"You know, I would really like to see the auto industry shift from being more mechanical repair and just fix cars, to more of a people industry. Sure, fixing is very important, a non-negotiable, but we need to care about the people driving the cars. And Scotty and I both do."
Raised on a farm in the small town of Kenyon, Minnesota, a population of about 1200, Harley was taken with motors, engines-things that moved fast at the ripe ole age of 7, 8-years old. "First thing I remember doing is taking the motor off my dad's lawnmower and putting it on the wooden wagon that we had and trying to make a little go cart. My thought was, "Let's see if I can go 60 mph!" But that didn't sit well with my dad when he went to use the lawnmower. So I had to put the motor back, and the lawnmower still worked."
From there, Harley set up a workshop in the family barn. "I worked on the dirt floor for eight to ten months, tinkering on a Studebaker my father gave to me." Working part-time at the local Studebaker garage, and the rest of the time in the barn, the teenager decided he wanted his own car. "I found a 1933 Ford Coupe (Model B), which had been under an apple tree, in one of the farmers" places not too far from where I grew up. I had it towed back home, got it to run, but it smoked badly" And then I traded it for a 55 Chevy that had a bad engine." That's when it all changed, Harley said. "All of a sudden, I got the V-8 fever. So I rebuilt the engine on that car, welded a new rear quarter panel on, did different things, and actually drove it for a long time!"
"My parents were great because they let me do my thing. I came in to eat and then I'd go back out and work on cars. I also had an auto detailing business where I waxed and polished cars for five bucks each, and that included the wax, which cost me .50 cents!"
|Getting good at his craft landed Harley his very own working quarters. "We had a large chicken coop we weren't using, and it had a cement floor that had room for four cars, so I cut a large door where I would be able to drive a car in." The mostly self-taught mechanic called his business "Chevy Specialties" and was quickly busy. "From 16-19, I worked on neighbors cars, other folks- cars, and on engines in many of the race cars in Minneapolis. I would take the engines back to the chicken coop in pieces, assemble them, and then bring them back to the speed shop in the city." Since there wasn't a phone in the coop, nothing could bother him for 24 hours.|
To say Harley was busy is an understatement. In between working on cars at home and driving an 18-wheeler to help his father with hauling grain, he got a job as a line technician at an Olds-Pontiac-Cadillac dealership in a nearby town before taking on a similar job with a big Chevrolet dealership in Minneapolis, commuting 60 miles each way from home. "(In Minneapolis) we had a speed shop, where we worked on drag strip cars, circle track cars, and road racing cars. One of the guys there had a Super Bee 440 with three carbs and a four-speed, which held the track record at both drag strips in the city for a whole summer."
It's no surprise Harley developed a serious passion for car racing after going to Indie car races and state fair races with his father. "It's that mechanical and adrenaline love of every time you can do it better; you can do it faster; you can go more places!" Holding down a fulltime job during the day and by night, working in the chicken coop on race cars was full- steam ahead, up until his mid-twenties."I did 18-hour days, seven days a week, because you worked on the car all week so it was ready to run in the races on the weekend, and then you'd do it all over again the following week."
(Sidebar: Most fun racing Harley ever did) "When I was 19-20, we built a sprint car with a Ford Model A frame and body, a wishbone front suspension, but with a Chevy engine. And it ran on alcohol! We had a dirt track that was brand new in the county fairgrounds and back then, you would want the mud sticky so the cars could bank the corners, hit it full-throttle." Harley recalled, chuckling, "The first time the water- truck went out, it tipped over because the banking was so steep and it was carrying too much water (filled to the max). So from then on, just a half- filled water-truck did the trick."Good, clean simple fun was to be had. "If you smiled (during a race), you had mud in your teeth. That's how much (mud) was flying around."
|Harley worked practically around the clock as well as had a family of his own, a wife Jeni and two boys. "We had a car in the Trans Am racing series, a 1968 Camaro Rally Sport that had hideaway headlights so you never saw the (head) lights. I remember we were going flat out from the start, but then like a lot of other cars, we'd have troubles during the race because the cars don't take that-you have to pace. So we learned to pace and learn to finish, and not try to be first from the very first five laps. In the last four races we did, we were in the Top 10 twice."|
The exciting, fast-paced racing industry took a toll on family life. "One's got to give. You can't work nearly full-days/nights and at the same time, be around for family time." Being at a race event, when a big accident took place in the track, made the mid-twenty-year-old think twice about his family. "Swede Savage (David Earl "Swede" Savage, Jr.) was an upcoming star, he was more in the Jeff Gorden category in terms of he was really getting well-known, and I was there when he crashed and didn't make it out of that. It was a real eye opener. It made me recapture my life and think, "Wow" that happens fast."
It was the tragedy of Swede Savage, and being offered a dream job of working for (the now legendary) Can-Am sports racing circuit-much like a Formula One -and then being told there were no living quarters to house families on the road, that the Kenyon, Minnesota native decided it was time for something different. "I made one of the toughest decisions in my career. I remember getting a call from the team owner of Can-Am car right after sponsoring a car that ran in a local circuit track, where we ran wheel-to-wheel with the person that had been the number one car for many years. But it really came down to, either I go pro or I stop- And I chose to stop racing and be more with my family, which was the right thing to do."
While on a short vacation to Colorado, visiting his uncle Joe, Harley was offered a shop manager position at Conoco Car Clinic. Three weeks later, Harley and his family packed up and made Denver their home. The well- equipped shop, which opened its doors in December of 1970, became the top store out of its 23 stores for the next two years, under the leadership of Harley. "We had a lot of employees that had worked on farms -and that's a hard living-so these guys were very hard workers. They came to do the job, and got it done."
In 1973, B.F. Goodrich was opening up a store across the street and recruited Harley to run its shop. In just four months, that store rose to the top out of the 58 Western-located B.F. Goodrich stores. After a wealth of solid experience in fixing cars and equally as strong managerial chops, Harley opened his own service repair shop, Harley's Autotech, Inc. in 1979, which today boasts a loyal clientele following that wouldn't take their car anywhere else.