Memories of My Career in Motorsports – Part I

Part I:

None of what follows is all that important, but you might find it interesting.  Essentially I am using my web site to store memories while they are still retrievable from the storage files in my brain!

As I’m in the process of retiring from the motorsports industry, it’s a good time to review how I got into what turned out to be a long series of adventures, what I learned, and what I’ll miss in retirement.

As I’ve written many times before, my first career was spent as a junior and senior high school English teacher.  My teaching tenure included years of coaching several different sports and several years of work for the teacher’s association. I spent two years on full time release as the president of the Lake Washington Education Association and a couple of years on the WEA Board of Directors.  All of these experiences, the coaching, teaching, union leadership and stewardship roles, were in addition to the various part time summer gigs most teachers take on. One of the extra jobs was over 20 years as a lead guide for the Underground Tours in Seattle, and another was two summers working the parts counter at Cycle Barn. All of these efforts paid real dividends later on in the motorsports business. While teaching, just like the old saying goes, I learned much more than I taught.

In 1997 we purchased the first new car in either of our lives. This was not so much a testimony to our paltry incomes, although it could have been, but more our preference for older classic cars such as a 1958 Corvette or a 1975 Porsche 911. In any case, our first brand new car was a 1997 Suzuki Sidekick purchased from Doug’s Lynnwood Suzuki / Mazda / Hummer.

To my surprise, I totally enjoyed the purchasing experience. The salesman glommed that I was obviously a car nut who had done his homework and he skipped the normal nonsense approach and simply focused on the car’s strengths and weaknesses. The bargaining process, which I’m reasonably good at as a result of my union training, both in theory and practice, went very well, and I was a very satisfied customer.

The following spring I was casting about for a good summertime gig, having been “fired” from several years of summer school duty.  I wasn’t actually fired, of course. I was simply not offered a position.  This may have been related to a basketball game the previous winter, where the summer school principal, also the principal at that time of Lake Washington High School, stood with his arms folded and watched his own students pretty much start a riot at a basketball game I was announcing at Juanita High School.

The day was saved by my friend Robert, the Juanita security guard, who defused an ugly situation and managed to toss three hefty young belligerents out of the gym without any violence or even raising his voice.  Amazing skills the man had.

My path crossed that of the summer school’s leader after the game, and I did say “What’s the matter, Earl, lose your balls in the second half?”   It does seem a tad unfair that he took this so badly and chose to not offer me my usual summer gig, since his team won the game.

Looking for something for the summer that would earn money, I wrote a proposal to Doug of “Doug’s” (a family-owned business) where I offered to work 10 hours a week during the school year and 20 hours a week during the summer. I would be using e-mails and attendance at various events to promote various vehicles. What I did not know at that time is that car dealers spend humongous piles of money on advertising, and they know that most of the expenditures are an enormous waste of time and effort. They all do it because they think they have to. There are print and TV ads from the manufacture, ads in the papers, on the Internet, the freebie mags in the grocery stores – everywhere and all the time.  What I was proposing was less than a drop of warm spit, and Doug thought it looked like an interesting idea.

I arrived for my first day of work quite excited, clad in new slacks and a spiffy button down short sleeved polo shirt purchased expressly for the job.  I was instructed to spend the first day learning about the products of Mazda and Suzuki and Hummer, and assigned to a salesman who would let me shadow him to learn about the sales process.

My mentor was very kind and open, and I was learning a lot about the process of selling a new or used car when the PA system bade me to report to the sales office.  What could this be?

I met the Sales Manager for the first time. A tall and thin gentleman dressed impeccably in a very expensive suit, of Korean-American lineage I would guess.  His very first words, spoken with an icy scowl, were “So what’s your story?”

I rattled on at some length as to what I was supposed to be doing and what I intended to accomplish, and he interrupted me with a tirade that included the factoids that nobody had told him anything, that I was dressed unprofessionally, and that I could either quit or go home and return in more appropriate attire.

Stunned and angry, I went home and created a several page rant of a letter that I sent to the owners and the Customer Service rep who was my boss.  Then I told my wife I had been fired on my first day! 

To my great surprise, they got back to be and I was re-hired at a higher rate of pay.  When I returned I learned that the gentleman who had been so angry had been sent off to rehab for a serious cocaine problem, and things sort of made sense.

