“LET’S TALK CARS!”
Safe to say, Harley has his plate full with doing two things he loves—running his longstanding service shop, Harley’s Auto Tech, Inc. that’s located in Aurora since 1979, and hitting the airwaves on Denver favorite station, KRZW 950 AM Crusin’ Oldies with “The Car Doctors” on Saturdays, 1 p.m. – 2 p.m.
“It’s really pretty simple,” said Harley about the auto show, “my motto is, ‘Let’s talk cars.’”
Bringing up-to-date and relevant information to the table, along with his cohort and longtime auto repair expert, Scotty (owner of Arvada’s Auto Tech), whom Harley shares the on-air mic with, the two car vets deliver real-time information to its listeners.
“We talk about subjects that people encounter every day, every week…whether it’s how to get 200,000 miles out of your car” or questions like, ‘What about the recalls—does it affect me? What are the recalls I should be caring about?,’ to topics like snow tires and the why(s) and what(s) does a snow tire do that other tires don’t. We’ve got something for everyone,” said Harley.
“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 Auto Tech, Inc. in 1979 (www.harleysautotech.com), which today boasts a loyal clientele following that wouldn’t take their car anywhere else.
Nowadays, the father of four children total (Scott, Eric, Charlie, Nica, which is short for Bernice) may not have much time off, but when he does, his hobbies include working/giving back to two organizations close to his heart.
“‘A Strong Tower’ is a prison ministries that helps men when they come out of prison get jobs, get bus passes so they can get to the job interviews. It helps them get things in motion to get their life back and readapt with society, because when they come out of jail, they really have nothing, and most of them have a family.” In 2013, A Strong Tower helped 1300 men get jobs. For more info., visit www.astrongtower.org.
“Another organization I work with is 5280, which helps Denver’s at-risk youth,” said Harley. “There are so many homeless teenagers that live under bridges, on park benches, just anywhere. And these kids have given up on life. They feel yesterday was bad, today is bad, tomorrow won’t change—they’ve lost all hope. So this organization offers them hot meals, clothing, provides a safe, warm environment—lets them know ‘Someone Cares.’” For more info, visit www.movement5280.org. At any point in time, there are over 1,100 homeless youth (ages 14-24) and over 5,000 homeless students (children attending school, but considered homeless) in the Denver-Metro area.
Helping others is something Harley deeply believes in. “People matter. Somehow today’s society has gotten away from that. It’s really important we bridge that gap again.” In 1976 to 1977, he and his wife, Vicki, led the junior high youth group at the Methodist Church in Parker.
About Harley’s Auto Tech, Inc.
Harley’s Auto Tech is a Christian father and son owned business dedicated to providing our customers with honest quality service at fair, economic prices on all make and models, cars and trucks.
As a NAPA care center, we strive every day to give you the best Quality parts at affordable prices. We save our customers 20% – 40% compared to other repair shops. We source 3-4 different parts suppliers specifically for YOUR car repairs, to get you the best value and savings we can. At Harley’s, you receive higher quality workmanship for substantially less than Dealer prices and we provide EVERY quality service they do! In giving you the best, our technicians are ASE certified. We also honor NAPA car care repairs and warranties. We also honor aftermarket warranties!
Thank you for choosing us as your automotive repair specialists!
About KRZW 950 AM Cruisin’ Oldies
Cruisin’ Oldies is Denver’s “Good Times and Great Oldies of the 50s and 60s,” featuring hits by Elvis, the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Buddy Holly, Tommy James & the Shondells, and Herman’s Hermits. 950’s extremely strong AM signal blankets Denver and even reaches into Fort Collins to Colorado Springs and Pueblo. With its core audience between the ages of 45-64, these decision makers are college graduates that are homeowners with disposable incomes, have time and money to go out to eat, renovate their homes, travel and more. The station also often rates as the top five with Men 55-64. It’s often said that the classics from the ‘50s and ‘60s is the soundtrack to our lives.
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