Project Emanon: This Time it’s Personal
“WE’RE GOING TO A SURPRISE PARTY.”
I could have sworn that my brain had ceased to properly function; that I’d had a stroke. It wouldn’t get better immediately, as I really thought when I read the car’s new “name,” Project Emanon. But before we dive into all of the who and the what and the why, let’s set the scene of the where.
Stacy and I had just pulled onto Dino’s street, and I had literally, just seconds before remarked that “hey, that’s Dino’s place.” I was driving there via street-by-street directions to mask the destination. I had a good idea of where I was… But had been under the impression that we were attending some “boozy Birthday brunch surprise party” for a co-worker of hers.
If you know me, then you know how I was thinking: “How in the Hell does someone pull off a surprise Birthday party with breakfast?! Do you walk in all quiet, and a group surrounds the bed and yells ’SURPRISE!!’ and the poor bastard jumps out of bed, all underwear- (hopefully more) clad, and we all eat a bagel?” And wasn’t this supposed to be a brunch? I’m no Martha Stewart, but this seemed awfully early for the generally-accepted brunch time.
LET’S BACK UP A BIT
Backing up a few minutes, my brain was heavy with thoughts of Brad on the ride. The guy was suffering the worst of weeks, and I was hoping to check in on him. His Dad had just passed, and there was a lot going on in the coming week, and it was a lot to digest. I simply wanted to be certain that one of the most important people in my world was doing alright.
As we made the turn onto Dino… I mean “the co-worker’s” street, I had remarked that yes, in fact, that was Dino’s house.
“There’s the slammed repair truck!”
And there in Dino’s driveway were a bunch of people.
“Oh, man… they must be cruising out to Barrett-Jackson to support Joe on his big day,” I had thought; my last real cohesive string of words for the next half-hour. “I’d like to stop and say hello to my fellow car pals, but we’re a few minutes behind. Say… that dude looks like Brad. WTF.”
“THAT DUDE LOOKS LIKE BRAD…”
As I parked the car, I kept looking at the guy whom I thought looked like Brad. He’s pointing at Dino’s driveway, beckoning me to park there. “No, no, I haven’t the time for car things, good sir, for I am here to make surprises and eat brunch. And why do you look like Brad?!” At this very moment, I had feared that I were broken; that I had become stricken with some psychological issue wherein I had lost the ability to recognize faces. Perhaps I was just thinking too much of my friend.
Quick check, and no, Stacy doesn’t have a beard or backward ball cap. And all of the dudes out in the driveway have different faces. Especially Dino. And that tall dude. Wait… that’s Dave Engle. Well now I’m pissed; Dave is here and didn’t say a word? What is going on over there? Either way, I have a surprise brunch thing to get to. We’ll sort that later.
As we exit the Challenger, the doppelganger Brad is calling out to me. “Great,” I’m thinking, “this is getting weirder. No smell of toast, so we’re good. Wait, shouldn’t there be toast?! This is wildly unfair. I’m hoping for toasty smells to reinforce the whole birthday thing, but at the same time, well… And is that Tim Strange?! That’s my kid. Great. I hope I have enough time to suggest that no one leave the TV on “The View” during my recovery. I’m officially broken. I hope that I can enunciate ‘SURPRISE!’”
Now, if you’ve never stood in the middle of a street in Central Phoenix with your amazing girlfriend and considered that perhaps you’re having some mental breakdown as you stare at a group of people that look like your friends and can’t comprehend why they are in a friend’s driveway at 8 AM on a Saturday, well, let me tell you something.:
“I’VE GONE ALL BRAIN-DAMAGED. GREAT.”
“Hey, That’s my Dad.” He’s at Dino’s? Wait a minute, he had made plans with my son for the day. What?!
As I’m slowly taking steps toward what I think that I’m seeing, I try to gauge Stacy’s face. No disappointment at my heading this direction, so we must not be too late for the party. In a few minutes, I’d have an idea that this was the party. I’m still sorting this Brad-looking guy for the moment.
“Don’t forget the gift,” I say to Stacy, turning to open the trunk and retrieve her “co-worker’s” gift. Yes, I’ve gone brain-damaged at this point. In hindsight, I learned a lot about how my brain appears to work in front of others that morning.
