We want to congratulate our AHRF Member, Zach Suhr, on being chosen as our Member of the Month. Zach’s story is one that should give each and every one of us great hope in the future of this tradition that we love so much. Zach might be a young guy but he has bridged the age gap with several, noted, senior members of the hot rod and racing community… and in ways that are both touching and inspiring. His dedication to the preservation of hot rod history and a hands-on way of life definitely gives us faith in the future and we think you’ll feel the same way.
Enjoy learning about AHRF Member Zach Suhr here, and in his own words.
I was born into a family with a long history in dirt track racing, hot rods, and motorcycles. My earliest memories are of a race car being built in our garage under the house. I would open the door to hear the engine better and in turn, make my newborn baby sister cry… a win/win for a 3-year-old. My mom worked at Silver Spring Speedway while my dad was involved with the race team. Once my sister and I were old enough, our entire family worked at the track for many years. We would also attend local events with the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing / Williams Grove Old Timers (www.emmr.org). From a very early age, it was evident that my blood was going to flow Ford blue and I was drawn to the flathead V8 engine. This love/obsession has only grown stronger as the years have gone by without ever becoming too interested in any other cars aside from early Fords and dirt track race cars. We gradually acquired a few old flathead engines and picked up a project ’32 Coupe race car driven by Ray Tilley, but never really dug into them when I was young.
Through my teenage years I became very interested in BMX bicycles and thanks to a great teacher in high school, Mr. Shiffert, I was able to create an independent study course in engineering where I could learn freely on the equipment leftover from when the school still had a machine shop class. I started making various small bicycle parts and selling them to fund my own bicycles. Later I was able to acquire the fixtures from a small local bicycle company and began producing frames and parts at home right after graduating high school. Thanks to the sale of a few frames and reselling a few modern cars I was able to raise funds to acquire a Model A sport coupe found in a local school where I had been taking night classes to better my welding. Through my friends who were into bicycles I met a local 1950’s Hot Rodder named Skip Bender. Skip was excited to learn that I was so interested and had such knowledge of old hot rods that he decided that I would be the best home for his collection of Hot Rod magazines that went all the way back to nearly the beginning. Those first 5 to 10 years of Hot Rod magazine really made a huge impact on my focus and interest with old cars.
Around this time (while at the Hershey swap meet) we ran into Fay Butler and, after pulling a few strings and due to my age, I was able to attend Fay’s Metal shaping class. Returning home with newfound knowledge but nowhere to go with it led to the eventual discovery of Joe Devine and his wife Phyllis. Phyllis wrote a racing newspaper called “The Alternate” for many years and advertised on the back that Joe built aluminum race car bodies. They were only about 15 minutes from me, so I decided to stop by. Joe took me under his wing right away and helped me learn the old fashioned methods of shaping race car bodies, along with a constant history lesson of his own involvement in racing. With the unfortunate passing of Phyllis and with many other variables factored, I was able to purchase Joe’s property and all contents, allowing him to live in his home until his passing, a year or so later.
Throughout this time with the Devine’s I had been building my first hot rod at home, which was not the original Model-A sport coupe. With the knowledge and obsessive digging into the early Hot Rod history, I knew I wanted a ’28/9 Roadster on a ’32 frame with a flathead V8. Luckily, through friends and funds from a job at a sign shop, I was able to scrounge up parts and get my first Hot Rod running…with its first test drive being on the dirt track at the Jalopy Showdown! At that time the biggest connection to the world of Hot Rodding was the HAMB Message Board. Being fairly young and pretty well stuck in the mud of early period hot rods, it seemed the older guys took interest in me. One of those guys, and someone who seemed like a celebrity on those boards, was Bruce Lancaster. Bruce lived a couple of hours away and actually made a point to come to see me one day. I remember feeling like I had met the Einstein of old Fords. We became quick friends. Bruce was always there for me to lean on when I got stuck with a technical issue, to share a few books, or just to share in the excitement of a new-found part or car. Unfortunately, about a year ago, Bruce passed away suddenly. His final act of generosity was to see that his collection ended up safe from the ravages of street rodders, so it all now lives in my garage.
Along the line and with help from my parents and the sale of the original sport coupe, which I turned into sort of a roadster, I was able to purchase a real old historic Model-B powered ’28 Roadster that originally came from Southern California. Trying to trace the history of the car led me to talk with Don Montgomery and in turn get in touch with Bill Farren, who I was suspecting at the time to be the original builder of my car. This led to a great friendship between Bill and I. Bill introduced me to his friend Keith Landrigan who was also a member of the same car club before WWII, The Flyers. With Bill and Keith’s blessing, some friends and I revived the Flyers Roadster Club, now based in Pennsylvania. Recently found evidence is seeming to prove that the car is more likely to be Duke Hallock’s roadster, not Bill’s.
An unavoidable obsession with track roadster racing has grown to be a reasonably strong reason that the roadsters currently run on the dirt tracks with the local old-timers’ groups. I would strip down my street roadster and sign in to run with the other race cars at the Latimore Valley Fairgrounds events, gradually convincing friends to do the same. My family raced with the Keystone Roadster Racing Association just after WWII. They had 2 cars, one of which driven by their friend Mitch Smith, his first race car. Mitch went on to be a rather famous sprint car driver, one of the few to beat (multiple times) the USAC sprint regulars when they would come to town. A few years ago my dad and I decided to recreate the car from a few photos and what little information we could find. The car was number 44 and a bit rough around the edges but the modern version is probably my favorite car that I own. These photos were also the inspiration to paint 44c on the side of my first hot rod a few years earlier. On the other side of my family, a great uncle had a track roadster, as did Joe Devine. Of course, through all the research into hot rod history, the track roadsters from all across the country were of great interest to me, especially those from California, which seemed so much more refined. I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase the remains of an original California-based track roadster originally owned by Paul Quinterno from Cupertino California. Paul had various drivers in the car and ran from the smallest bull rings to the high banked Oakland Stadium. I have been slowly researching to find all the correct parts but also parts with matching age to the original paint on the body as it will not be repainted.
From the time we first met, my wife has been very supportive of my obsession and has always been willing to “look the other way” when I have to buy something new. She has now blessed us with 2 wonderful babies, Henry and Alice, right before Thanksgiving. Hopefully, they will have some interest in caring for this collection in the future. The biggest supporters through this entire adventure have been my parents. They’ve always been willing to let me try to do whatever it was that I had an interest in while guiding me to do so with gratitude. I’ve now been able to acquire quite a few interesting cars and parts that I never would have dreamed I could even lay my hands on. I haven’t been one to want to sell something to get something else, so my collection may look a bit overwhelming. I may not be able to finish all the projects that I have or use all the parts that I have acquired but I feel very fortunate that I am now able to live in a world that looks like it could have existed during the glory years of what we all know and love.