Gary Oliver wants to make hot rod dreams come true

Jun. 25, 2013 @ 07:58 AM

If you’re trying to figure out where to get started turning an old car into a hot rod, you might do a lot worse than asking someone with a large trophy and eight plaques won from NASCAR for his car-building.

Gary Oliver has those awards lined up on the counter inside his shop, Oliver’s Hi-Performance Parts, off Fairview Drive in Lenoir. If that doesn’t convince you of his knowledge, in the garage end of his shop he’s building a new chassis for a local man’s 1932 Ford. Alongside it, he’s turning a 1957 Studebaker into a hot rod for himself and a friend.

“The neat thing about a hot rod is us old guys can sit down in it and it’s like being in a time machine,” he said, and the memories come rushing forth.

It has been only the past few years that Oliver made hot rods the focus of his business – formerly named Oliver’s Tri-County Buggy, from a long-ago focus on dune buggies, but that’s another story.

“For 30 years, I was strictly hard-core racing,” he said.

In fact, he says he built more than 1,700 chassis over the years, including 25 years in Lenoir, where he landed when he came from southern Illinois hoping to help his car-racing daughter, Chrissy, break into NASCAR. For most of that time, the number of people in the region who raced at Tri-County Motor Speedway in Hudson, Antioch Speedway in Morganton or other regional tracks was plenty to keep him busy.

“Twenty-five years ago there were a lot of racers in Caldwell County,” he said. But that dwindled over the years, and the bottom fell out for him after Caldwell County passed a law in late 2009 that effectively shut down Tri-County. “Three years ago, we knew we had to do something serious.”

So now he focuses on muscle cars and street hot rods, the kinds of cars you see at the Cruise In in downtown Lenoir every month.

“All those guys who had their cars done know who I am, but who I’ve got to reach is those guys whose cars are in their yard” just waiting to be modified, he said, or those who are itching to have something different than what's on the car lot.

"The average guy puts together what we call a 'day two' car," he said. "It means the second day you got your new car, you start throwing pieces away" to modify and improve it.

"They want it to look like a '60 Chevrolet but drive down the street and handle like a new Cadillac would do," he said.

"It's fun to help somebody achieve their dreams."