May 7, 2014

Pit Stops“I won the heat, race and trophy dash, and I drove his car harder than anyone had driven it before and he fired me.”

The garage doors are up at the “Sinclair Station” on Fort Worth’s Camp Bowie Boulevard, and the 1938 Ford Woody Wagon is in the service bay. Polished wooden panels gleam in the sunlight of a recent spring morning, and there’s not a speck of dust on the dark green fenders.

A Place to Recharge His Batteries

The garage doors are up at the “Sinclair Station” on Fort Worth’s Camp Bowie Boulevard, and the 1938 Ford Woody Wagon is in the service bay. Polished wooden panels gleam in the sunlight of a recent spring morning, and there’s not a speck of dust on the dark green fenders.

Car lover and businessman Ken Hill smiles as he walks around the vehicle. Some eight years ago he leased this building adjacent to a busy restaurant on the city’s west side. Envisioning a new life for this neglected property, he stripped away the filthy fascia that covered the original brick, ripped out grimy Sheetrock, shoveled out piles of trash and sandblasted the brick and wood.

It took three years to transform the dilapidated gas station into his private party room and showcase for some of his treasured cars, but he is pleased with the results.

Hill, owner and founder of PDX, a pharmacy software and service company that is branching out into clinical services, is especially happy to share the space with employees celebrating a birthday, graduation or other occasion.

“I’m really, really close to my employees,” he says. Some have been with him since he opened his first pharmacy in Granbury in 1973.

But make no mistake — this space is his unique hideaway. “It’s a much better place for a business dinner than any restaurant,” he says.

Behind the wrought-iron security fence that encircles the property, there are several surprises. The circa-1927 gas pumps have been restored and both vintage cash registers inside are the real deal, but the tin ceiling in the building’s main room is a reproduction, and certainly the black and white marble floor tiles are an elegant touch no one would expect in a filling station.

A vintage soda fountain exactly like the one in his first pharmacy fills one wall. He spared no expense in his search for that equipment. “I found it in northern Kansas,” he says.

But there’s more. The service bay holds not only four collectible cars, but also a big-screen TV and movie-style seating. “It’s a great place to kick back and watch a football game,” says Hill.

Outside, behind a brick and glass fence, there’s a courtyard for grilling and a “statue” of Dino the Dinosaur, the Sinclair mascot and logo.

Hill can’t remember what brand of gas was sold at this particular station, but he has fond memories of the Sinclair station in Graham, his hometown.

“It was the place we all hung out,” he says. And so, in tribute to those happy high school days, he ferreted out original Sinclair signs.

But the cars are the bling that makes this gas station makeover shine.

“This is one of the more special hot rods in the country,” he says, calling attention to the Woody’s sleek hood ornament.

Hot rod? Really?

His gray eyes shine with amusement behind the tinted lenses of frameless glasses. He twists this functional decoration and lifts. There’s a spotless 1955 fuel-injected Corvette 283 cubic inch V-8 engine beneath the hood.

“This car has a great story,” he says. In the 1960s, a crop duster discovered the Woody covered with dusty layers of tar paper in a ramshackle barn, Hill says. Just one look and that pilot knew he had to have the car, but the farmer who owned it wouldn’t sell. He was saving it for his son, who was fighting in Vietnam.

A few months later, the farmer called. His son had been lost in the war, and he wanted the crop duster to have the Woody after all.

So the crop duster bought the car for an astounding $25, restored it and eventually outfitted it with a muscle-car engine. “He’d had it for 50 years before he sold it to me,” Hill says.

If Hill is a collector of cars, he is also an accumulator of tales. “Every one of these cars has a story,” he says. He swings his arms wide to encompass the 1932 Ford Roadster with the ARDUN engine, the 1981 Cobra with the serial number 1, which he says was the first car built in a partnership between Brian Angliss’ Autokraft and Ford Motor Co., and the extraordinary 2008 McLaren SLR Roadster with gull wing doors, the very last one built by Mercedes-Benz.

Some might say this party house is an indulgence, and Hill would agree. But then he’s a man who knows how to exercise his interests.

Once he dreamed of being an architect, but his father told him he’d never make money “drawing pictures.” He enrolled in medical school but eventually became a pharmacist with a vision of the industry to come — one filled with computers.

“I thought if I could get in on the ground floor of that, I might make some money,” he says.

Hill played his hunches, and now his growing pharmacy software company has 600 workers and innovative plans for the future.

He shrugs, acknowledging his success. “It pays for all my other interests,” he says.

A Room with a View from the Driver’s Seat

Johnny Rutherford likes to joke that auto racing has been very, very good to him.

