By on June 19, 2016

Young Matt Fink with Shelby Cobra

On this Father’s Day, I’m thankful my dad showed me his love of cars.

Unlike some fathers and sons, we have never turned a wrench together. Instead of teaching me how to fix cars, my dad, a quality engineer at Honda, taught me how to look for paint runs and inconsistent panel gaps. While some families sit around the dinner table sharing stories of a classic car they restored, my dad reminisces about the time I found a hair in the paint of a new Dodge Viper at a car show.

We may not sit and talk about deep personal issues, but my dad and I can talk for hours about racing. Living in central Ohio meant my dad and I could spend many summer weekends at Mid-Ohio watching everything from vintage cars to IMSA, motorcycles to IndyCar. I knew when a car was cool because my dad insisted on taking my picture in front of it.

Come on dad, couldn’t have told me to wear a shirt!

In those days, everyone drove their best cars to the track. I have hundreds of pictures of me in front of cars in photo albums (that my wife tries to throw out every year!). If I ever get skin cancer, it will be from UV light reflecting off car paint onto my pale shirtless body.

Young Matt Fink with a Ferrari

I’m thankful my dad took me to Indy 500s, and Brickyard 400s. He also exposed me to the beauty of waking up early on Sunday mornings to watch Ayrton Senna dominate Formula 1.

Young Matt Fink with Formula 1 car

We may not have changed oil together, but I know that I read car magazines today because my dad did. Growing up, one of my favorite things was looking at my dad’s copies of AutoWeek. I would quickly skip all the articles to look at pictures of new cars from auto shows. AutoWeek was great, but it wasn’t all that “cool” of a magazine for a young boy. So for my birthday he got me a subscription to a new magazine, Sport Compact Car, that provided all the articles about Honda Civics and pictures of lowered Preludes a boy could want.

I don’t remember ever throwing a football with my dad, but I do remember my dad taking me to our first car show. I was so excited I could hardly take it. The Columbus Auto Show is a pretty small show, but I was still very anxious. There was going to be a Lamborghini Countach there done up as a police car, which is basically the single coolest thing a 9-year-old could imagine.

My first car show, I’m mentally preparing myself to see my favorite car, the car I had posters of on my bedroom walls, the Countach…

As we arrived I didn’t want to look at the Countach yet, I wanted to save it for last. I literally covered my eyes walking past it saving my first glimpse of a Countach until I could really soak it in. Unfortunately, as my anticipation grew, I became so excited I literally got sick and threw up at the thought of being in front of my dream car … and never got to see it.

My dad may have never taught me how to bleed brakes, but he did teach when it is ok to lie. Seeing that I couldn’t stomach (pun intended) the amazingness (if that’s a word) of the Columbus Auto Show, my dad knew he couldn’t just tell me we were going to the 1989 Detroit Auto Show. So he lied. As far as I knew, he took me out of school to accompany him on a business trip (man, I was gullible). It wasn’t until we were walking into Cobo Hall that I realized what was going on. By then, it was too late to get nervous and I had the time of my life.

We all learn things from our fathers, one thing I learned was how to spot quality manufacturing. At the car show we made a game of finding paint drips and wide panel gaps. Of course none could be found in early 1990s Hondas that he worked on. Nothing brought my dad more joy than when I found a car with radio buttons that didn’t have the same feel when pressed. It was there that I first set my eyes on the most beautiful car I’d ever seen, the Acura NSX.

Acura NSX at Detroit Auto Show

But my best memory from that day is getting to sit in the brand new Mazda Miata while my dad took my picture.

Young Matt Fink in red Mazda Miata

The following year we returned to the Detroit Auto Show (this time he lied and said we were going to a Detroit Pistons game… did I mention I was gullible?) and my dad again asked me to get into a Miata for a picture. From then on, it was a tradition and every year we took a picture of me in a Miata.

Young Matt Fink in black Mazda Miata

Young Matt Fink in red Mazda Miata

Young Matt Fink in red Mazdaspeed Miata

My dad may have never taken me camping, but he took me to meet my racing heroes. Sitting in a real racecar and getting a picture autographed gave me specific drivers to root for.