COMING INTO FOCUS
As I draw closer to the group, I’m damned certain that is is Brad. That’s Dino, all right. And Tim. Dave. My kid. Dad?! Is that Steve? Hang on a second… Someone invited a Peruvian Viking. And his wickedly-talented daughter. OK, this is getting weird. Alex is here?! What in the Hell is going on?!
Round Six’s Brian get the shock of a lifetime, thanks to Brad and a ton of amazing people in the Hot Rod Industry. His Challenger gets a makeover at the hand…
My brain is working in triple-time. And getting nowhere fast. Why is everyone here? Aren’t we heading to that surprise party? Why doesn’t anyone tell me anything?
We all spend a minute saying hello, and I keep feeling like I’m not grasping something. It’s something that everyone there knows. Except for me. Stacy doesn’t seem to mind that we’re hanging out at Dino’s. Moments later, we’re all exchanging hugs and just glad to be in one place again. I hadn’t seen these guys in a few months, so it’s nice. But again, why is everyone here?
“SO, UH… WHEN IS BRUNCH?”
Brad says that they’re here for a One N’ Done, and I’m sort of hurt that no one told me. And a little mad that I didn’t get offered to do the artwork! That’s my thing! The gang says we’re here for me, which doesn’t register at first. I’m out this way for a birthday party. And I do love me some brunch. I’ll peek in at what they’re working on, and we’ll head over to the party. My brain is still locked on why I thought we were here.
Yeah. It was like that.
As we walk back toward the garage, my brain starts switching to “what are they working on?” And as we round the corner, I see that in the garage is… Nothing. No vehicle. OK. Brad points to some parts, and rattles off a list. When he retells the story, it makes much more sense than in the moment. “HRE wheels. Toyo Tires. Hotchkis suspension… springs, HUGE sway bars… Magnuson supercharger. Baer brakes. That’s a Speedkore spoiler.”
STILL NOT QUITE PROCESSING
“Dino gets the coolest stuff!” my brain shouts. “Who’s getting the killer setup? What’s it all going on? We’re missing the party!” My brain is still melted butter. “Butter is good on bagels. I ate one of those before we left the house. I wonder if there will be eggs. What a weird birthday party idea. I think we missed the surprise part. Wait, Tim and Del had to fly here.”
I’m still not getting it, and I think it shows. I’m missing a key part of this.
As Brad explains that this is for my car, I’m confused. Brunch is gone. No answers as to how you do a surprise Brunch thing. So this crew is here to do something to my car. Wait… These parts. These people. My car.
The only thing that I can ask is “why me?!”
That’s all I have in the moment.
REALITY STEPS IN.
I’m genuinely lost. I draw and spec these parts on customer projects all day. I don’t do much to my own car because it’s good transportation, and my priorities don’t usually include the car unless it needs service or repair. I’m more focused on my son, my relationship, work or the house. Toys just haven’t had a place in my daily life, and while it sucks for a car guy, they’re just not in the cards.
It’s settling in now.
I’m basically turning my car over to my friends, and I’m getting something killer. I’m really floored.
As I’m trying to make heads or tails of the great friends who showed up (I’d totally eat brunch with these guys!), more friends filter in. My pal (and Pro-Street legend) Matt Hay is here… Holy crap! I’m just happy to still have the guy around. And he’s going to wrench on my stuff?! And that’s John Jackson! Sweet!!
I’m starting to feel my brain working again, and it’s doing its best to grasp reality. How did all of this happen? There is a TON of logistical work involved here. It borders on super-human. It just stinks of Brad.
A LOGISTICAL JUGGERNAUT
We’ll explore the logistical side in greater detail in another installment, but let’s just say for now that it was a mountain of work. So many calls, emails, texts… Brad worked his ass off. And the secrecy! The clandestine ops and sheer opaqueness of the goings-on were absolutely the stuff of legend. It takes a smart man to pull off anything of this nature, and Brad is one of the smartest, sharpest and hardest-working people I have ever met. He’s always looking to do the best he can, and this whole deal smacks of his attention to detail. And he pulled off this first stage flawlessly.
