Thanks Dad, for Helping Me Appreciate the Joys of a Consistent Panel Gap

Matt Fink
by Matt Fink
thanks dad for helping me appreciate the joys of a consistent panel gap

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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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4 of 39 comments
  • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Jun 21, 2016

    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.

    • Matt Fink Matt Fink on Jun 21, 2016

      That was cool of you to thank your dad and not point out you had already done the swap. I hope my son protects my feelings that way as he grows.

  • Econobiker Econobiker on Jun 21, 2016

    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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  • ToolGuy @Chris, your photography rocks.
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