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By KAREN SHAFFER and TODD JENNINGS
Two things that seem to be vanishing from the American home are bonding family traditions and shade tree mechanics.
People used to take such pride in their car that often the family photo was taken with the car in the background.
Nowadays, the love of muscle cars isn’t as common as it once was.
There was a time when most guys in high school knew how to work on their own car. Guys like well-known local mechanic Keith Smythers built their own engines and Pipers Gap became an unofficial, late night dragway.
There were brags and opinions of who had the fastest or the coolest car in town. Nowadays, most kids are more worried about it looking sporty or about the quality of the sound system.
The car of choice for the auto enthusiast back then was most likely a muscle car from mid/late 1960s to very early 1970s.
Muscle cars became popular in the 1960s. Boys in high school would work feverishly on their car of choice for bragging rights, hoping to claim local notoriety for having the fastest car, biggest engine and/or coolest design.
Keith and his son Dylan are keeping the muscle car enthusiasm alive for their family.
Keith has always been a gearhead. He has a love for cars that dates back to his early childhood.
Some of his earliest memories are of different cars in the neighborhood. He easily recalls make and model of neighbor’s cars he admired as a child.
He still recalls how certain motors and cars sounded and the way it thrilled him.
During Keith’s senior year in high school, a classmate told him about a car his father would be giving him at graduation. It was the car his father brought him home from the hospital in.
This story stayed with Keith. He did not have a close relationship with his own father, so Keith hoped one day to have a son to bond with and share all the things he never experienced.
While still in high school, Keith bought a 1969 Dodge Dart — 1969 being the year he was born. When he graduated in 1987, he drove that car home.
Over the years he bought, sold and traded many vehicles but this particular car had a purpose.
It wasn’t going anywhere — not yet anyway.
In 1993 when Dylan was born, Keith insisted that Dylan’s first ride in a car be in a Mopar.
But not just any Mopar — the Dodge that he drove home from graduation.
For the non-gearhead, Mopar (short for “Motor Parts”) refers to any Chrysler-built vehicle — Dodge, Chrysler or Plymouth.
Keith passed his love of cars to his son. One of Dylan’s first words was “Eeerrrrt,” the sound their truck made when barking the tires into second gear.
When asked “What sound does the truck make?” little Dylan would reply, “Eeerrrrt” and then giggle.
Over the years, Keith would tell Dylan that when he graduated from Galax High School that car would be given to him.
Dylan received certificates in auto mechanics in addition to his diploma. Although he wants to pursue other interests, as well, he intends to become an auto tech just like his dad.
His motto: “Mopar or no car.”
Keith has had to sell off most of his prized collection of Mopars. Many people told him he was crazy to give the last of his “Mopar empire” away.
“You have had it so long, get your boy a different car,” they would say. Some remarked that he could have sold the vintage Dart for a premium, paid off some bills and lived a little easier.
But Keith said they didn’t understand the meaning behind that particular car. “I told Dylan when he was a little boy that this would be his car when he graduated. I am keeping my word.”
On graduation night at GHS back in June, as people were leaving the building, several “ooohs” and “aaaahhs” were heard as they saw the yellow Dodge Dart sitting there with a big bow on top.
People whispered as they walked by, “Wonder what lucky kid is getting that?”
When Dylan exited the doors of GHS for the last time, his eyes went straight to his father. Keith stood by the car with pride in his face and the key in his hand.
With a few words of love and encouragement, Keith put the crucifix keychain holding the single key into the hand of his son.
A gathering of family, friends and teachers who watched Dylan drive away from the school reminisced about seeing his father pull away in the same car in 1987.
After Keith gave Dylan the keys, someone asked Dylan how it felt.
“I know it is my car now, but it will always be Dad’s car. I think I will call it ‘our’ car.”