On the Shoulders of Giants

On the Shoulders of Giants

Greg McConiga

We’ve all heard the old adage: Life is a journey, not a destination. From my limited experience so far, I’d have to agree. The only differences I see among travelers on life’s highway seem to be the degree of self examination each engages in, and the speed at which we travel the path — we arrive at the major mile markers of life at different intervals and with different perceptions of where we’ve been and how we got there. Partly, it’s a matter of luck, partly personal determination and partly it’s dependent upon the amount of mentoring we are fortunate enough to receive from those a few mile markers ahead of us.

Did you ever sit down and try to figure out all the people you’d have to thank for teaching you the lessons of life? Have you ever even taken a moment to consider what you know, and how you came to know it? How many people have contributed (knowingly or unknowingly) to your success? And have you ever taken time to actually thank them? Do you think they already know how grateful you are? Maybe we assume that they know when, in fact, they don’t (and we all know what happens when you assume…).

It was during a moment of reflection (increasingly rare for me these days) that I began to put together a partial list of people from whom I had learned some of the pivotal lessons in my life, and I determined then and there to one day take the time to thank them publicly.

First on the list would have to be my father. Raised through the depression, Dad spent World War II on a destroyer in the North Atlantic and he was everything you’d expect of a man who’d been so challenged before his twenty-fifth birthday There was nothing he couldn’t do. He taught me that the quality of your work could not vary. That little things counted, and it was the things you couldn’t see that told a customer whether you were a craftsman or a hack. He taught me that I was to be meticulous and honest, and that I owed an employer an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. He taught me the work ethic, determination and professional pride. I have tried in every case to live up to his expectations.

Smokey Yunick. I wouldn’t have become a mechanic if it weren’t for Smokey. I read everything he wrote in Popular Science as a kid, and later in Circle Track as an adult. I’ve got a copy of his book, too. I’ve been to his shop in Daytona Beach, and I’ve looked him up at several industry meetings over the years. He even signed my pit pass for me at the inaugural Brickyard 400. Yeah, I know — hero worship. He’s still a character, and don’t ask him what he thinks if you don’t really want to know. When I told him once that I began working on cars because of his writing, he said, “Well, I’m sorry I screwed up your life!” Probably the most brilliant and analytical mechanical mind of all time. Thanks, Smokey. You didn’t screw up my life. I’ve had a lot of fun over the years — it’s been a great job.

Ed Evans, my former employer and good friend. Ed’s one of those guys we all hate — a natural-born mechanic. He’s probably the best common-sense-find-an-easier-way guy I’ve ever known. He’s the one who drilled it into me to check the basics first, and look at the tricky stuff later. He taught me a lot over the twenty years I worked with him, more than I could possible list here, things I don’t think I would’ve learned otherwise.

Geoff McCarthy. I ran into Geoff in the mid-seventies, when he was the Sun Electric sales representative. I was still on that steep learning curve we all step onto when we first enter this trade and he took the time to befriend me and get me into what were then some very advanced training courses. He came out and helped when I was stuck and made sure I knew the equipment well enough to make maximum use of it. In a word, he spent far more time helping me than was called for, and I still can’t thank him enough.

Sam Shinabery. Sam’s Indiana’s version of Smokey Yunick. He and I taught together at a local community college for a few years beginning in the late seventies. Sam’s got no half speed; whatever he does, whatever he learns, is by total immersion. A minimalist by disposition and choice, he can find ways to stretch a system to its absolute maximum potential with a minimum of investment (some would say Sam’s frugal — I think he’s just cheap). He’s got a better handle on theory and practical application that anyone else I know personally, and he’s willing to spend hours over a cup of coffee explaining it to anyone who’ll sit and listen. I’d hate to have to pay Sam a dollar for every hour he spent teaching me some obscure point late at night in some greasy-spoon diner over bad food and good coffee.

My brother, Doug. I learned courage and determination from my littlest brother as he fought his losing battle with cancer. Never have I seen another person so determined, so brave in the face of adversity. I only wish that others could have known him and seen it for themselves. I hope when my time comes, I’m half the man my brother was.

My wife Janie and my kids, Lori and Kyle. I tell my kids that while I don’t condone child abuse, I understand it now. They just laugh at me (they think I’m kidding!). I don’t know that I ever experienced real love or the depths of patience or anger until I had a wife and kids. You have to let people get really, really close to you before you can experience the true complexities of these emotions. The folks you hold at emotional arms-length can’t test you. I’ve learned to become a whole person because of them.

Finally, there’s a whole host of people who’ve taken time to nudge me along the path, teaching me things that I needed to know, when I needed to know them, or folks who were there to help and support me. Bill Protsman, my NAPA jobber, who took the time to put together the Tech of the Year entry that won in 1987. The guys on the crew that year (Dave Miller, Nick Emenhiser, Steve Stewart, Keith Crum, Mike Mowery, Eric Muir and Paul Hilke) who did such a terrific job that it should’ve been a group award, not an individual one. Dick Moritz, from Target Communications, who ushered us around Atlanta, told us corny jokes and gave me pointers on tipping. Bob McKenna, Steve Handshuh, Wilton Looney and all the forward-thinking professionals at NAPA (if you guys ever get tired of the parts business, you could make a fortune teaching business ethics and corporate professionalism to others). Ron Weiner and company at ASE, who took the time to manner an unruly Hoosier and teach him to think about bigger pictures and longe r-term goals. Ron’s been a good friend over the years, and could by his actions define “dedication” to an industry Bill McKinney, Mike Goshert and Randy O’Daniel for taking time to teach me about the business end of the car business (an ongoing process 1).

Bob Freudenberger, Jim Halloran, Eric Sehroder and staff at MOTOR SERVICE who have enticed, prodded and encouraged me to commit the unnatural act of written communication each month on these pages. They have all worked to teach me how to think, write, and express myself better.

The danger in this is that I’ve missed someone, somewhere, and if I have, I apologize. There have been a lot of friends and business associates who’ve given freely of their time and advice to help oversee me on my journey My heartfelt thanks to all of you for teaching me the lessons that have sustained me through the best and worst of times. The ideals of honesty perseverance, integrity and work ethic have served me well. The value of a given word, the permanence of a handshake, and the ability to see past the immediate to the longer term are all lessons learned from others. I’ve been shown the art of compromise and negotiation by some of the best in our industry and I appreciate the time each has given in my behalf.

What did you know and when did you know it? We all stand on someone’s shoulders, we all owe someone a thanks. I learned something from each of these people, and hundreds more too numerous to list. I’m sure that in a lot of cases, they didn’t even know I was paying that much attention. Have you taken the time to thank those who came before, who took hours away from their families to see to your continuing education? Whose shoulders do you stand on?

COPYRIGHT 2000 Adams Business Media

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