What makes someone love cars? There are those that say it’s just something you are born with. Personally, I think we all needed someone in our life that we saw passion for cars in first. For me, it was when I was 8 years old that we moved to Ohio and my dad began working for Honda of America that I was exposed to this world … and I’ve never looked back.
On this Father’s Day, I’m thankful my dad instilled in me his love of cars.
Unlike some fathers and sons, my dad and I never turned a wrench together. I don’t think I’ve even seen him change a tire. Being a quality engineer at Honda meant we always had two new company cars growing up. Which is cool and all, but it also meant there was literally nothing that ever needed done to any of our cars. So instead of teaching me how to fix cars, my dad 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 on a show display.
I don’t remember the first time playing catch with my dad, but I do remember when my dad took me to my first car show. I was so excited I could hardly take it. The Columbus Auto Show is pretty small, but I was still very anxious. I read in the paper 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 in 1989.
As we arrived the Countach was by the entrance, but I didn’t want to look at it yet as I wanted to save it for last. I literally covered my eyes walking past it thereby saving my first real glimpse of a Lamborghini (that wasn’t a poster hanging on my bedroom wall) until I could really soak it in. Unfortunately, as my anticipation grew, so did my nerves. I became so excited I literally got sick and threw up at the thought of being in front of my dream car … and never ended up getting to see it.
My dad may have never taught me when it was time to change the oil, but my dad did teach me when it was OK to lie to a kid … Knowing I couldn’t stomach (pun intended) the Columbus Auto Show, my dad knew he couldn’t just tell me we were going to the 1990 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.
I don’t recall ever playing a game of H-O-R-S-E with my dad, but he did teach me other games. His way of showing me how to spot quality manufacturing involved us making a game of who could find the most paint drips and inconsistent panel gaps at car shows. You know, normal kid stuff! Nothing brought my dad more joy than when I would find a car with a line of radio buttons that didn’t have a consistent feel when pressing them. The quality control games were fun, 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 again asked me to get into a Miata for a picture. From then on, it was a tradition that every year we did the Miata photo.
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 the Mid-Ohio race track watching everything from vintage cars to IMSA, motorcycles to IndyCar.
He may have never shown me how to throw a spiral, but my dad showed me which cars were cool by insisting on taking my picture in front of them for some reason.
I can understand the short shorts and long socks of that era but, come on, Dad—couldn’t you have told me to wear a shirt!
I have hundreds of pictures of me in front of cars in stacks of photo albums. If I ever get skin cancer, it will have been from UV light reflecting off car paint onto my pale, shirtless body. Clearly my wife doesn’t have the “automotive bug,” as at least once a year I catch her trying to throw away these albums of old car shows and races. Honey, just think of the money my dad spent developing all that film …
I’ll never know the stillness of sitting in a deer stand hunting with my old man, but my dad did expose me to the beauty of waking up early on Sunday mornings to watch Ayrton Senna dominate Formula 1. 1988 wasn’t a bad year to start watching F1 as a Honda fan, I’d say.
We may not have shared memories fishing together, but my dad and I did share subscriptions to car magazines. Before the internet existed my favorite day of the week was when the copy of Autoweek would arrive. I would quickly skip the articles to look at pictures of new cars from the latest 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 called Sport Compact Car that provided all the articles about Honda Civics and pictures of lowered 300ZXs a boy could want.
My dad may have never taken me camping, but he took me to meet my racing heroes.
Gil De Ferran and Andre Ribeiro were nice enough to talk with a pimple-faced teenage racing fan.
He would take me to the Honda plant when professional drivers would stop by and they would become the drivers I had posters of on my wall. I still have the autograph a local rookie CART driver named Tony Kanaan gave me in 1998.
Fast forward a few decades and I am starting to experience the same joy my father did when I take my kids to the Columbus Auto Show (though, thankfully, with considerably less vomit). I think it goes without saying that I take a picture of each of my kids in the Miata.
I wasn’t surprised I still have the directions to the Mid-Ohio racetrack memorized all these years later. What did surprise me was how the same driver I met as a kid became my son’s favorite driver when an old veteran driver named Tony Kanaan took him inside his trailer.
I have made a point to take my kids to meet professional drivers and sit in racecars whenever I can. Pretty sure he will remember the time Graham Rahal and Scott Dixon spent with him, the same way I can still remember the kindness Alex Zanardi showed me a generation before.
A welcome experience has been when my dad joins me in sharing our love of cars with my kids. Watching him teach my son about a car he used to own or telling a story about what I was like when we sat in this exact spot at the track years ago—it literally brings a tear to my eye.
It’s been so fun watching my son’s love of cars grow and learning what cars he thinks are cool. Some are even the same ones I liked as a kid.
It’s hard to get a kid to walk by a Testarossa without stopping to take a picture, no matter if it’s the author in 1989 or his son in 2009.
24 years after my dad took me 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. I think I’m at least partially responsible. For Father’s Day this year, I’ll be giving my dad a frame with pictures taken 30 years apart, of me and 3 of his grandkids at each of our first auto shows sitting in the driver’s seat of a Miata.
On this Father’s Day, I’m thankful my dad instilled in me his love of cars. If you can relate, share in the comments something specific your father did that helped your love of cars.
Oh, and if anyone knows where a Lamborghini Countach police car is, please let me know. I’m still dying to see one in person.