He made certain to limit the people involved. Every one of these amazing humans had to be certain that my mind wasn’t tracking, or that my Spidey sense didn’t tingle. As I’m sure you know by now, I like to talk. I talk to everyone, and I’m kind of proud to have a good idea of what’s going on at any given time in the industry.
IN THE DARK
This time, I was in the dark.
As far as I’m aware, this project reaches back to just before the SEMA Show.
I had plotting over the Summer to do a mild lowering on the car, and maybe a set of Hellcat reproduction wheels. Simple stuff to just give the car that “second day” muscle car look, but life intervened, and between the expense and the other things going on, it wasn’t in the cards. My son is dual-enrolled, meaning he’s working on College credits while still in High School, so things like course and lab fees, tuition and more add up, and that stuff far outweighs having a slick-looking car. And planning for full-time College, well, that’s a lot of saving. “Priorities” is a big subject in my house, and doing this as a single Dad, I try to balance between “concerned and involved” without tripping into “Helicopter parent.” Having a smart girlfriend with plenty of Education experience (especially College tuition-centered!) doesn’t hurt when navigating that minefield.
I mention this because there was a second part of this day that would finish flooring me.
HERE COMES THE BOOM.
As the parts and people were being arranged, Stacy had set up a small fundraiser to help out on the kid’s College fund. Many very generous and good people in the industry kicked-in (also behind my back!) to provide a great start for his books and lab fees and incidentals. Funny story in this. If recall, earlier in this tale, I had mentioned the “gift” in the trunk that we had brought along for the fictional birthday brunch thing (I’m still pondering how that would work). I wound up opening that, thinking that it was related to the killer artwork that Del had created for the t-shirts. Did I mention those yet?! I had a project with a t-shirt! And a name. But more on that later.
Daniel and I were presented with a large-scale check, and we are both still speechless, thankful and beyond appreciative for this unbelievably thoughtful act. I’m in the process of thanking those involved, and if I haven’t yet gotten to you, know that the phone calls and cards are headed your way. I simply am speechless yet over this.
This project had an interesting side-effect that is and will remain awesome for years to come. It not only reignited my interest in cars (yeah, there has been some burn-out), but elevated Daniel’s passing interested in cars to a much, much higher level. Seeing him bounce around the garage all day, and get involved, ask questions, and just genuinely be engaged in things (the Speedkore rear spoiler fitment was one of his projects, and seeing my A-list builder friends turn the reigns over to him was simply grand! I’m stoked, and as a cheerleader for the industry, getting another young guy into it is icing on the cake. Heck, having that young guy be my kid is like getting the piece of the cake with the frosting floret on it! Bad-ass.
A SPEECHLESS BYSTANDER
I was watching it all come together, just speechless. Up front, Dave Engle was leading the charge on the Magnuson supercharger. Having that guy’s hands on my car was a dream come true, and knowing that Alex was up there, well, I knew that the install would be clean, proper and just flawless. Del was wrenching away, and the laughter in that place was just wonderful. I have some kick-ass friends.
While the hood was up, Brad was applying the one-off badging, milled by our pal Dan Baker at Alumicraft. Did I mention that? Custom badging. How does one create custom badges for a car that the owner didn’t name? Heck, how to do that for an owner who doesn’t like car names to begin with? You get creative, apparently.
The gang named the car, and put a ton of thought into that. It’s the Inception of names. It took me a second, and when I saw the shirts, I loved it. When I saw it on the badges (complete with Brad King color work!), things went all next-level! The logo is great, and they even had umlauts! I love umlauts.
The name Noname was great, but backward?! Priceless. It’s like some one-off designer-model car now. And the umlauts sell it.
While all of this was going on, Tim Strange and Matt Hay were working on suspension and brakes. I had two legends wrenching on my car! The trick was in keeping Matt away from the Sawz-All. How to explain what was going through my brain at tis point will still require some unraveling. If I could travel backward in time and tell a fourteen year old me that one day Matt Hay would be working on my car, I’d be flabbergasted. Add my good friend Tim to that, and it was like winning the lottery. Whole new levels were being unlocked by the moment.
The Round Six guys surprise Brian with the vehicle makeover of a lifetime, supercharging, lowering and outfitting his Challenger with wheels, a spoiler, new emblems and more.