I can clearly remember my dad taking me to meet drivers like Alex Zanardi (super nice), Gil De Ferran (very nice), Andre Ribeiro (nice), and Jimmy Vasser (not nice at all). They became the drivers I had posters of on my wall and the ones I took pictures of every time they drove by on the track.



These are pictures of my son at his first IndyCar race where he got to meet Tony Kanaan.

One of the greatest gifts my dad gave me was a list of all the sports cars he has owned. He owned all but one before I was born. Unfortunately for me, he never saved any, but I still dream of purchasing one of the same cars my dad owned someday. I still spend hours learning about his former cars like ’59 Triumph TR3s, ’61 MGBs, ’66 Mustangs, ’66 BMW 1800s, ’68 Ford Torinos, ’74 260Zs, and even ’97 Preludes. Even if I never own one of those, I’ll at least have memories from Mid-Ohio, Indy, and Detroit to fulfill that need. In reality, he gave me a much better gift by sharing his passion for cars with me.

Fast forward 27 years. I recently experienced the same joy my father did taking my 6-year-old son to the Columbus Auto Show (though thankfully, with considerably less vomit). Coincidentally, this was an important year for Acura and Mazda … again. Just like my first car show, Acura released a new NSX and Mazda had its new Miata on display. Realizing this literally brought a tear to my eye as my son and I approached the NSX. I think it goes without saying that I took a picture of him sitting in a Miata.



24 years after I went to my first Indy 500, I took my son to the 100th running of the Indy 500. He stood on his seat yelling for his hero, Tony Kanaan. The auto enthusiast bug is already fully in him. And I think I’m at least partially responsible. For Father’s Day, I’ll be giving my dad a frame with two pictures taken 27 years apart, of his son and grandson sitting in the driver’s seat of a Miata.

On to the Best and Brightest. Did your father teach you anything you are thankful for this Father’s Day?

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39 Comments on “Thanks Dad, for Helping Me Appreciate the Joys of a Consistent Panel Gap...”

  • avatar

    So you’ve had a chance to be on the twin oval in Powell/Dublin, Ohio?

  • avatar

    Eee! Last photo is awesome!

  • avatar

    My father’s color-blind.
    Fortunately, my mom wasn’t so I’ve dodged that genetic inferiority bullet (Punnett would be proud)
    He stopped driving decades ago because he wrecked at least 2 cars.

    Recently he strayed far to the right of myself on gun control.

    As a clergy person, he doesn’t believe they should be in church.
    As a gun owner and an efficiency expert who wants to see mass murderers EXECUTED ON THE SPOT – I disagreed. (NO TRIAL, NO JURY – save the tax payer’s dime so they can buy better cars)

    Apparently, the shooting in South Carolina by Dylan Roof must have repeated on him and suddenly he became a “gun nut” overnight. He bought a Supernova 12G and he spends his free time going through shells.

    He has to call a damnned cab to go back and forth to the range.

    It’s ridiculous.

    I took him to the Pennsylvania gun ranges to handle pistols because, as you know, the libs have made LEGAL GUN OWNERSHIP FOR LEGAL AMERICAN CITIZENS a nightmare here in NYC.

    You can’t even touch a pistol legally without jumping through dozens of hoops and getting fingerprinted by the nearest precinct.

    Meanwhile, the criminals just go to someone’s trunk or backyard.

    He lacks the dexterity to load Glock magazines, and has resigned himself to getting a tried-and-true .38 special.

    I recommended it because he can conceal it under his robe and if anyone tries to rob the Lord’s offering en-route to the bank for deposit, he can unleash bullet holes upon them without ever having to pull it out (since a .38 will easily fire through clothing).

    In light of the recent liberal attacks on the AR-15, I am having my father purchase TWO OF THEM (father and son). I already have 2 AR-15’s but Now I want another BECAUSE IT’S MY CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO DO SO. The sad thing is, I can’t have another pistol grip because of this PATHETIC president who is soon to be replaced by Donald J Trump.

