DENVER Brent Hajek faced a demanding deadline when he got the call to fix up a 1973 Chevelle he owns in time for last week's Speed Street festivities in uptown Charlotte.
Racing legend Bobby Allison competed in the car four decades ago and planned to drive it again as grand marshal of Thursday's Speed Street parade.
Hajek, owner of Hajek Motorsports in Ames, Okla., had 90 days to restore the car.
"It was a hunk of junk," he recalled.
Hajek contacted Don Miller, former president of Penske Racing South, to find the right person to refurbish the Chevelle: Bill Rhine, owner of Rhine Enterprise on Burnwood Trail, off N.C. 16 in Denver.
Rhine calls his nondescript 7,500-square-foot building the best-kept secret in racing.
He and his crew have restored 30 to 40 vintage cars since opening 11 years ago, and they finished the '73 Chevelle on time.
"It's perfect," Hajek said at the shop last week after seeing the restored car for the first time a day earlier. "The guy said he would do it, and he did it."
Rhine, 34, figures he and his crew, including shop foreman Doug Stebbins, Steve Hoag and Anthony "Junior" Samelwich, put $60,000 worth of labor into the restoration, while owner Hajek provided $40,000 or $50,000 in parts. Shawn Pincola of Pincola Motorsports Paint and Body of Mooresville did the paint work.
"The only problem with your cars," Allison joked to Rhine, "is they look nicer now than when we raced them."
The '73 Chevelle eventually will be displayed at the N.C. Auto Racing Hall of Fame in Mooresville, Rhine said.
Rhine lives in Denver with his wife, Tiffany, and their German shepherd, Stu.
He has loved tinkering with cars since he was a boy in South Miami, Fla. He knew then it was what he would do for the rest of his life. He later worked as a mechanic and fabricator for NASCAR teams.
He was driver Ricky Craven's shop foreman in Concord in 1997 and 1998. He also worked for drivers Randy Porter and Adam Petty. He worked for Petty for 11/2 years, until Petty's death during a practice run in May 2000 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H.
That's when Rhine went into business for himself. He decided he'd never find another driver to work for like Petty.
"He was like the racers of 30 or 40 years ago," Rhine said. "He was for real. He was there to go racing. That was so refreshing. That kid drove his ass off every week."
Rhine also is a private collector of famous race cars and has a half-dozen on display at the Mooresville hall of fame. The one he'll never sell, he said, is a No. 45 that Adam Petty drove.
Among several other vintage race cars being restored in Rhine's shop last week was a 1976 Junie Dunleavy Ford Torino that will be driven in the 24 Hours of LeMans Classic in France next year. It's one of only two NASCAR-type cars to be driven in Le Mans, and its French owner flew in recently to test the car at a local track. The car is a $150,000 restoration, Rhine said.
Two years ago, Rhine Enterprise built a private racing fleet of six 800-horsepower, two-seat NASCAR Car of Tomorrow cars for Texas banker Andy Beal.
Rhine Enterprise also has built and designed street-legal Car of Tomorrow cars for Red Bull Racing and done work for Toyota and for various commercials. It built the chassis dynamometer for an Interstate Batteries commercial, for instance.
Rhine's company also builds show cars, media carts and custom pit boxes. Its main line of work is custom fabrication, but Rhine's passion also lies in restoring vintage autos. More of them lie locked in storage, awaiting his special touch.
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