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Learning a Whole Bunch of New Tricks

New Tricks & Vice Versa

I’m writing this article on my new computer. It’s like driving a really fast car for the first time. They say you can’t teach old dogs new tricks; well as far as old dogs go, at age 73 I fit right into that category. This computer is really bitchin’ and, like with fast cars, I love it. I must have gone through a thousand yellow legal pads and hundreds of pink pearl erasers just getting this far into my career, so at my age I’m ready for a change.

Did I say ready for a change? My God, I’ve gone through enough changes in the last 20 years that it’s become my middle name. In a time when most of my friends are in retirement, it seems I’m just getting started. Somehow early retirement just didn’t work, God knows I tried. Maybe I was too young, maybe I got bored, maybe I missed the action.

Whatever it was, I am learning a whole bunch of new tricks. A few of my old friends ask, “Aren’t you scared?” Oh yeah! I’m plenty scared, but not afraid. I’ve also been told that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. Well as my old friend Nick Testa says, “Just learn how to chew different!”

Learning how to chew different has an official name, it’s called a “paradigm shift.” Meaning, you think it can only be done one way, and you finally see the light: “old dog, new trick.”

So-Cal Speed Shop's Pete Chapouris

In my other life, when we sold Pete and Jake’s Hot Rod Parts I told myself if I ever did this again I’d do things a little different. First thing, get as many of the old guard together as possible, and sprinkle in some youth so they can learn some of the old tricks. And that’s just what we did—so far so good. If nothing else comes out of this exercise, that’s fine. Putting all the ingredients together sure is a blast.

Change is good, being around young people is even better. They bring a lot to the party. My dad used to say “You can’t beat youth and enthusiasm.” Add mature advice and good financial management, and lookout! Well, that’s what is going on here and I’m really glad I stepped up and jumped in. Last time I jumped in the pool I damn near drowned; this time I know how to swim.

I’ve mentioned our young people before but a few of them are really learning new tricks, sort of a trial by fire. For instance, our go-to shop guy, my son Peter4, who’s 45 years old, fits right into the category.

There is a lot at risk when you take a craftsman from the floor and put him in charge of the team. The whole time he was working in the shop he most likely thought about getting out of the heat. But I think he wouldn’t mind going back every once and a while to escape the politics in general.

Peter4 and I are doing our best to find the right young guys for our apprenticeship program. So where do we find these guys?  They are out there, just looking for the right opportunity, and thanks to some sharp-eyed friends they are fortunately steered our way.

So what’s the bottom line to all of this? I have the desire to see our hot rod building craft get passed on to the next generation. With the right team, guys in the industry are making it happen. I’m proud to see it come to pass, especially at fantastic schools like the Alex Xydias Center for Automotive Arts.

Old dogs are teaching the young ones new tricks and the kids are dragging us old dogs begrudgingly into the future.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2016 print issue of the Drive Magazine.