    My father has no interest in cars at all. He gets scared and tenses up when my Hellcat goes past 50mph.

    My paternal Grandfather died last year. He, loved to drive and was a Dodge Durango owner – as well as Chrysler minivans, but he didn’t care enough to buy “better cars” despite the fact he had tons of money to do so.

    My Uncle (father’s brother) just bought himself a new W222 after he saw the one I leased. A very lovely Blue one.

    So in closing:


  • avatar

    Awesome pics of kid and dad doing vroom-vroom things together. (It’s more like whir-whir now … this gen of 6year olds is growing up with solar-powered toy cars, arduino boards, simple rockets, quadcopters, apps, etc). I had a kindergartner explain to me recently how the hybrid synergy drive works. His mom and dad came over to “apologize” for the intense lesson in Toyota tech (it was intense, the kid had the most serious face you could imagine) and in the end we all reminisced about simpler times. We ended up drowning all those memories at a local brewpub … man, you guys should see how moms down beers these days …

  • avatar

    So you’ve never wrenched, bled brakes or tossed a football together?

    I wouldn’t feel embarrassed about never mucking out the stables or pulling stumps if my Dad owned the ranch. I’m sure he’s gifted you with valuable knowledge and experiences at another level.

  • avatar

    Yes, panel gaps…

    In my photo album I have a similar photo of the McLaren F1 car taken from almost the exact same spot. With some differences…

    A group of friends and I traveled from the University of Western Ontario where we were students to Detroit. Many of us were big car and racing buffs. This was the period in my life when I absorbed all things F1 that were available to one living in the pre-internet era: race broadcasts on CBC, F1 magazines, and sneaking into the infield at the Detroit GP. To see, perhaps touch, an actual F1 car in person was rare.

    Naturally we decided to maximize my experience. Like any other fan, I had always wanted to sit in one of these racecars. So a most ingenious plan was devised.

    Out of frame and immediately to the right of the above scene was a turntable with a car (NSX?) and a model (I could swear she was wearing a white glitter sheath dress) atop it in constant motion. My cue to begin our caper occurred when her line of sight swung past me. Additionally we had to contend with roving Cobo Hall security. So we positioned three friends along the approaches to distract them and alert me and my photographer of danger.

    If you look carefully at the above photo you will notice the back lit plastic panels that surround the base of the display stand. My first step was almost a misstep as in my exuberance I placed my foot on one. It flexed, and I realized the danger. Glancing upwards my eyes saw the six inch high plexiglass wall surround the car. Taking inspiration from Mao I initiated my own great leap forward. After all it was just a panel gap I had to cross…

    More successful and less destructive in results than the commie, I landed cleanly on the upper platform next to the McLaren. Now I simply had to unlatch the steering wheel and plant myself in the seat of the gods. But one look at the tight fit and I had visions of Detroit’s ‘finest’ swarming the display as I struggled to escape the impossibly narrow confines. Even my thin stature did not give me confidence.

    By this time the steady progress of the model on the turntable had brought me into view again. To this day I can hear her clearly agitated voice: “Sir! Sir! You’re not allowed on there!” So I sat on the sidepod and hoped that carbon fiber was as strong and they said it was. The material seemed rather flimsy in my first and very rushed experience with it.

    A few clicks of the camera and then it was a graceful jump off the platform followed by quick steps to the exit. The escapade was the topic of choice on the drive home.

    And the final result was a photo of me perched slightly awkwardly on one of the greatest racing machines of the era. It is one of my favorites.

    As a side note, there was no engine in the display car; odd considering that was its sole affiliation with Honda.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Fink

      Wow that is a great story! Now I want to go back through all my 1989 Detroit Auto Show pictures and see if you are in the background running from guards.

