Firing Up Knox On Wheels

Getting your motor running: a new column about cars

TUNED UP: Just one of many cars that columnist Jason R. Sakurai has built for car modding magazines and the SEMA Show in Las Vegas.

TUNED UP: Just one of many cars that columnist Jason R. Sakurai has built for car modding magazines and the SEMA Show in Las Vegas.

When you see Barry Meguiar and Chip Foose on TV, you think of car guys. I happen to be one, too. No, I don’t build or race ’em regularly, but I do much of the behind-the-scenes stuff that makes you want to buy certain cars or parts, and that’s why I’m here.

My dad sold cars from before I was born, so I acquired this passion genetically. We moved to Arizona where he started a dealership when little existed other than tumbleweeds. I learned Ford’s numbering system sorting parts before the 5th grade. By junior high, I could wash and wax a car in 15 minutes. Moving the seat far forward, I jockeyed cars on the lot years before getting a drivers license.

Missing the muscle car era, it didn’t stop me from building my own—or I should say it didn’t keep my dad from presenting me with a ’65 Mercury Comet Caliente coupe with 125,000 miles that he took in trade for $25. Initially, I couldn’t see where a ’60s economy car was a hot rod, but after scrutinizing it, it did have a 289 V-8 and a C4 automatic—and unlike kids today, my options were limited.

My dad let me use a service bay to disassemble the car, and the parts department was at my disposal in building it up. What I didn’t know I learned from mechanics who were kind enough to help me, and in two years just prior to my 16th birthday, we painted it. Following installation of a custom interior I helped design, it was ready to drive.

Under hood, the 289 Ford V-8 was augmented by a Ford Racing cam and valvetrain, Mallory ignition, Accel plugs and an Edelbrock intake topped by a Holley 4-barrel. Cyclone headers and a dual 2½” exhaust system made it sound as good as it ran. And run it did, posting mid 13-second elapsed times on Goodyear Polyglas GT tires and Ansen slotted mag wheels.

Like some who didn’t realize at the time what they had, I sold the Comet to buy a “real” muscle car, a ’70 Mustang. Faster on the top end than the Comet, it went the way of the Comet as a ’74 Ford Ranchero GT became my wheels through college and grad school.

After graduation, I joined General Motors’ management training program. From 80 degrees in Arizona to -15 in Detroit, weather wasn’t important—I was in the Motor City! After a year in the program, I was awarded Pontiac’s worst district in the country, San Francisco’s East Bay. Import penetration (import sales vs. domestics) was near 100 percent. My work was cut out for me, but taking what I learned from GM and my dad, I took it to the top out of 26 districts in the West, and third nationally.

While my stock within GM rose, an offer came from a recruiter to manage Nissan’s dealer promotions. I moved from the Bay Area to Long Beach, California, working by day for Nissan, and on evenings and weekends I wrote about car shows and races for Street Rodder, Custom Rodder, Hot Rod, Car Craft, Super Chevy, Chevy High Performance, Truckin’, Drive! and others as a journalist and editor.

A Tennesseean named Chuck Hanson was leaving Car Craft magazine to work in sales for National Dragster, the publication for the National Hot Rod Association. It sounded good to me, and with no media sales experience talked my way into Four Wheeler magazine. Six months later, I was their top salesperson; next year I was director of sales.

A few years later, I decided to start Roadhouse Marketing, my own advertising, marketing and PR firm, dedicated to the automotive industry. Moving from California to North Carolina 10 years ago, I worked with Innovative Motorsports, Inc., which ran two NASCAR Cup and three Nationwide cars for Kenny Wallace, Shane Hmiel, and Christian Fittipaldi. We also created the Cadillac Grand Prix of Washington, D.C., an American LeMans race in our nation’s capital.

Moving to Knoxville a few months ago, I saw that Metro Pulse was looking for content, thought there might be a need for an automotive column, and this is what you’re reading.

Rather than talk about my exploits, I want to know what “drives” Knoxville, where you go, and what moves you. So until next time, keep the hammer down and the shiny side up! m

© 2011 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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