Muscle Car gatherings ending at Fairmont, WV shop - Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Muscle Car gatherings ending at Fairmont, WV shop

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FAIRMONT, W.Va. (AP) — Tom Feorene picked up a picture frame from the floor and, readjusting his bifocals, he eyed the faded Kodak memories.

There was a black-and-white picture of his daughter, taken years ago. Pictures of cars. In fact, lots and lots of pictures of cars. And then look here.

"That's a picture of my station," Feorene said on his 87th birthday while sitting inside the same station from the photo.

He turned and placed the frame back on the ground with a few other pictures and countless more memories.

Not long ago, the frames hung on the wall of Feorene's Exxon service station on Locust Avenue, next to more pictures of motorized beer cooler races and the time old Gary Kelley dressed up like a girl and that one of his son's car with its front tires three feet in the air.

But soon it will all be gone. Packed up.

After more than half a century of owning and operating the station, Feorene is calling it a career. He shut off the pumps in August. It won't be long before the sale is final and he moves out of the shop.

He's gathered here with friends on an uncharacteristically cool June morning to celebrate his birthday. Fittingly, it fell on a Saturday, the day of the week that he spent the past several decades at his shop talking cars with an informal group of collectible car aficionados who call themselves the "Muscle Car Mafia."

Feorene opened his shop in 1953 after serving in the Navy during World War II. The early years weren't easy. Competition was fierce with a gas station on nearly every corner. But Feorene's shop stuck.

He got married and had two children — the girl in the photograph and a boy, Tommy Jr. The junior Feorene shared his father's passion for automobiles and in the 1970s and 1980s started racing cars.

Every Saturday night they went out to Eldora Raceway to race. So each Saturday morning, hot-rod racers met at Feorene's shop to tune up their vehicles, and the "Muscle Car Mafia" was born.

"If you were a hot-rodder, you came here," said Tommy Jr., who went on to race NHRA Super Stock professionally, eventually becoming a national record holder and division winner.

The group of a dozen or so men gathered around on stools and folding chairs all nod in silent agreement. Between them, the crew has fixed up and raced everything from cars to motorcycles to dune buggies. Hearing them talk about the cars is like an alphabet soup of horsepower and grit: 1923 T Bucket. 65 C 10. 68 Camaro, 70 Chevelle Super Sport.

They sit around talking about the old days. Remember the time a couple of them were street racing a yellow Camaro? All of the sudden they saw flashing lights. Cops. They narrowly got away, but around town the word was out: Look for the yellow Camaro.

"That weekend, it got sanded down and painted black," J.D. Wyant said with a laugh.

The guys say they've known each other "forever." The majority of the group met in high school or college, where they got their thrills, not to mention their nicknames.

There's Grumpy. His real name's Dave McDougal, but back in the day, he used to race a Camaro. It reminded the guys of an old racer named Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins, so from then on, he's just been Grumpy.

Then there's Hippie. Why's he named Hippie? The room explodes with laughter, each man talking over the next: Oh look at him! He hasn't cut his hair since 1965! He's a redneck!

Sitting on his stool, finishing the last puffs of his cigarette and pulling back his curly grey hair and beard, John Heck explained: "The Times puts names of winners at the drag strip in the paper. I raced my mother's car and I said, 'Oh, I can't have my name in there. That's a no-no.' So I had to change my name to Herb Smith."

"It was supposed to be Herbert T. Shoebecker, but I couldn't remember how to spell 'Shoebecker,' so I said, 'Herb Smith is my name,'" he added with a sly grin.

But the racing days — the time Feorene Jr. got caught on fire during a race in Budscreek, Md., the aliases and the Saturday nights at Eldora — are far in the rear view mirror. What has remained are the friendships, as solidly built as the vintage American-made motor vehicles they treasure.

"This is our unofficial car club," Nick Fantasia said. "There's no meetings, no dues and we don't take any (stuff)."

They travel around the country, from Detroit to Las Vegas in search of car shows and good times. They've been in magazines and set records. And of course, they hang out. Every Saturday at the shop— at least until the paperwork for the sale goes through.

"We talked about keeping it going individually," said Porter Stiles. "But we all have lives. ... All of us other than Hippie there."

"I'm the only guy that works!" shouted "Hippie," lighting another cigarette.

"Retired." he said pointing to one of the "Mafiosos."

"Retired," he continued, with his finger pointed around the room. "Does it look like he works? Does it look like he works?"

That's the way it is around here. They poke fun and make jokes. Some swear a little. Others tell a couple dirty jokes. Maybe they smoke a cigarette or two. But mainly, it's about cars ... and today, the shop.

"I think the real story is, in the 1950s there were probably 50 privately owned service stations in Fairmont," Fantasia said. "This is one of the last remaining stations."

At the end of the afternoon, Tommy Jr. lights a single candle with Hippie's cigarette lighter and puts it in a big vanilla cake. Together, the "Muscle Car Mafia" sings "Happy Birthday" to the 87-year-old Feorene.

"You can tell we aren't singers," Hippie laughs.

Then when the cake is eaten and the last joke told, the fellas fire up their engines like the rumble of a summer thunderstorm, and they're gone, leaving Feorene and his son with the photographs.

The faded photographs. And the memories.


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.