Father and Sons (and their cars)
The Act of Moving the Car Hobby From Generation to Generation
Story material from reader contributions - June 07, 2012 10:00 AM
Contributing writer Tommy Lee Byrd stands with his family’s Corvette in September of 1988 in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. “Back then, child safety laws weren’t as strict, so it didn’t seem odd for me to be the third passenger in a two-seater,” Tommy said.
My car has never been a purists’ dream, dating all the way back to 1968, when this photo was taken. It had mag wheels, hood scoops and no front bumpers, which was pretty extensive stuff for the time.
The mismatched wheels and nose down stance is the new look for this purists’ nightmare. It has seen a lot of changes over the years, but locals still recognize it as “Troy’s car” and I’m fine with that.
There are many fine Corvairs in the Hughes family and they get that way because the family works together to make them stand out.
Gary and Daryl at the racetrack.
Daryl, Gary and Zach pause from their work for this photo.
Bruce enjoys his cars and his latest passion is his ’85 Corvette.
Blake Yager (foreground) and his father Mike look over the barn find 1957 Corvette.
The effort that went into getting this car into the daylight can bring a family closer together. Today, it rests as it was found, on its trailer, at Mid America Motorworks in Effingham, Illinois.
The 1969 Dodge Charger has been in the family for some time.
John Schofield has taken his love of Mopars and added a nice Daytona
A nice tidy engine compartment always draws attention to the engine inside.
A while back, we asked for you, our readers, to share your stories of your father’s impact on your love of the hobby or what you’re doing, as a father, to kick the love into the next generation.
Many responded, far more than we can squeeze into these few pages in a print magazine (but not enough to write a book). These contributions help tell the story that sends a clear picture of how this hobby will grow and get stronger.
The very title of this magazine, Auto Enthusiast, serves as a reminder that while cars are important, perhaps the people involved with them share an equal role on that stage. It’s the people that serve as the catalyst to creating new followers when their passion is easily displayed.
We hope you enjoy the stories of people, real people, who play a role that is vital. Most are not “professional writers”, but we’ll start with one who is ... Tommy Lee Byrd, whose work has been seen many times in this magazine and in Auto Enthusiast Weekly. Next time you see his byline, you’ll know a bit more about how much of a car guy he really is.
TOMMY LEE BYRD
As most young car guys, I’m greatly indebted to my dad for passing along his love of cars, motorcycles and pretty much anything with wheels. My dad, Troy Byrd, is on the verge of turning 60 years old, and he’s been wide open in the automotive hobby since his teenage years. He has laid hands on thousands of cars during his time as a paint and body man and an all-around car guy. Along with that, he has bought, sold and traded several hundred cars, so as I grew up, I experienced many of them firsthand. He’s my hero for many reasons, but the fact that he gave me the car guy bug means the most to me, because it completely defined who I am.
Another reason to call him a hero is that he gave me what I consider the coolest car in the world. It was the fastest street car in town for quite some time, and I even rode with him in it during a late night street race when I was 12 years old. Now that I’m in my mid-20s, I see moments like that street race as one of the greatest memories of my childhood.
Regarding the car, it’s a ’64 Corvette and it came from the factory with a 365 horse 327, a close ratio Muncie (M21) four-speed transmission and 4.11 gears. At some point in the mid-’60s, the car was sold to Freddy Best, a resident of my hometown of Dayton, Tennessee. By 1968, Best had done away with the front bumpers, added a pair of hood scoops and installed a set of “Drag Mag” wheels and narrow whitewall tires. My dad says he can remember riding in the car back then and talks about how fast it was, even with the stock engine. Unfortunately, a serious crash put the car on the back burner for more than 15 years, so it sat in a barn, awaiting repairs.
In 1985, Freddy asked my dad to get the car back on the road, and to redo the whole thing. My dad painted the car just a few days after I was born, having no idea that he’d end up owning it shortly thereafter. When Freddy told my dad he was thinking about selling the Corvette, my dad scrounged up the money and made a deal.