  • avatar

    In his last years my dad tried to connect more with me by actively discussing cars. He didn’t do much of that as I grew up, but into my early 20s, he tried. I recall landing in Germany to visit and that very day there was a small car show in the town he loved in. Dead dog tired from jet lag I still went because he genuinely wanted to take me. He even made a late afternoon call once from Germany back to me because he saw a BMW 2000 for sale and he anxiously wanted to ask me about it. We talked for about 45 minutes and he was so excited, he ran back to the base to get the info to call on it, but it was already sold! But the fact he was making the effort meant the world to me. I didn’t know he would be gone just a few short years later. It had been 18 years and a miss him.

    So, for all the dad’s out there…go spend time with your kid, or at least call them if they are grown (I am spending the day with my newly adopted daughter at a dog show and my 25 year old pilot-son called, so life is good!). Happy Father’s Day!

  • avatar

    A wonderful entry for Father’s Day. Speaking of gaps, my dad was Chief of the OB/GYN department at the local hospital and the only gaps I learned about were from pictures in books in his large medical library … But that’s another story.

    Mom convinced him to buy a used car for me and my brother – a Simca Aronde– not sure of the spelling or the year– blue two-tone, four-door with four on the tree. Moms twitchy beauty salon stylist recommended it to her. The car lasted about four months with the brothers. We wanted an old Volkswagen. That’s also another story.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Fink

      I’ll admit I had to look up what that car was. Cool looking old French car. I’ll assume the fact that it only lasted 4 months for you is probably the reason I’ve never seen or heard of it before.

  • avatar
    Chris Tonn

    Awesome story, Matt..I had to check the byline to make sure I hadn’t written it in my sleep, as most of the details (save a dad working for Honda) are damned near identical to my youth. Having grown up in the Dublin/Worthington/Hilliard area, I have to believe we’ve run into each other at some point.

    I kept checking the background of your Mid-Ohio photos for one of my dad’s Zs….

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Fink

      That’s so cool. What year was your Dad’s Z car? My dad had a ’74 260Z so we definitely took pictures of Z cars that we saw at Mid-Ohio.

      • 0 avatar
        Chris Tonn

        Oh, god, I don’t recall..which year was it? Dad had so many Zs:

        And there were others, including a red ’84 ZX with gold BBS mesh alloys, a couple ’83 Turbos, etc.

        Dad was occasionally the president of the Mid Ohio Z Club, and our neighbor worked for Nissan’s local marketing arm. He leveraged that into scores of Mid-Ohio IMSA tickets for the club, and started the tradition of Z-Car pace laps immediately before the IMSA race for several years in the late ’80s/early ’90s.

  • avatar


    Why is Schicklgruber looking out the passenger window of the Testarossa?

  • avatar

    I babysit my now four year old grandson once a week, most weeks. If I have to go cover a car show or other automotive event with him, well he likes cars. Starting from when he was about 2, I have a series of photos of him behind the wheels of some very interesting cars, like an Alfa Romeo Montreal.

    At the Detroit auto show a couple of years ago, the folks at Bob Lutz’s Destino display wanted him to check out their Katzskin interior but when I picked him up I realized that they didn’t want him sitting in their car just then.

  • avatar

    Thanks Matt. Touching, and it really sent me down memory lane with Dad, cars, but no pictures. I think I’ll make my daughter get her knuckles greasy with me soon. If some lucky punk ends up with an athletic girl who likes to work on cars, he’ll owe me some drinks for sure.

  • avatar

    My Father wasn’t into cars much .
    My Son and I are tightly bonded over our love of all things gasoline or diesel powered .
    I’m a vintage nut / cruiser , he’s a competitive racer who loves modern things , his Subaru WRX wagon , Hondas etc. .
    We both love riding Motos, working on engines and solving problems .
    His Daughter also is a Motorhead already at three years old . she rides a tiny little Moto with clutch and kick starter .
    Thanx for all the shared stories .

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Fink

      So how did you get into cars?

