Charlotte, North Carolina, may be NASCAR country, but hot rodding is alive and well virtually everywhere you look. On a quick trip there earlier this week we were excited to find early-’60s customs roaming the streets, bustling shops cranking out all manner of rod and custom projects, and even a few famous land speed and drag racing cars like the Woody Lee T roadster and the “Dos Palmas Machine Special” front-engined dragster.
We were in town for the grand opening of Axalta’s state-of-the-art Customer Experience Center—an expansive $30 million facility that will serve as a training and conference/event center for automotive refinishers. The array of color matching technology and paint application equipment was impressive, as was the Center’s setting on the Hendrick Motorsports campus in Concord, just outside of Charlotte. Axalta’s enjoyed a 25-year relationship with Hendrick, and both Rick Hendrick and NASCAR champ Jeff Gordon were on hand to celebrate the facility’s opening. We enjoyed talking with Rick about his days drag racing a ’31 Chevy as a teenager, and we could have spent all day checking out the history housed within his racing museum just across the street from the Axalta building.
After lunch we stopped by NASCAR legend (and Hendrick cohort) Ray Evernham’s shop in nearby Mooresville. Through the years, the former crew chief, team owner and current host of the popular television show AmeriCarna has amassed a diverse collection of racecars ranging from the record-setting Woody Lee T roadster (a Hot Rod Magazine feature car from the ’50s) to the four-cam Ford-powered Indy racer that put Mario Andretti on the map at the ’65 Indy 500.
In addition to cavernous storage rooms filled with rods, restored racecars, barn find ridge runners (this is North Carolina after all) and anything else on wheels, Ray operates a full-time shop for his personal projects. While we were there lead fabricator Dan Baker showed us an interesting ’36 Chevy-based Asphalt Modified Ray plans to race on the SVRA circuit after it debuts at SEMA this year. Also in the works were a chopped ’33 Ford three-window, a ’58 Impala with a tri-power 348 and several others.
While in Mooresville, we also dropped by Detroit Speed where owners Kyle and Stacy Tucker and their crew are continuing their tradition of blending modern engineering and performance with vintage steel. Next to their expansive manufacturing facility in the project car area were, among others, a ’41 Willys once raced by Kenny Bernstein, a completely revamped ’49 Cadillac and a radical ’65 Riviera.
We then drove south to spend the afternoon in Mint Hill with our friends at Fat Man Fabrications. When we arrived, owner Brent VanDervort was in the middle of chopping longtime customer Phil Kalen’s ’51 Merc. “I must have chopped 20 of these things and I’ve never done two the same way,” Brent laughed. After some further profile eyeballing, he was kind enough to take a break and show us around his facility, introducing us to the crew behind Fat Man’s custom frames, stubs and other chassis components.
Their complex is a really neat Gasoline Alley-style arrangement. The first several buildings house everything from a full workshop for doing custom suspension and prototype work (an early-’60s T-bird was on a lift when we were there) to fabrication/assembly shops and CNC machining operations. At the far end are two more buildings that house an upholsterer and a body and paint shop unrelated to Fat Man Fabrications, but used by Brent on his personal projects. One such project that we got to check out was his ’56 Ford Fairlane Victoria, which you may recognize from their advertisements. Though the front bumper was out being re-chromed, the DeSoto-grilled and nicely lowered mild custom is just about finished and ready to cruise this summer.
Even though our trip was a brief one, we’re glad we had the chance to not only see so many great cars, but also catch up with old friends. We look forward to making our way back to North Carolina in the near future.