Take one look around the trophy room in his River Oaks home, and it’s obvious Rutherford knows what he’s talking about.

But to be able to fill a 1,000-square-foot room with trophies, helmets, plaques, pictures and other memorabilia from ladybugs to Sports Illustrated cover shots makes one think Rutherford may have things backward.

He’s been very, very good for auto racing.

“This is the culmination of everything,” Rutherford says as he looks over a room that is two stories high in parts and has floor-to-ceiling glass showcases along one wall.

And because of Rutherford’s successful career, the room is barely big enough to hold his bounty. Rutherford and his wife of 50 years, Betty, bought their house in 1973 and added on the trophy room in 1981 because they were running out of room to store all of Johnny’s hardware.

That’s what happens when you’re one of 11 men to win the Indianapolis 500 at least three times. Three plaques for the wins (1974, 1976, 1980) are housed in a case next to a piston given to him by McLaren Automotive, whose car Rutherford drove to his first Indy 500 win.

“Outside of the 500 stuff, that probably means the most to me,” Rutherford says. “It says on it, ‘Thanks Johnny for putting us first across the line.’ It has the No. 1 piston out of that engine that won that race.”

That same case also houses a huge trophy that Rutherford won in 1963, when he set a world record during a qualifying race at the famed Daytona International Speedway. It also just happened to be in his first NASCAR race, making him just one of six drivers to win a NASCAR points race in his first event.

Rutherford has had success in the sport ever since he started racing on dirt tracks around the Metroplex in the 1950s.

Rutherford, 76, was born in Kansas but moved to Texas when he was in the second grade because his father was in the Air Force. The family settled in Fort Worth, and Rutherford graduated from North Side High School. He then went to TCU, where, he jokes, he majored in student union building because that’s where the pool tables were located.

But by the time he was in college, Rutherford had the racing bug.

“I was still harboring racing,” he says. “I was in a hot-rod club. I had a ’32 Ford five-window coupe, and I had installed a Chevy V-8 engine. I was at the club meeting down by Castleberry High School. One of the guys said he was going to have to leave early to help his brother put his engine in his dirt car. That set me straight up in my seat. The next day they let me take a ride in it. I immediately launched.”

Rutherford started his racing career at the Devil’s Bowl Speedway in Dallas and won his first trophy in 1960 at a track in Grand Prairie. He won it driving another man’s car and was promptly relieved of his ride after the event.

“I won the heat, race and trophy dash, and I drove his car harder than anyone had driven it before and he fired me,” says Rutherford, who is still involved in open-wheel racing as the pace-car driver for the Verizon IndyCar Series. “He told me he didn’t want me to get hurt.”

Of course, there’s plenty of danger involved in auto racing. Rutherford has had friends die on the racetrack and has survived harrowing crashes. A helmet heavily scratched and dented after Rutherford flipped his car and slid across the track at Phoenix sits in one of the trophy cases.

“They carried me away, and I spent the night in the hospital,” says Rutherford, who had second-degree burns on his head from a fire caused by the crash. “Bill Simpson [the helmet designer] and I, he’s my best friend. I was his chief test pilot.”

If not for the helmet, Rutherford’s career and life could have been over in that 1980 crash.

That would have been before he received the jersey that TCU honored him with, before he threw out the first pitch at a Texas Rangers game, before he was inducted into several halls of fame, including the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and Texas Motor Speedway Hall of Fame.

Rutherford’s ultimate man room also includes rings, certificates and his three Sports Illustrated cover photos. There’s also a picture of Rutherford meeting Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II in 2004. And one of him with President Richard Nixon, the first of six presidents whom he has had the opportunity to meet.

There’s also a section dedicated to aviation because, of course, the man dubbed “Lone Star J.R.” has rubbed elbows with the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds.

And, of course, there are all kinds of ladybugs in the room. Rutherford considers ladybugs good luck. When one landed on him before the 1980 Indy 500, Rutherford told his crew chief that everyone else should go home because he, Johnny, was going to win the race. When he told media members that story after he did win the race, he started getting all kinds of ladybug items in the mail, and they found their way into the trophy room.

Can Rutherford put a value on everything in the room? No. Priceless is his best guess.

And the man room is also childproof to a degree. It has survived all six of the Rutherfords’ grandsons, although one is getting ready to walk and seems to love the glass cases.

Taking care of all of the memorabilia isn’t an easy task. It used to be Betty’s job to make sure everything was dusted and polished. She has since passed the duties to Johnny.

“He was a good sport about it because for years, I did it all,” Betty says. “Finally one year I told him, ‘I’ve been doing this for years, and you need a better concept of what your trophies really mean to you. Perhaps you could polish them once so you could have a different connection with them.’ ”

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