      • 0 avatar

        Oddly enough Matt ;
        I was born to it .
        No tools of any sort in our household yet as a very small Child I was interested in how things worked and always sought out mechanics or Farmers etc. ~ anyone who had anything apart for repair .
        Other kids played , I took things apart to see how they worked and sometimes figured out how to re assemble and still have them work .
        By age 8 or so I was seeking out old machines of any sort to tinker on , as a tween I was given a junked non running 1959 Ford F100 and brought it back to life .
        Simply stated , it is what I do .
        Some sing or play the guitar , I searched out tools , books and junk and began to learn to repair vehicles .

  • avatar

    Matt, for me this article begs the question:

    How ’bout further articles (maybe with your Dad!) on the theme of classic Japanese quality dominance during their golden era? (That there _was_ a finite “golden era” seems to be the consensus here but I don’t buy that.)

    The detailed realities of how superior quality became corporate DNA for especially Honda and Toyota would be riveting for me. I’d have *killed* for a life path that gave me a professional experience like your Dad’s.

    TTAC is known for giving space to topics other than raw powah and towing capacity. I think many of us would appreciate hearing more from the QA world.

    • 0 avatar


      The early ’90s did seem like the benchmark; no rattles in my Dad’s 1991 Accord after 80,000 miles, with nice thick carpets, floormats which held up, and overall interior quality that was the equal of the BMW of the era. Things started going downhill after that: the carpeting in the 5th-Gen Accords wasn’t quite as nice, and the overall feel was down a fraction. (That’s when Acura really started going, and they seemed to start to decontent the Hondas to separate them.) Fast-forward to 2013, and the quality is close to the 4th-Gens, but not quite, particularly with carpet that requires an all-weather-style mat to protect it — actually, FELT is close! (The standard floormats will wear-through on the driver’s side in only a few thousand miles of normal driving!)

      It’d be interesting to see exactly when Honda started to penny-pinch in other ways, versus when it became apparent in the cars, and if that started happening while Soichiro was still in charge.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Fink

      I love the idea, thanks for sharing it. I’ll look into it.

  • avatar

    My father was/is an unpleasant man. I think part of the reason I learned to work on things myself was to avoid having to interact with him.

    Near the end of my first year of BMX racing – I believe I was 10 – one of my competitors discovered a significant speed increase by installing a larger chainring for taller gearing. I needed to try the same thing if I was going to keep him behind me much longer. So I bought a 44T chainring and asked my father to install it. He didn’t get around to doing it immediately and I was anxious to try it out so I went into the garage and used his tools to do the swap when he was at work. At some point that week, I came home from a friend’s to discover that he had finally done the swap for me, unknowingly putting my original chainring back on. I thanked him and swapped it back the next day. It was a major improvement, since the 170 mm cranks on my inappropriately large Robinson MX Pro were far too big for my legs and I therefore couldn’t spin them very fast.

    He did take me to car shows when I was very young. At each show I got a magazine full of pictures of the show cars displayed beside scantily-clad women. Those were a popular attraction to my friends. “Look at the blowers on this one!” But I had access to my father’s large collection of Playboys so I had no reason to care much about semi-clothed women.

    KITT – most likely a replica – was the coolest car I can remember seeing at a show. I’m sure my mother still has a Polaroid of me sitting in it. A Countach police car would have been on par with that.

  • avatar

    Because of a divorce I am limited to weekends and holidays with my sons #1 age 15 and #2 age 13.

    For a Father’s Day gift this year, my wife (their stepmother) gave me a gift of paying to get the large front lawn and back field mowed at the home that we rent. This gift allowed me to spend more time with the sons and us three not have to run the mowers/weed eaters to beat down the grass as I had been working out of state for the prior three weeks.

    And, lacking a huge amount of time, I did the best car thing I could think of with them this weekend. While lounging around in our shorts and tshirts on Sunday morning, we watched the movie “Gone in 60 Seconds” (1974 version of course, Nick Cage is nice but his version suuckked) which was the two sons first time ever to see that movie. The two teens went nuts over the non-computer graphics, real time car crashes and the yellow Mustang that seemingly would not die.

    After we watched the movie, then the son’s super cool stepmother read out loud (from a movie website via her phone) each car’s female code name and year, make and model of the vehicle while we ate lunch.

    Fatherly bliss…

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