Brad and Alex put a ton of work (alongside Dave) to come up with the perfect not-a-name for the car. It was either “Ghost Penis” or this:
Speaking of heroes, our friend and super-talent Sean Smith stopped by to check on progress, and it’s always awesome to hang with him. He was wildly instrumental in making a lot of this come together, and I cannot properly express here my gratitude for him, not only in this respect, but for all he does in the industry.
Another guy who had a big hand in this was Carson Lev. While he could not attend due to the passing of his Mom, his influence was more than evident, and getting to spend some phone time with my good friend provided some incredible perspective on the day, life in general, and some deep thinking points. You don’t simply talk with Carson, you walk away enlightened. I have amazing people in my world.
While all of THIS was going on, we had a visit from Hemmings, (via Mike Austin and David Conwill). This is where it got awesome. When you’re stopping in to cover a fun, secret event, and suddenly you’re neck deep in helping-out, well that is AWESOME! Mike Austin had to roll out to Barrett-Jackson, but came back later on, and was instrumental in the computer install, among other things. I had literally just met the guy! The power of the car world.
…did I mention lunch? No brunch, but we did get that pizza time. The car took a little breather and watched some Stories N’ Steel.
THE ATMOSPHERE WAS PALPABLE
I had mentioned the vibe in that garage, and we wouldn’t have had garage for this if it weren’t for Dino. The man stepped up and made it happen for Brad’s plan. Having been there for Git-Down and One N’ Done festivities over the years, it was an incredible experience to see it from the other side. His hospitality and amazing friendship are the stuff of legend. I can never say enough good about Dino, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a nicer, more caring, or bigger heart in the industry.
The prevailing mood in the shop all day was one of restrained emotion, slowly melting into respectful, loving abuse. It was a group of good friends, just enjoying the company of one another, and working at a common goal. And that is what this whole thong is about. On the surface, it’s about building cool cars, certainly. Yet the cars are only the vehicle that bring it all together. It’s about the people; the friendships. All of us started out working on BMX bikes, and as you do that and progress to cars, the interaction never changes.
You poke fun, exchange some jabs, and just enjoy that you’re among people where nothing is sacred. There’s an air of respect for one another, but you’d better bring your thick skin, because our group is absolutely brutal. And quick. But most of all, any one of us would drop everything and bolt to help the others.
As the day moved forward to the finish line, friends dropped by… Guys like Pike with his rowdy, cammed ‘Vette, and were instantly recruited to join the fray. In fact, our ride to the parts store for coolant was the second time that day in which I’d sat down. Crazy to consider!
WHEN WORDS FAIL
And in that, this was a great day. One of the best in my life. I have never felt so cared for, loved or just genuinely a part of anything as I have that day and since. Go and do likewise. Please. Life is short and full of weird, unexpected turns. Let those around you know how much you appreciate them.
I’d have been happy to show up and be surprised with a day of hanging out and eating pizza with these guys. This was surreal, and it will continue to fan the flame for the rest of my days. To all involved, you are incredible, and what you contributed to goes well beyond anything I could have ever imagined. And you turned my kid into a hard-core car guy. That elevated my relationship with him ten-fold.
There are no words to express my gratitude for that. At least none worthy of what that means for us.
A huge THANK YOU to all of the great people and companies involved in making this happen. To begin to fully express my gratitude, appreciation or respect for you in a few words just doesn’t crack the surface. This was, bar none, one of the most incredible, meaningful and perspective-altering things to happen in my life. Thank you for being a part of that.
Please visit and support our good friends who made this happen!
HRE Wheels, Magnuson Superchargers, Baer Brakes, Hotchkis Sport Suspension Systems, Engle Brothers Fabrication, Toyo Tires, The Big Red Camaro, Speedkore Performance Group, Strange Motion Rod and Custom Construction, Inc., Alumicraft Street Rod Grilles, Sean Smith Designs, Del Swanson Artworks, Automotive Racing Products, Redphin Productions, JF Kustoms, C-10 Talk, Dino’s Chevy Only, Hemmings, Relentless Racing Apparel, Impact Signs, Carson Lev, Craig Pike, John Jackson and Matt and Debbie Hay.