Mother’s Day the Old Car Way

Mother’s Day the Old Car Way

Whoooom blub blub whomp. I stalled it—again. I push in the clutch, turn the key and the big V6 rumbles back to life. I look to the left, then over to the right. My mom is sitting shotgun in her 1961 GMC pickup, calm and collected with a smile on her face. It’s late summer in Michigan, and she’s coaching me on the basics of her truck’s four-speed. The sun is setting, and the landscape is turning shades of gold like it tends to do during that time of year. “You got this,” she says. I look down the long, snorkel hood, ease off the clutch, push down the gas and we’re on our way. “Once you hit third,” she says, “then you’re really cruising.”


My mom is no stranger to cars. Her dad was a tried-and-true do-it-yourselfer who owned a wide variety of vehicles through the years, and she has fond memories of his cars and motorcycles. After moving to Michigan in high school, my mom worked at an auto parts store as one of her many odd jobs. To this day, she tells colorful stories about snowstorms, roadside breakdowns and other setbacks related to driving unreliable vehicles in midwestern winters.

Growing up, my mom introduced me to terms like dual-quads and louvers. She brought me on trips to faraway Wal-Marts in search of the best deals on model kits. We made a sport out of browsing garage and estate sales. At a young age, she taught me how to negotiate. She showed me how to look for things where others wouldn’t and ask different kinds of questions. From the start, she encouraged me to stay curious and always tell a story.

And that’s exactly what I did. With her support, I spent my early years reading every hot rod magazine and book I could find. When I was laid up all summer with a knee injury as a 6th grader, she left me with the handymen as she went to the store to pick up a copy of Bob McClurg’s Diggers, Funnies, Gassers & Altereds. We still laugh about it, and I think of her whenever I pull that book off the shelf. Its frayed spine and dog-eared pages make me treasure it even more.

Our collection of resumes and cover letters that we sent to California, plus my “Silver Dollar” Willys I built.

When the going got tough, my mom was there to brighten things up. Whether it was driving an hour away to watch a racing movie or commandeering a mobility scooter and parading it around a parking lot, she certainly knows how to stay positive. In the spring of 2011, she joined me on my campus tour at the University of Missouri. While we were in that part of the country, I asked if we could meet up with some folks that I had been talking to on the H.A.M.B. She said yes, and I’ll forever be grateful that she trusted me enough to allow that to happen.

A few years later, my mom helped me stuff resumes into envelopes to send to Hot Rod Magazine, Rod & Custom, Car Craft, and The Rodder’s Journal. Although I wasn’t able to land any internships, she reminded me to never give up. She cheered extra loud as I walked across the stage at graduation and gave me a big hug as I left for California to pursue my writing career at TRJ.

My mom and Daisy, all smiles at her school.

Even though we live on opposite sides of the country, she’s more involved with cars than ever. She and my dad bought “Daisy,” her crystal green ’61 GMC in the summer of 2017. A couple years and safety upgrades later, it’s her three-season daily driver. She teaches third grade, and the students at her school know when Mrs. Ukrop is there when they spot that big green machine. She loves seeing peoples’ expression when she tells them that yes, it’s her truck.

My dad took this time-warp photo of the truck in front of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Smith house, which was built in 1949.


My mom and I analyzing barn finds at a Concours.

No relationship is perfect, but I feel beyond lucky to have my mom in my life. Saying she’s supportive is an understatement, and I’m proud that we share so many similar interests. With everything that’s happening in today’s world, family has never been more important. You never know when a text, phone call or letter can turn someone’s day around.

Mother’s Day is this Sunday, and I just wanted to say thank you to all the hot rodding moms out there. I can’t say for sure, but I’m guessing that we weren’t the easiest group to raise. Maybe it’s like driving a four-speed, since we take a little time to get used to.

Joey Ukrop

I’ll end with a question: what was your mom’s stance on hot rodding? Pro? Con? Somewhere in between? Let’s hear it.

Along with my mom, my dad’s mom is quite the hot rod aficionado too (she’s partial to ’32 Fords). Here we are on one of our trips to the Detroit Autorama.

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