the Granatelli Racing family who won Indy several times, popularized STP and created Tuneup Masters). I wanted to supercharge my car badly... I remember I called so much they even offered me a job. So...I interned with them throughout high school at their Santa Monica, CA racing shop in the Paxton Automotive division. I started at the bottom but worked my way up throughout college so that I was their assistant Marketing & Sales Manager right out of college (I remember having to forgo a Master's Degree in Marketing at Drake University for that job but I'd like to think I got a master's degree in life experience). So, I packed up all of my things in my 1987 Formula 350 Firebird, drove from Iowa to California and rented a room from a psycho lady from Denmark (she was about 60, dishy and wanted personalized service). When I refused, my roommate (a U.S. Marine) and I left to make other arrangements (those were the days).
My mentor was Joe Granatelli, Sr. who was like a second father to me. I tried to follow in his footsteps (first to the office and last to leave). He was the chief mechanic for the Granatelli Racing Indy team. I never got to learn much of mechanics from him but he was a rare breed. One story I can tell from personal memory is from 1991. We had just completed construction of a new Mustang drag race car and we were readying it for a Fun Ford track event. (Back then, the fastest 5.0 Mustangs were going mid 10's)! We prepared the car in Santa Monica where Paxton Products had been since 1958. Everywhere you looked was history. The building was filled with Indy engines, one-off experimental superchargers (even a full Carbon Fiber one that cost 5K just to make 1 impeller) and row upon row of components that went into a Paxton centrifugal supercharger. Here's a photo from 1994 at Paxton Superchargers in Camarillo, CA (I was their Marketing Manager then). Yeah, I know...funky tie. Well, we had a dress code and you HAD to wear a tie. We had a weekly competition to see who had the most unusual tie...J.R. Granatelli almost always won but I beat him out once with Snoopy dressed as a park ranger with a huge grin!
By 1991 Joe Granatelli, Sr. was 72 years old and he had more than paid his dues. However this car was special to him. He was building it for his son, J.R. Granatelli and he wanted everything to be perfect for his baby boy. After a full 20-hour day, we were all hot, tired and hungry. Joe Sr. picked up a pencil and started walking around the shop taking everyone’s pizza order. Even though Joe Sr. was the boss he still worked with everyone as if he had no seniority. After a quick pizza break, we worked a few more hours before it was time to clean up and call it a night. I started mopping up the floors when Joe Sr. told me, "let me give you a hand." "But Mr. Granatelli, let me do that. You shouldn't have to mop floors when you are the C.E.O. of the company," I said. Dead silence came next and then Joe Sr. said the most amazing thing: "If I am too good to help you mop the floors, then I have no business owning this company." Then, I and Joe Sr. finished mopping the floor as a team. The next day we went to the track and had a great race. It was at that moment that realized this is a simple example but it is one of dozens that demonstrate the kind of man he was. Personable, hands on, respectful, respected, a brilliant business man, a mentor and of course, an ace mechanic. Later, he passed away on September 13, 2003 and J.R. and I wept on the phone together... We both miss him dearly! This is one of many great stories I have...
I'm proud to have been given the opportunity to spear head the Granatelli Signature Series Z-28 Camaro program with my long time friend and former boss J.R. Granatelli. We created the first aftermarket torque arm for an F-body, the first 200MPH production speedometer for an F-body, the first C.A.G.S. skip shift eliminator for an F-Body and about 250 limited production cars. Motor Trend tested our Camaro in the December 1994 issue "Natural Born Killers". We not only made the cover but beat everyone the shootout (Doug Rippie, Vortech, Lingenfelter, Hennessey, etc.). We were even going to be the official Camaro SS in 2006 but lost the contract to S.L.P. at the 11th hour (Callaway melted many engines with their twin turbo program and GM did not want warranty problems with a supercharger program). Naturally, Paxton was known for their superchargers so the Granatelli's wouldn't concede on that point...too bad! Before I left to pursue an amazing opportunity with a racing car team and mail order speed parts business, we developed the NOVI 2000 gear driven centrifugal supercharger. It literally supported up to 1,000HP efficiently with NO gear case failures ever. The lead designer, Chang, was the lead turbine aerodynamicist at Lockheed Martin. His impeller design efficiency and gear case structural integrity has yet to be surpassed by Vortech, Procharger or anyone else.
For about three and a half years, I ran a mail order speed parts business for a professional racing car driver. We went from $11K/month to $250K/month with 1 shipper, two installers and one sales/tech/marketing/advertising/pr guy - me. I took the position to really learn how to start a business from the ground up...I remember going from a huge office with a secretary and over 200 employees to a used car lot with a greasy Ford 9" rear end on the lobby couch. My office had a fax machine on the ground and it was filled with dust, race car windshield and kids toys. I remember thinking, "what did I do!". But, I seized the opportunity anyway (I never worked harder or longer hours in my life!). After many 14 hours days, seven days a week, I met my high school sweet heart after an 11 year absence. We married and went to San Francisco on our honeymoon. I was looking for another job because the 7-day a week thing and my boss wanting me to work my wedding day was getting really old...lol.