I’m not sure if it was his idea initially, but at some point he decided that he would hold onto this car and eventually give to me. This is unusual behavior from my dad, as he had MANY chances to double and triple his money on the car throughout my childhood years. After being in the family for more than 25 years, the car needs some work to be as nice as it was when my dad built it in ’86, but for now, I guess I’ll just keep driving it and thrashing on it like my dad did for all those years.
You could say I have been in the auto parts business since I was about 10 years old. As a youngster, I would often spend the weekends and summers at work with my dad at his salvage yard in Florida. Dad would give me tools and provide a “job” for me to do or he would give me “my own car” as a project and let me tinker away on it to pass the time.
One of the jobs he gave me was to remove and collect sealed beam headlamps and miniature bulbs from the junk cars that were piled one on top of another in preparation for the crusher. Armed with a Phillips screwdriver and other hand tools, I would spend my day crawling through the scrap heaps, disassembling lamp assemblies, instrument panels, etc. At the end of the day, I would present my “haul” of bulbs to him for warehousing. I remember taking a shortcut one time and instead of removing the taillight lenses to get to the bulbs, I just used my trusty hammer to break the lenses off. The donor vehicle was a 1959 Cadillac Sedan Deville! If I had only known!
Before I even had my license, there were many different cars that I called “my own” but some of my favorites were a 1968 Torino GT with a 390ci engine and a 1970 Chevrolet Nova SS. Most of them never actually made it back on the road, as they eventually found a home with a buyer as I waited to be old enough to drive. However, the Nova was one vehicle that I managed to keep.
My dad purchased the Nova for $35 when I was about 14 years old. I quickly claimed it as “my own” and tinkered on that car for years while growing up. Finally, when I was in my 20s, I partially restored the car and got it licensed and registered for the first time. Since then, I have moved all around the United States and transported the Nova with me each time I moved.
As a matter of fact, it was that very Nova that led me to become a customer of Classic Industries and later an employee. I am pleased to say that I still have the car to this day and plan to pass it down to one of my own kids someday.
For the past 10 years, I’ve been working side-by-side with my daughters, restoring and maintaining their Corvairs. It was my wife’s idea. She wanted to see father-daughter projects with my four daughters restoring old cars that, once ready for the road, would become their daily drivers. Why Corvairs? At the time my wife had her bright idea, my daily driver was a ’63 Monza four-door and doing my own maintenance had resulted in my stockpiling spare parts, techniques, contacts in the Corvair community and a reputation at my job as being the Corvair guy.
It was this reputation that prompted a co-worker to ask me if I’d like to buy the ’64 Monza convertible that had been sitting in his mom’s garage for the last 20-something years. A convertible was just what Brianna, my eldest, wanted, so a deal was struck and a precedent was set.
Since that day, two more of my daughters have selected and restored (with me) their project cars. We now have a fleet of four Corvairs with the fifth (for daughter number four) under negotiations.
During the restorations, I put the wrench, paint brush, screwdriver, sandpaper and even paint gun in their hands and have them do the work while I supervise and pitch in when necessary. They’ve rebuilt carburetors, laid down body filler, cleaned and greased bearings, you name it.
You can read all about our escapades on my blog at corvairfleet.blogspot.com.
DONNA AND GARY GREEN
It is every father’s dream to have his son or daughter share his passion in either or both work and play. Gary Green got both in a really big way. Both kids started their exposure to cars at bumper level in strollers. They learned not to touch early on and now in their mid-20s still attend major car shows with the family. This summer, we will start over by pushing a stroller as our first grandchild is expected in May. The Back to the Fifties show at the St. Paul (Minnesota) Fairgrounds is this family’s state fair.
Both son and daughter spend time at the drag races. Following a major investment to rebuild the Max Wedge in the family’s ’64 Dodge, Gary jumped into the money class while Daryl graduated from Street Eliminator to take his dad’s place in King of the Hill. Daughter Allison showed them all how to do it in her ’08 Mustang.
There were project cars, a ’56 Chevy and a ’68 Dodge Charger, in addition to all the wrenching on the Dodge. Daryl is currently taking on a ’49 Ford truck as his first solo project. While there was always the option, there was never any pressure from Dad to come help.
