Growing up in the car mecca of Detroit, David Rhoten was raised to build and race cars.
He began building and modifying cars growing up, and started racing when he was 18. Twelve years ago, he built a garage in Hewitt so he could work on personal projects and help out friends with their car modifications. In March, he opened So-Cal Speed Shop, located across from Magnolia Market at the Silos, to create a cashflow and brand to support his efforts building and modifying race cars.
So-Cal has also been hosting car shows. Rhoten said he plans to hold them monthly at the shop in order to bring Waco’s car community together, which he said is strong, but currently a little under the radar. Last month’s show and one Saturday each brought about 30 hot rods and their owners to the shop to compete for trophies built from car parts.
The first So-Cal Speed Shop opened in 1946 in California, and now has four locations: Upland, California; Las Vegas; Surrey, British Columbia, Canada; and Waco. Rhoten said he took a car he built to Las Vegas last year for a car show and to race it and went to the So-Cal in Vegas to buy parts, where he met the store’s owners.
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Rhoten said he hit it off with the owners, and it appealed to Rhoten that the family who started the shop in Vegas still owned it. Rhoten said opening a shop like So-Cal was never something he had thought about, until meeting the Vegas owners and after his wife suggested bringing So-Cal to Waco.
Rhoten would then turn around and find a location in Waco, opening the shop only a few months after meeting the owners in Vegas.
“It was my gut,” Rhoten said, explaining what led him to want to open a So-Cal in Waco. “They’re super cool dudes, we all became really close friends. We went to So-Cal to get some parts, and (my wife) was like, ‘You should open one of these.’ I gave them a call, and they’re like, ‘Cool. Do it.’”
The shop sells car parts as well as So-Cal merchandise, including hoodies, T-shirts, mugs and stickers. Rhoten said the shop’s location, on the edge of downtown next to Magnolia Market, is perfect for selling merchandise, which helps him supplement his income to pursue his true passion and part of his work with So-Cal: building and modifying race cars.
Most of the work gets done at Rhoten’s garage in Hewitt, which often has a few cars sitting in and around it. Outside, there is a shell of an old Ford racing coupe from the 1940s and the frame of the car, each sitting separately. Inside, a couple of cars — ongoing projects — rest on lifts, and car parts line the shelves.
Rhoten’s specialty is upgrading classic cars to make them race-ready. At his shop, he works on his own personal projects and does modifications for friends, as well as cars with smaller tuning or suspension issues that customers bring to So-Cal.
On the cars he builds for racing, Rhoten said often the only thing that remains when he is finished is the car’s exterior, and even that may have been changed as he adds things such as additional exhaust ports. Rhoten installs new motors, new gear shifters and buttons, new seats, roll cages and occasionally even installs hydraulics systems.
All of this ensures the cars have up-to-date technologies, while keeping the vintage exterior maintains the classic look and feel of the cars. Rhoten said he tries to get out to a track in Temple to race his custom cars about once a week.
“Racing starts with building the car,” Rhoten said. “I love to work on them and create them, and then we go to the track and race them and break them and then do it again. At the track, when you get in the car, and you got to do a burnout, you pull up to the line and tip off. As you do the burnout, everything else is gone. There’s one thing you got to do: get to the end.”
Racing is just one way Rhoten engages with the local car community in Waco. While Rhoten said the community is strong, it is not as visible as in other places. For Rhoten, the car community itself is just as important to his love of cars as building them.
“There’s just a tremendous amount of knowledge and resources here to build race cars and in cars in general,” Rhoten said. “Texas is a huge melting pot of car culture. We got low riders, drag races and big circle track races. There’s a ton of drag strips here. Street racing is a big thing.”
By hosting car shows at So-Cal, he hopes to provide a place for the community he loves to come together.
“I’d like to try to create a place where everybody kind of can meet up, or if you need some parts, come up here and holler at us,” Rhoten said.
Carter Blom is a Baylor sophomore from San Diego who assists Rhoten in modifying cars for So-Cal. He got into building cars with his dad and stepdad and built a 1927 Dodge roadster in high school. Blom met Rhoten while he was trying to register his Dodge in Texas and searching for a spot to park it. Rhoten offered him a spot on the floor in the shop, where the roadster is on display, and offered Blom a job working on cars.
“I get to do what I enjoy every day. It’s fun,” Blom said.
On the car community in Waco, Blom said it is smaller than his home in Southern California, which has a big car culture, but is still full of great people.
“Once you kind of establish yourself and you know a few people, everyone’s super nice and welcoming,” Blom said.
Car enthusiasts Raymond Schimschat and Clayton Pruitt brought their white Mustangs, a 1985 and a 2002, respectively, to the show on Saturday. Both did extensive modifications to the cars themselves and bring them around to a number of car shows and meets with their local Mustang club, Wild Side Stangs.
“The car community, you got the brotherhood,” Pruitt said. “Everyone is interested in the same thing. So you got a lot of different stuff.”
Schimschat said the shows are also a way to show off the hard work that goes into modifying cars.
“A lot of people don’t realize how much blood, sweat and tears goes into most of these cars,” Schimschat said.
Car enthusiast Johnny Matthews brought the only pickup truck in the show, driving in from China Spring. He said he began building the custom truck as a way to honor his late father, as the truck, a 1971 Chevrolet C-10, was the same model his dad drove while teaching Matthews how to drive as a teenager.
“That did something to remind me of my dad. Every time I’m driving it, I’m thinking about him,” Matthews said. “We’re just now getting (the truck) out and showing it around. Everybody at car shows are very friendly; they’re super nice.”
By opening So-Cal, Rhoten said he is now able to have a place to bring car enthusiasts together, do more modifications and have a little revenue stream. But at the end of the day, it is not about money. Building race cars is what he loves, and he would do it for free if he could.
“Every day, 10-5, I’m at the shop,” Rhoten said. “I go home, eat, hang out with the kids. Then from 7-10, I’m back here in the garage, working on cars.”