Street Rods, Broken Mowers, and Hard Work

Throughout my life, I’ve maintained a close relationship with my dad. When we lived in New Jersey, my family owned a Sunoco gas station. It was truly a family business. My dad repaired cars, I helped him in the shop (my dad also believed in child labor), my brother and I pumped gas at night, and my mom worked in the office. He worked hard, and it was expected that we do, as well. You didn’t want to disappoint him by doing a bad job when he knew you were capable of better. There is no substitute for hard work. During those years, my dad taught me everything I know about cars and even more about business. Even after he sold the gas station and moved to Florida, my informal education continued.

When my dad sold the gas station, it was under the premise that he would be retiring. However, my dad is a workaholic, so he can’t sit still for long without doing some type of work. Once we settled down in Florida, my dad got bored and found a job at a golf course where he could repair the golf carts and mowers. He was surrounded by broken mowers and carts and tools all day long; it was long hours, hot weather, and hard work, but he enjoyed it. When the opportunity arose for me to work with him at the golf course as part of the maintenance crew, I jumped on it. My job wasn’t glamorous at all, but I loved spending time with him at work because I was watching and learning.

Since my dad was the course mechanic, we brought all broken machinery to him for repair. The members would also go to him with their broken stuff. The members respected him. I spent six hours a day moving tee markers, raking sand traps, emptying trash, pruning bushes, and performing other mundane tasks. I was only allowed to drive old, damaged carts around during my shift. One day, I broke three different carts, each of which had to go to my dad for repairs. After the third cart, my dad gave me an exasperated look and said, “Three in one day? Go home!” He knew I wouldn’t intentionally make more work for him, but I’m sure he thought I did it on purpose. (Maybe one day I’ll tell him the truth, wink wink.)

Today, now that my dad is semiretired (he’ll never officially stop working), we spend our quality time together by going to car shows. We prefer street rods from the ‘20s and ‘30s. Most of my dad’s friends show their cars at these gatherings, and he’s known in the community as “Jersey Joe.” My dad knows more about cars than anyone else I’ve ever met; he’s a walking encyclopedia of knowledge. He can spend an entire day strolling around and looking at cars, and if I have a question about a make and model, all I have to do is ask him.

Some of my earliest memories of my dad revolve around the gas station and his race car, “Brief Encounter.” While we were living in New Jersey, my dad raced at Englishtown. He was pretty good, and his car got him a lot of attention at the races. Everybody knew him at the races and respected him as a driver, and even though I was only 4 or 5 at the time, I remember sitting on his shoulders watching races like it was yesterday. In my mind, he was my dad, and he fixed customers’ cars at the gas station, but I when I read racing magazines and saw his name listed among the top racers in his class, it was pretty cool.

My love for cars comes from my dad, and like him, I’ll probably never fully retire. I am fortunate to look back and realize that during all that time together at the gas station, at the golf course, and at the car shows, I was being trained. I was being taught about life and how to be a man, a father, and a businessman. My dad was preparing me for the hardest jobs I will ever have. My dad taught me many valuable lessons about life, and he still inspires me every day to be the best man and father I can be. I’m grateful and proud to celebrate him this month.

I love you, Dad. Thank you for everything.