The dream continued when Daryl graduated from Mankato State University at the head of his Automotive Engineering Technology class. He and his dad worked together to design a new kind of chrome for the auto industry. Dad loved the look back in the day and Daryl, using CAD programs, knew how to design front and rear bumpers, hood vents, rocker moldings and quarter moldings or scoops for the ’05-’09 Mustangs, new Challengers and Camaros.
They introduced the product at SEMA 2009 with the help of wife and daughter. A company, Retro USA, was born with Gary, Daryl, nephew Zach and wife Donna. Yes, he has the added bonus of a nephew too. In 2011, the design duo won the Innovation Award from the Society of Plastic Engineers for their Chrome-Tech bumpers. They are continuing their efforts in building a Retro Central kind of business … as a family.
The website is www.retrousa.net
My mom and dad divorced when I was six years old and I never saw my dad again. I found out when I was around 18 that he had died and that I had waited too long to try to hook up with him. I was sad because I thought that one day I would visit him.
Even though I was so young when I was last around my dad, some of my fondest memories were of my dad and they were automotive memories. First, there was my dad’s car. It was a black ’69 Mustang Mach 1. I remember the car as if it were just yesterday. It was a new car back then and he used to sit me in his lap and let me steer while he worked the pedals and the shifter. I only realized when I was much older how much things like that had influenced me throughout my entire life.
We had a neighbor that was a friend of my dad that had a ’69 Charger (I remember that one well, also). His name was Clive. I can remember Clive, my dad and I going to my first drag race. This was in St. Louis, Missouri, so the track would have been St. Louis International Raceway (actually in Illinois) and it would have been when it was a 1/8-mile track. I remember that we made a bet on a race between a rail dragster and a car that looked like Ed Roth’s Silhouette, bubble top and all. I went for the custom because I thought it must be faster because it looked cooler. The bet was for a quarter, which was like a dollar back then. The tree lit up, the rail went up in smoke and the show car probably had the run of its life and I was a quarter richer.
My dad bought us a large slot car (seems it must have been 1/24 scale). The slot car track was in a strip mall. Most people inside were teenagers and I was generally the youngest, but I was racing them all the same. The car had a clear plastic body when we got it, but my dad and I painted it black and put decals on it. In fact, my dad got me started building models. He bought me a model of the battleship Missouri that I put together when I was five. It was a mess, but it was put together correctly, with all of the pieces in the right place. I can’t even begin to count the number of model cars I have put together over the years, but it all started with my dad influencing me.
Did I grow up to be a car guy? I sure did. You might think I am a Ford man because of the Mach 1, but that is not the case. Sure, I would love to have a ’69 Mach 1 as a tribute my dad, but the expense of something like that is probably out of my reach. Besides, I’m a hot rodder, have been my entire life. I love to turn wrenches and modify my cars. My dad made me that way, even though he was not around. I started by building car models. Later, I put together my own motocross bikes. After that, I built my own skateboards from high performance components. My first car was a ’66 Plymouth Belvidere II with a warmed-over 383. How is that for a first car? Through my teens, 20s and 30s, I have always owned a modified Mopar of some sort, always something influenced by drag cars.
Now, I am putting together a new 383 stroker for my ’85 Corvette. The ’Vette is modified and I have no worries about the value it may have some day. I drive it today. It is meant to enjoy and, thanks to my dad, I have a deep-seated love for performance cars and the lifestyle that goes with them.
If you are ever in Buda, Texas, on a Saturday night, come to Cabela’s where the Buda Gearheads meet every week in the parking lot. It’s a place where fathers pass down to their sons and daughters the love of the automotive lifestyle ... just like my dad did.
(Editor’s note: We had an opportunity to talk to Mike Yager, chief cheerleader of Mid America Motorworks, about an experience he shared with his son, Blake. When you visit Mid America for Corvette Funfest or one of the other events this year, ask about the barn find 1957 Corvette).
The story starts like many do, a guy walks into a business with a car he’s trying to sell. “It was the proverbial Corvette in a barn,” said Yager. “He said he’d had it for 35 to 40 years. He was from the area, but I didn’t recognize him. I had the Corvette club then and the guy said, ‘I remember the club, but I didn’t want to join.’ He also told me that he knew what it was worth because he had read magazines about the value. So, I asked him what he wanted and he said $15,000. I thought I might be interested, but needed to see what we had since it had been in a barn.