I had a wonderful experience with Doug’s for two years. Doug Nakagami and his wife are two of the finest business owners I’ve ever dealt with. They treated me with respect while they listened patiently to my torrent of ideas – some of which were not that great.

I would go into the dealership on a Friday afternoon during the school year and pick up a used whatever for the event or two I had selected for the weekend. A couple of magnetic “Doug’s” signs on the doors and off I went. I rallied a lot of Miatas, did an off-road rally in a Hummer, drag raced a Miata and a 4 door Mazda pick-up – all sorts of things.

Probably my best move came almost immediately. Doug asked what we could do to promote the new 4 door Mazda pick-up.  Now ubiquitous, in 1998 Mazda had the first and only one.  I replied that there were 1/8 mile drag races at Evergreen Speedway on Sundays and I could enter, but I wouldn’t want to hurt a new truck.  Doug shocked me when he replied “Oh, you can’t hurt one.  Take mine.”

“What?”

“The green one by the door over there is mine. Just take the umbrella and my garage door opener out, put the signs on the doors, and see how you do.”

I ended up winning a 2nd place trophy in my class (for further details, purchase my No Corner Left Unturned book), but whe I came back on Monday and gave the keys back to the Sales Department, and the trophy, everyone was stunned. None of them knew how low-key these races were, and they seemed to assume that the new guy was a serious “shoe.”  Why disappoint them with reality? I was in Doug’s two years ago and “my” trophy is still in the display case.

Some of my ideas did not work.  Susan and I were frequent competitors in Friday night street sports car rallies.  This is the mildest form of competition you can enter, and a lot of fun. You’re never directed to exceed the speed limit, and automatically lose if you get a ticket. What happens in reality is that the rallies run late into Friday night on deserted back country roads, and when you make a mistake you will get liberal to catch up. I never saw anyone get a ticket.

In the early days, my navigator (Susan, son Will, or daughter Dorine) would make a mistake, often assisted by my own thoughts as we tried to interpret the directions.  Will was particularly adept at navigating, able to read either word directions or what are called “tulip” diagrams, and do complex calculations of time and speed in his head.  At times we’d be off course for a while, and when we figured out what was wrong and regained the correct route he would say “OK, I think we’re about 4 minutes behind. Balls to the wall. Have fun.” I would then drive our aging rust bucket of a Porsche 911 with gusto until he told me we were back on time.  He also had a great technique for assisted braking.  Coming into a corner under a healthy rate of steam he would say “Uh,” followed by a pause.  “Uh” a bit louder, and then “Brakes!” when I was really alarming him.

By the time I was hired by Doug’s we’d won a lot of trophies, and the rallies were less fun because all three of my navigators were so good.  Since I was now entering each time in a different Miata I figured we’d never win again, because rallyists often use a “butt clock” to calculate speed. If you’ve never driven the car your “butt clock” is not calibrated.  Then I learned that many people were thrilled when we did not win. I was the only entrant at these rallies who was being paid to be there, so they felt they were beating the “pro.”  At $10 an hour, I was not much of a pro, but no matter.  Doug’s interests were served better by our losing than winning, so we began to enter the “Masters” class, where only a 1st place trophy is awarded. We rarely won after that.

At any rate, rallies were so much fun I decided the Miata club should be all over them, as a Miata is pretty much a perfect car for this sort of thing, and most of the owners were married. Rallies work best when the driver and navigator know each other well. With Doug’s permission, 4 dozen t-shirts were made up in Doug’s dark blue colors with “Doug’s Rally Team” in big white letters on the back.  The idea was that anyone from the club that entered a rally would receive two free t-shirts.  I figured that soon the rallies would be dominated by Doug’s Rally Team Miatas. 

Alas, this idea bombed. I could not convince the club members that this would be fun. It was too daunting for them. When I left Doug’s I had at least 40 of the shirts, which served me well as yard work or work-out shirts for years.

Next chapter:  More adventures with Doug’s.

 Copyright 2013                                  David Preston

About david

I am a 69 year old motorsports nut who lives in Bothell, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I have been married forever and have two grown children. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Bonneville T 120 , a Triumph Thruxton, a Fiat 500S and a VW Tiguan. What else would you like to know?
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