For some of us, inspiration may come from a favorite athlete or musician. Others find out at an early age that they love medicine and want to be a doctor; or perhaps computers seem to be their niche. If we’re lucky, we knew what we wanted to be when we were a kid and we followed that dream well into adulthood.
But for one young boy growing up in the small farming community of Dinuba, California, it was the sound of a neighbor’s exhaust that inspired him to work hard and to get his first car. Hearing the sound of the exhaust popping under deceleration when a neighbor pulled into their driveway late at night was enough to convince Gary Meadors, founder of Goodguys Rod & Custom Association, that he was going to get a cool car when he was older. That was an understatement if there ever was one.
We talked with Gary recently and asked him about Goodguys, about growing up in Dinuba and what inspired him to get into cars. The phone conversation started out as an interview, but it quickly became just two guys talking about cars and how cool they are. We asked him what started him on this path of awesome cars and great car shows and it all goes back to when he was just a kid growing up in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s.
As a kid, he says there really wasn’t much to do in that small farming community in Central California where he grew up. He worked summers for his dad, and never felt that he was physically big enough to get involved in sports. So cars was about all he had left to occupy his time.
Gary’s father was a little bit of a car guy, he tells us. His dad drove around in an old ’40 Ford Pickup with an Olds engine that he bought from a wrecking yard in the next town. His father swore he was gonna fix it up one day, but Gary says that day never rolled around for the Ford.
Then his father saw some DIY plans for a boat in Popular Mechanics, and that’s where the Olds engine from the truck wound up: in an 18 foot ski boat with a mahogany deck that his father built. Gary and his dad loved watching the drag boats back then in Kingsburg and down in Bakersfield, and his dad decided that the engine for their ski boat would be better in the back like the drag boats, instead of as a mid-engine.
But it was probably the Legion Bowl in Dinuba that started Gary on his quest. He was with the Boy Scouts, and says they had a deal where you had to sell so many cases of soda and then you could go and watch the racing for the rest of the night.
Gary says, “I’d get there early and get my cases of soda and I’d sell the hell out of them real quick, then I’d be able to watch the races.” Then he’d come home that night and hear his neighbor’s black 1947 Dodge Club Coupe with the cool exhaust and he was hooked.
“I just laid in bed and when he came home late at night and I heard that exhaust, that old Dodge, I thought man I just gotta have me a cool car when I get old enough”, he told us as he was reminiscing about his childhood. Even now, when he talks about the way the exhaust sounded back then you know it left a lasting impression on him.
Working for his dad during the summers, Gary saved up his money and at 14 years old he bought a 1947 Plymouth Coupe for about $300, which was quite a bit of money for a young teenager in those days. Almost immediately, Gary was dropping the front end of the Plymouth to give it that classic stance that is still his trademark look to this day.
When he wasn’t out cruising his Plymouth around town, he used to help other kids lower their cars by cutting coil springs. He was living the real-life “American Graffiti” in that small town; and it was that 47 Plymouth that he was driving when he saw a cute girl and just had to give her a ride. That cute girl eventually became his wife, Marilyn, about whom he says, “I don’t think I could have been so successful without her”.
Gary and that cute girl from Reedley High School got married in 1961, and during the early years of their marriage they opted for a family sedan while they raised their sons, Marc and Marty. Even though the hot rods had to be put on the back burner for a while, Gary’s calling was to get people together and enjoy the hobby.
Nor Cal Early Iron Club
In the late 60‘s, Gary and some friends formed the Nor Cal Early Iron Club, and that grew into one of the largest car clubs in California. By 1973 he got a ’32 Ford Tudor sedan, the same car that would become part of the Goodguys logo. That same year, Gary and the club started promoting the first West Coast Mini Nationals in Lodi, Ca. The show was for cars 1949 and older and they had over 500 cars show up. Gary was building a following.
While he was still working as a traveling salesman in the 70‘s, he was often out of town for three or four days. He would find guys with hot rods and hang out with them instead of going to bars drinking and chasing women, like so many other salesmen did back then. If he found a guy who was chopping a top or customizing a car, he’d come back every day to take pictures of the project so he could submit articles for magazines. He would give the film to his friend Bruce Olson who ran a photo lab, and Bruce would keep all the black and white photos organized making it an easy task for the magazines to publish the articles with photos.
