One Works, the Other Doesn't

Before I touch on NASCAR's 2006 Chase and its coming Car of Tomorrow, chief Editor and "whip cracker" Terry Cole insists I have to tell you a little about myself in this column so you'll have more background on me than the authorities, and be more familiar with my Chevy roots. Don't get weepy on me, OK? This doesn't mean we're engaged or something after you read this.

I'm the son of a career USAF jet fighter avionics and weapons control tech and lived all over the lower half of the U.S. growing up -- from Tennessee to Southern California in one memorable move, driving Route 66, and some of the still incomplete Interstate. I could have been from Venus when I opened my southern-accented mouth the first day of elementary school in SoCal.

Do not call me an "Air Force Brat." Ever seen the movie, "The Great Santini" with Robert Duval playing what could be labeled a psychotic military dad? The character he played was a normal creampuff compared to my dad, and most of the Korean and Vietnam vet military dads I knew. Mine had the added experience of having been a very young MP guard at the tail end of WWII in Austria guarding Nazi SS officers at a castle-prison. I wasn't allowed to be a brat -- ever -- the world got real physical, real fast. There wasn't much gray growing up -- it was right or wrong and consequences for each. We always lived off-base so I got to

acclimate to lots of locales and people. I wouldn't trade that gypsy life.

Given that my dad was first-generation off the farm, he was a master do-it-yourselfer, and all the Air Force did was give him the formal education to apply his innate fix-it common sense, and me access to the greatest tool boxes in the world. I didn't realize until years later that we could have probably opened a tool distributorship with all the hardware we had. Thank you Uncle Sam, your tax dollars at work led to all this!

He was fearless about anything mechanical and injected that into me. One of my first car mechanickin' memories is helping him change a starter on our 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air -- V8 with black and yellow two-tone exterior and sea-foam green interior. I was thin enough at the age of 9 in the early '60s to crawl under the car when one side of the Chevy was up on the curb -- no way today -- and extract it.

So my mechanical and car education started at home. My dad bought cars by weight and V8s, and wasn't brand-loyal, but he was American loyal. Once I tried to pollute his driveway by buying an Austin Healey Sprite in high school and he nixed it with: "I can buy a Cadillac alternator for what one costs for that sewing machine!" was his irrefutable logic.
It wasn't until I moved out that I could spend my own money on a series of Dodge Demons, Plymouth Dusters, Fury IIIs, BMWs, Alfa Romeos, rotary-engine Mazdas, Suburbans, Hondas, and a former North Carolina State Highway Patrol Caprice. I have always been an engine guy, and have wanted to experience as many of them as possible -- still want to own a V12 one day.

Earning a work-study scholarship in college fostered my cultural awareness and writing abilities. As an Electrical Engineering major, I got to work tracking navigational satellites in garden spots like American Samoa; Anchorage, Alaska; the end of the Aleutian Chain (Shemya Island); Cambridge Bay, NWT in Canada (200 miles North of the Arctic Circle); and near Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Took me six years to graduate with a B.A. in English and Math minor (don't ask, that's an even longer story), but I got to see more of the U.S. and the world and its cars, and even worked on ones ranging from a VW "fusca" (or "Bug") to a Chevy step-side in these out-of-the-way locales. Nothing like trying to buy a fuel filter at a Brazilian auto parts/garage place when you have the Portuguese vocabulary of a 5 year old.

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