“Blake and I went to go find it. We went about 30 miles and were in the middle of nowhere when we came upon this long lane. The grass was up to your chin. The guy had cut down trees to block the lane, so we walked about 300 feet. From where we were, we couldn’t see any buildings, but then we saw two buildings. The car was in one of the buildings.
“Blake and I started to open the door and the guy told us we wouldn’t be able to get in there because he had nailed the door shut. We managed to pry it open. You could tell the car hadn’t moved because a tree had grown up and was blocking the door, too.”
Once they got inside, it turned out to be a regular 1957 Corvette, not an airbox car that they were hoping to find. “It was nasty looking, but it was on a trailer. The tires of the trailer had gone flat, but the trailer kept it from sitting on the ground. Raccoons had been in it. There was a ’61 motor, but other than that it was a standard ’57.
“One of the things I remember about the trip was how Blake and I talked. Many times, it’s more fun on the drive over than it is actually discovering the car. To be able to share that experience with your son is a great feeling.”
The Yagers weren’t going to come all that way for nothing, so a plan was put in place for the next day. They came back with a rollback trailer and a photographer to chronicle the experience. A pilot friend, a Corvette owner who lived nearby, showed up to see it all transpire. It took quite an effort but the car (on its trailer) was headed back to Mid America through the tall brush and narrow lane to the interstate highway and its new home.
“The hunt can be more fun than the actual discovery,” Mike Yager said, “but the hunt gives you a good indication of the passion. It’s a great feeling to me to have both sons (Blake and Michael) involved in the business. Not only are they in the business side of it, but also the hobby side. It’s gratifying to know that I have instilled in them the understanding they have. I’m proud as a dad and a business owner.
“Vehicles are my drug of choice,” he said. “Whenever you see younger people involved with a vehicle, whether it be a sound-off, drag race, show competition, they’ve chosen to be involved with cars. It’s a healthier hobby because of that. To have my own sons right there with me is priceless.”
About that 1957 Corvette. It’s not a restoration project. If it were to go down that path, it would be just like any other restored 1957 Corvette. Mike is keeping it as is, a time capsule of sorts for the world to see and draw their own conclusions and ask their own questions. It’s a healthy choice to stimulate a great hobby, one that will thrive for generations thanks to committed fathers and dedicated sons.
My father and our history with cars goes back to the early ’60s when I was five years old. In those days, Donovan Field in West Haven, Connecticut, was a popular stock car racetrack in a waterfront amusement area known as Savin Rock. For decades, cars from all over the Northeast would travel to West Haven for the Saturday night featured race.
We lived six blocks away and even when we could not go, I would fall asleep listening to those cars rounding the track as the last sound of the day.
The first time my father took me on a Saturday night, the preliminary event was the traveling Hurricane Hell Drivers, whose star driver was a young Joie Chitwood. They were doing stunts with cars, figure eight races, jumps, demolition derbies and those drivers were the rock stars of the track then.
The day started every Saturday afternoon when my father would sit with me on the porch, watching the cars trailering in for the main event. My father would ask me year, make and model of every car going by. In those days, there were less than subtle differences in every car.
I still look at those same cars today and quiz myself, though the opportunities are few and far between except in the black and white reruns.
My father has been gone 38 years now, dying young as a firefighter in the line of duty. Of all things he taught me in our short 17 years together, those memories, the racing, the appreciation of great old cars, are the greatest things my father and I shared.
I am a father myself now, a firefighter of 28 years. My son is 20 years old and that same interest in all things automotive is an interest we share
I like to think my father passed it to him. I hope that someday, he will pass it to his children as well, passing the torch from one generation to the next.
My father hooked my interest in cars generally and muscle Mopars specifically. We used to perform the annual tune-up together on his daily driver. It was a 1969 Dodge Charger. We would tune it every February in an unattached, unheated garage in Cleveland, Ohio. That was just when the 12-month, 12,000 mile limit came up.
I have the car today and it is fully restored. It spends the winters in a heated garage.