When he submitted his stories and pictures, Gary felt their regular names were too boring. Bruce wanted to be known as “Deuce Bruce”, so Gary had to come up with his own by-line and they became known as “Gary Goodguy and Deuce Bruce”. It was catchy, and they wrote stories, “How To” articles and books on customizing cars.
Gary continued to write, but couldn’t keep away from the car show scene. After he bought his ’32 Ford in ’73, he updated it and drove it to Oklahoma for the Street Rod Nationals. Gary never believed in trailers or campers, saying, “if it doesn’t fit in the car you don’t take it with you”.
Marilyn and the kids enjoyed it almost as much as he did. They went on a three week tour of hot rod shows in 1975, and everything they needed was in the car with them. In 1977 they headed for the Grand National Roadster Show in Oakland with the rebuilt ’32. Then they packed up the whole family and made a 6,000 mile trip with the kids through much of the US and up into Canada, attending the Street Rod Nationals in Winnipeg, then on to the Street Rod Nationals in Minnesota.
Over 600 car shows in 25 states
In 1983, Gary and Marilyn founded the Goodguys Rod & Custom Association while living in Alamo, Ca. They held a Goodguys Get-Together at the Pleasanton Fairgrounds that year and had over 400 cars at the show. By 1987, they were holding the Goodguys West Coast Nationals and had over 2,100 cars in attendance at that show. They went national with ten events all over the country catering to street rods and custom cars. That same year he separated from the NSRA as his new corporation was taking off and his shows were a huge success. He and Marilyn have both enjoyed the ride and everything about it. Gary says he’s fortunate that Marilyn has been his partner through all of this.
The Goodguys events have been going on ever since, with as many as 24 shows in 17 states in 2008, and their current schedule is about 22 shows for cars through 1972. Since 1983 they’ve had over 600 shows in 25 states, their biggest is the Goodguys PPG Nationals at Columbus, Ohio, where they have over 6,500 cars show up. That show is also where Goodguys crowns the Street Rod of the Year and Street Machine of the Year.
We asked Gary how they came up with the cutoff at ’72 and he said they had originally started with the NSRA format of ’48 and earlier. But as years went by he saw that there were some pretty cool cars being customized from the ’50’s so they changed the cutoff to ’64, prior to the Mustangs and Camaros. Then the muscle car era hit and they were in some smaller facilities at that time, so they had to branch out and get more people into the shows, and keep up with the times. Gary feels that 1973 is when the gas crunch hit and horsepower wasn’t what it was the prior years, so they made the cutoff at ’72.
Super Sunday is a newer event, a take off from their Goodguys Get-Togethers. Super Sunday is an opportunity for anyone with an American made or American powered car or truck to participate in the event on that Sunday. This includes a show and shine, an autocross course and participation in the awards ceremony Sunday afternoon.
We gotta get that guy parked inside here and let him park by a guy with a ’32, and he’ll start understanding how cool older cars are.
It isn’t any wonder why the Goodguys events have been so popular and so successful. It’s always been a family event, and the Meadors family was always behind it 110% giving everything they could to promote street rodding. From the early days when they had to fill out every entry by hand to these days when we can send our entries in from our computer at home.
Gary has a few other distinctions to his credit, also. In 1994 he joined the Bonneville 200 mph club when he drove the Dozier & Hegarty streamliner to a record speed of 223.220 mph. In 1995 he was given the Street Rodder magazine Lifetime Achievement Award, in 1998 he was inducted into the Street Rod Marketing Alliance Hall of Fame, and in 2004 he received the Hot Rod Industry Alliance Lifetime Achievement award at the SEMA show in Las Vegas, because of his many contributions to the hot rodding industry.
Gary says he’s gone over 300,000 miles driving hot rods around the country, and his latest car is not going to be any different. When we caught up with him, he was about to head over to Jay Leno’s Garage for a shoot with his latest car: a 1948 Chrysler Town and Country convertible powered by a Viper engine.