I interviewed with several companies but I landed the Director of Sales and Marketing position at Vortech Engineering. Yeah, I know, the bane to Paxton's existence. I remember feeling like I somehow sold out since I was so loyal to Paxton forever. Vortech was and remains a great engineering and development company yet they will never have the "Granatelli charisma and innovation" in my opinion. On a side note, we actually developed the Agora clutch (named for a company in Agora, CA). Why do I mention that? Well, they wanted a quiet supercharger for the luxury car and sport utility crowd. We didn't have a quiet gear driven supercharger and it would be years later before Borg Warner and Ford engineers were able to figure out how to achieve this. So, they wanted an A/C style clutch system to turn the superchargers on and off. The main problem was that it shocked the impeller and gears so badly at wide open throttle that it caused premature supercharger failure. Of course, they didn't see the REAL value to the you, the consumer!!! You do remember the movie Mad Max and that bad ass switch that turned the supercharger on don't ya? Yep, had they continued development and solved the supercharger failure issue, you would now have Mad Max superchargers everywhere. We even had a really cool aircraft style toggle switch with LED that lit up when it was under boost. The clutch and toggle switch system would only have added $1,000 to the cost! Trust me, you would have wanted it...I know I did. The engineers laughed and just didn't see the market potential so the rest is history. Interesting story don't you think?
After my mom passed away from lung cancer in 1999, my dad became ill. So, I resigned from Vortech to go home and take care of my father in Iowa. At the same time, I decided to start my own marketing, advertising, PR and web design company. Yeah, I know... another brilliant idea (just like leaving Paxton, my dream job, to work for a small start up racing company). But, it's something I always wanted to do. My grandfather always owned his own business and I was always a lot like him (he was of course 10 feet tall and bulletproof). I remember the night I resigned, my wife and I went to a Cheesecake Factory. Over a delicious pizza (and cheesecake), we decided to try it. The next morning, my wife jumped out of bed at 6AM and said, "come on, let's do this." We were both so excited! So, I sold everything I had including my 1996 Z-28 Camaro hot rod and moved in with my mother-in-law and worked out of a 10x10 room. Yeah, my mother-in-law (it was a great thing she did by offering to let us live there and one I'll always be thankful for)! It wasn't really that bad (I couldn't load the dishwasher right, fold the towels just right or vacuum the carpeting at just the right angle though). My wife worked at the World Trade Center in Dallas to support us until I got things going. Weekend were spent driving to/from Iowa until my father passed away in 2001. By the way, my dad loved cars too but oddly enough he was in the marine / boat building industry for 30 years. He was a national sales manager for Brunswick Marine and he was transferred all over the place. Yep, I went to 5 grade schools, 4 high schools and 6 colleges (on par with a military brat I think). That makes it difficult to have roots and have long lasting friendships.
My first customer was...you guessed it...Granatelli. It's true what they say, you meet the same people on the way up as you do on the way down (so don't ever burn your bridges). Slowly over the next ten years, my wife came on board as my lead graphic designer and illustrator. We wanted to keep things small and manageable for our Clients so it was just us. Since all of our Clients were SEMA Member manufacturers (http://www.sema.org/), August through December was torture. Many times, we worked 20 hour days for weeks and once 52 hours with just a 4 hour nap!)...whatever it takes to get the job done right! So much so that we almost never got to go to SEMA (a multi-million square foot trade show every car guy and gal should see once in their lives in person - http://www.semashow.com/). We grew my business to the point we both would just want to sob at all the hours.
Since my wife and I worked together, lived together and played together for 9 years, we lost all intimacy and I eventually asked for a divorce. Hmmm. Never thought that would happen to me since I believed she was my soul mate and she felt the same about me. Sadly, it did. I remember really enjoying showing her how to change/gap spark plugs, bleed brakes, change brake pads, etc. Remember, she was a major girly girl and they generally, just aren't into cars! Plus, she talked car like few other women and loved driving the Javelin FAAAAST! I must say that I miss having a gal in my life who's into cars like I am. My recent ex-fiance sadly wasn't into cars...she liked vintage cars but her passions were gardening and writing brilliant and smutty romance novels.
Cars and hot rodding have been such and integral part of my life the next woman has to have at least an appreciation for them (and the more the better). Do you know any cute, fun, funny, interesting, passionate, charismatic, eclectic women who are into cars and like to really talk (especially car)? I forgot to mention I am mostly Greek and Czech AND a Scorpio so I'm very passionate (it's in my DNA). I know you're out there somewhere and I just don't want to give up hope on finding my hot rod soul mate!!!! The next one? No rush...just slow and easy (except while driving)...best friends first with true compatibility then lovers. Oh yeah, I'm working on fixing me and healing from the recent divorce and broken engagement as quickly as I can...completely starting over and going to make a new and better me in every way. Please keep me in mind if you know anyone. If you do, please send them to my Facebook page where they can learn more about what I like and see some pics and videos of me and my AMC Javelin AMX: http://www.facebook.com/scocar Finally, finally, finally! I'm figuring out who I am, what I really want out of life and how to really enjoy it. SURPRISE! It MUST involve cars...my dearest passion!
A rippin' 401 with an overdrive transmission
Enlist Jordan Musser (a Dallas based Grand Am Koni Challenge driver to get SCCA certified)
Get Pro Stock certified at the Roy Hill Drag Racing School
Continue growing my business and honing my skills
Become the best person I can (physically, emotionally and spiritually)...just call me Grasshpper
Meet my hot rod soul mate (Hello, McFly, is anybody out there?)!
Live the dream!
And now, the rest of the story! (ok, I ripped that one off from the late Paul Harvey).
1971 Dodge Challenger R/T 440-6 Pack
1987 Pontiac Firebird Formula 350
1974 AMC Javelin AMX
North Texas AMC
Fairlane / Torino Club of America
— Profile last updated: Jun 22, 2011