By on May 9, 2013


As with many young lads growing up as the motor sports world was rapidly advancing in the 1960’s, I was totally fascinated with just about anything sporting wheels—especially if there was a powerplant involved. And especially if it involved head-to-head competition with such devices.


While not exactly being raised in a household favoring such a paradigm, I did have a sufficient amount of positive experiences with more distant relatives, close friends and neighbors. This enabled me to gain the impetus required to achieve the “escape velocity” necessary to make a go of it in the new and exciting world of motor vehicles.


We had a family friend we’ll call “Uncle D”, who was one of the first people I can remember laying a fairly impressive, first-hand, full-contact high-performance driving revelation on me. He took my younger sister, older brother and I out in his early sixties Ford Galaxy Convertible (it was pretty much brand-spanking new at that point) for a “joy-ride” around the streets of San Francisco, CA. It soon became an “overjoy-ride”—as he engaged in a series of tire-smoking launches, connected with some zero-G hill cresting, and power-slide cornering! This was before the advent of seat-belts  so—with the exception of my brother, who was fairly secure in the passenger front bucket seat—my sister and I were experiencing the full effect of the amusement park dynamic in the back seat!

Fortunately for Uncle D, this also predated the Child Protective Services Bureau, otherwise he most assuredly would have been called to task for “child endangerment”!  We, the fortunate “endangered”, would have argued in his favor, however—so much fun we had on that “Pre-Bullit” romp!

Aside from that experience, some of my earliest recollections involve the wide variety of performance vehicles in my immediate neighborhood of Walteria, CA.

We had everything from gearheads with modified ‘50’s Chevy’s and seminal “Rat Rods”, musclecars (note worthily a rally orange Pontiac GTO “Judge” and a Hertz Shelby GT350, with its gold racing stripes on black paint), and sports cars of many stripes (early Jaguar XK’s and MG’s come to mind). I remember a teacher at my grade school rolling in a red Mustang fastback, and one (that I didn’t particularly like) cruising a very likeable silver Corvair Monza Spyder!


Punctuating all of this motoring overload were periodic visits by my uncle and cousin as they were on their way to Riverside Raceway (R.I.P.) with some form of race-car in tow. The orange Formula Ford they brought by one summer was a definite highlight here. To imagine that someone related to me had an actual open-wheeled racing car parked in front of my home base!


Then there was my childhood friend just around the corner. We hit it off trading tricks we were learning on our Schwinn Stingrays—not realizing at the time that we were actually participating in the creation of a biking genre, which would eventually become known as Bicycle Motocross (BMX). Not uncoincidentally, his pop was big into off-road motorcycling, and it was a “family thing” for them at that point in time.

One of the highlights of that friendship was being invited to trek with them to the Mojave Desert, in the fall of 1972, to witness the start of the legendary Barstow-to-Vegas motorcycle race. Of course, the plan was to make a long weekend of it; so we were equipped with motor-home accommodation—and a trailer full of dirtbikes to test out and explore with.

There were many highlights to this trip, the most memorable being a ride out to the “smoke bomb”—a pile of worn auto and truck tires, placed on a hill about five miles away from the starting line, then set ablaze to serve as a marker for the start of the actual course—in between the start of each class grouping. (There is a depiction of this in the Bruce Brown movie “…On Any Sunday”.) The grouping we watched from this vantage point must have included not less than a few hundred riders, collectively making a sound like a low-flying 747 coming at us across the valley!

Yeah, some would even consider the RECOUNTING of this experience as politically incorrect and environmentally unsound—let alone it’s actual occurrence—but there it is, in the history books (and indelibly etched into my memory)!

Stay tuned for Part Two, and more accounts from my automotive “Wonder Years”…

Phil ran a successful independent repair shop on the West Coast for close to 20 years, working over a decade before that at both dealer and independent repair shops. He is presently semi-retired from the business of auto repair, but still keeps his hand in things as a consultant and in his personal garage.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

12 Comments on “MEMOIRS OF AN INDEPENDENT REPAIR SHOP OWNER: “TRAINING WHEELS”—or How Motor Sport Influenced My Formative Years—Part One...”

  • avatar

    This article gives me an excuse to unleash a pet peeve. I don’t understand why we tolerate child safety seats. To me, they feel like little jails, a padded prison cell for kids.

    Considering how rare serious accidents are per capita, is it really necessary to imprison our kids in the name of safety? How much safer are they than seat belts? How many lives do they actually save?

    They seem symbolic of our culture where kids are coddled but enslaved driven to and from events and lessons and playdates, but so rarely allowed to be free. Not the way to start an enterprising and fearless new generation; indeed, quite the opposite.


    • 0 avatar

      I agree with you, but unfortunately most people believe any safety device is worth ANY cost (and enforcement) even if the benefits are negligible.

      Cue the “when I was a kid” anecdotes, I think they have some validity.