You would think that a guy like Meadors, with his extensive background and all that he has done for street rods and custom cars, would be bigger than life. But in reality, he is extremely humble and was just as amazed and awestruck at the people he saw that day as anyone else would be. It seemed like he doesn’t even acknowledge how significant a person he is, because he is just like a kid in a candy store when he’s around street rods.
We asked Gary when the car was completed and he said, “Just now, I haven’t even really picked it up yet”. He says there are still more studio shoots to do before he takes possession. The Chrysler was at the Goodguys show in Del Mar, but it wasn’t quite completed. It didn’t have a top, and the interior wasn’t done, but even in it’s incomplete state Gary still drove it up to San Jose. He says it was a nice breezy drive up the coast, with the mist and cold weather, and of course he was wearing shorts and sandals. But as Gary says, “I’ve put enough miles on in roadsters to know that it’s all survivable”.
Taking from the Goodguys name, it’s almost too convenient to use the term “good guy” when referring to Gary Meadors. But when you get an opportunity to talk with him it becomes less of a cliche and more of a truism about him. And that good guy attitude carries right on down to his son, Marc, who became President of Goodguys in 2007.
We spoke with Marc a couple days later and he graciously gave up some time in his hectic schedule to tell us about himself, and growing up with a dad who loves hot rods. He says he enjoyed every trip they made, and feels like he was born into the right family. When asked about cruising in hot rods every weekend and going on trips, Marc says, “It’s just what we did, it wasn’t any different than our neighbors taking the boat up to the lake”.
Marc knew when he was very young that hot rodding was what he wanted to do, he remembers being in Dallas at a show and he knew right then that it was his life, to be around cars. In 1990 after he got out of college in San Diego, he began to help run the company. He said it’s always been a lot of hard work, but it’s been such a huge part of his life that he doesn’t know any different.
Although Marc has a very busy schedule with racing, attending about 10-12 events a year, he says they have a great bunch of seasoned professionals that can run the company without any micromanaging. They have a retreat every year for all the top management people to go over everything for the year, and he says there were just a handful of people out of the group who haven’t been with them for over ten years. Marc says, “That is the real crux on being successful, is to have people who know your brand and know the business. It’s a family”. He says it was a real eye opener to see such dedicated people working for Goodguys.
Regarding his transition to take the helm, Marc said they had a five year plan and he worked his way into President of the company. They have good people who have been with the company a long time and helped make the transition go smoothly for him. But still he says, “At the end of the day we’re car guys”. They didn’t have it all written out but it was a learning experience and they’re still learning after all this time. It’s still as successful as ever and although Marc has had some big shoes to fill, he’s doing it with the same tenacity and love for the hobby that his father instilled in him, or as Marc jokingly says, “I was brainwashed into this at an early age”.
Not that Goodguys isn’t a lot of hard work, but he feels like it’s not a real job because he loves it so much. It keeps him a little bogged down at times, so he races in PSCA competition and he calls it his exercise. He doesn’t have a paid crew, so he builds the motor himself, and tears it down after every race. Recently they went 248 miles per hour at 5.83 in his exercise machine, a bit of a rush is involved but he says it keeps him sane.
He also tries to keep busy with his 9 year-old twins, Grant and Grace, with swimming and baseball. His oldest daughter, BreAnn, is in college now, but she goes on the road with the family and both his daughters are involved with Goodguys, selling shirts at the events. His son has a junior dragster, so he’s following in Marc’s footsteps already.
Marc says that although his dad is retired from the day to day events, he’s like the ‘mascot’ for Goodguys and everyone knows him at all the events. He knows Gary loves to get out in his hot rod and do the cruises, so Marc gives big projects like that to Gary because he loves to stop at various places and see car collections. Marc says of his father, “He’s out there preaching the Goodguys Gospel. He’s an incredible guy and I learned from the best, that’s for sure. But he doesn’t realize he’s incredible, that’s what’s funny. He’s just very humble and he doesn’t think he’s all that and a bag of chips.”
Hearing Marc talk about his father the way he does, and how much respect he has for Gary, you get a feeling that Marc is just like Gary. He may have learned from the best, but he is most definitely a reflection of his father. He is also very humble, and pretty incredible in his own right, and what’s funny is that he doesn’t seem to realize it. Like father, like son.