      • 0 avatar

        As much as I enjoyed the freedom to jump around in the car when I was a child, the reality is that it’s very easy for those of us who survived it to view our own experience as being the only valid one (we did survive, after all). There’s no question that modern car seats and placing small children in the center of of a vehicle have had a major impact on safety.

        I think about the “car seat” that my parents put me in. It consisted of a wooden seat with u-shaped hooks that were designed to hang on the seat back. Considering my Dad’s ’53 Buick two door had non-latching seat backs, the net result was not so much a car seat as a mobile trebuchet.

    • 0 avatar

      Ever see that stupid Disney commercial with the Cinderella pumpkin coach that exhorts parents to keep the kids in the car seats until they’re 4’11”?

      Does that mean midgets have to ride in car seats for the rest of their lives?

    • 0 avatar

      “How much safer are they than seat belts? How many lives do they actually save?”

      They are a lot safer. I’ve heard about accidents where mom was being taken out of the minivan with the jaws of life, and infant was sitting in the car babbling to himself, not even realizing that the car was crushed.

      I don’t know how many lives they save, but they also prevent many injuries because little kids cannot handle crash forces as well as older kids and adults.

      You can find tons of stats on this everywhere, but here are stats from 1984, when car seats were still quite primitive:

      As you can see, even in 1984 with crappy improperly installed car seats:
      1) they saved 20% (158) of the kids that would have died in wrecks (792), despite being quite primitive and despite most of them being improperly installed — the rate would be much better today with lots more car seat techs available and better seats available
      2) they prevented over 1000 hospitalizations, and that’s with many of them improperly installed
      3) they also saved 17,000 injuries that wouldn’t have required hospitalization — this is the bigger point, since as I mentioned, kids’ bone structures aren’t as well equipped to deal with crash forces

      The numbers would be even better in the US if we followed Swedish conventions, and kids were kept in rear-facing seats for longer than they typically are here.

    • 0 avatar

      Equating child safety seats with helicopter parenthood? No deal. I work in emergency medical services and have seen the benefits of safety seats with my own eyes. Even before I worked in healthcare, I watched from my office window as the 6(!) occupants of a Ford Aspire 4 door were cut from their car after its feckless driver drove in front of one of the much-vaunted-by-urban-planners Max light rail trains in Portland, Oregon. The restrained driver and restrained infant were unharmed. The unrestrained occupants came out in various states of pain or visible deformity.

      Other than interweb trolls, most folks would agree that seat belts save lives. Lap belts keep people from being ejected from or pinballed within crashing or rolling cars. Shoulder belts and headrests have reduced spinal injuries. Child safety seats keep children safely anchored in the safety cells of modern cars. The purpose of booster seats is to keep the lap belt from riding over the pelvis of a child. Look at your kids in the back seat: if the seatbelt rides over their bellies, they’ll probably live after a crash but they’ll have a lifetime of intestinal ailment and surgeries from abdominal trauma. Another benefit of boosters: your 10 year old kid can look out the windows of today’s high-beltline/gunslit window cars. Less vomit on the pleather!

    • 0 avatar

      First let me say that I’m hear today because of a seatbelt and the sheer mass of a 1976 Lincoln Town Car that held it’s own when it and a semi decided they both wanted same piece of real estate at the same moment on the Florida Turnpike. Don’t be stupid, wear ’em… but, I have to agree that the amount of safety heaped on our children is crazy. How we who were born before seatbelts even made it to adulthood is beyond me. Bouncing around those cavernous interiors of cars then, my only “seatbelt” was my mothers arm flung across my chest during the occasional panic stop. We did grow to adulthood without the cocoons kids seem to be entombed in cars now. I’m sure they be ok with less, I just wouldn’t want to be the first parent that was wrong about that.

    • 0 avatar

      My wife and daughter were in a car accident quite some years ago. Wife, in shoulder belt, got severe bruising, nerve damage, tendon damage, and about a year of physical therapy. Daughter, in car seat, got tiny cuts from flying glass that healed in a day.

  • avatar

    Tell me more. I can’t get enough of this.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    The first thing you learn as a new parent is that everything you thought you knew is wrong.

  • avatar

    I raced in the ’72 Barstow to Vegas. I believe that there were over 2,000 riders. We all made the centerfold of Popular Cycling that year.

    Not politically correct and environmentally unsound? Yeah, that’s me.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • redapple: Hi It s me. the Resident HK hater. I was in Des Moines long time ago. The rental counter gave me an Amati....
  • FreedMike: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
  • theflyersfan: @Jeff S – the wild thing is that in the WVXU article, the only thing that remains is a small...
  • Dave M.: Here’s the build and price: en/build/trims/#/4530
  • theflyersfan: I think this is the vehicle that really turned me off to Hyundai/Kia. Every single time I saw this car,...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber