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One-on-one with Jim Guthrie

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jim Guthrie used to sate his competitive appetite by blowing around auto-racing ovals at 200-plus miles per hour.

These days, he gets the same kind of rush at much lower speeds – and with no horsepower. The president of Albuquerque-based Car Crafters is currently pumped that he broke the 8-minute barrier in a 400-yard swim, which means he was moving shy of 2 mph.

As someone who recently committed himself to triathlons, despite no swimming background, it was a triumph.

In fact, the man who has raced in three Indianapolis 500s says just finishing a swim-bike-run race – even a small-scale affair in Socorro – provides the same satisfaction as anything he achieved on the track. That includes his surprise win at the Indy Racing League’s 1997 Phoenix 200.

“It’s just as good a feeling as when I won that race,” Guthrie says. “It’s just such an accomplishment (finishing a triathlon). It’s you – you’re racing you. It’s the ultimate competition; it’s you against your mind, and I love it. It’s perfect.”

Guthrie, as is probably obvious, takes his hobbies seriously. Car Crafters itself sprouted directly from his teenage fixation with automobiles, whether rigging them to go faster or repairing the damage done from encountering curbs while racing around underdeveloped parts of Albuquerque with his friends.

He was 20 and attending University of New Mexico when his parents – whose garage he had pretty well co-opted for his car projects – told him he needed to either stop with all the car stuff and funnel all his attention into his studies, or move out and open his own shop.

“I think they thought that would be tough love and would drive me to quit goofing around in the garage and get serious about school,” he says. “Well, no, I went out and got an apartment, went down the street and got that (first) shop.

“Here we are almost 34 years later.”

Car Crafters today has four sites – with a fifth almost completed at Paseo del Norte and Interstate 25 – and about 160 employees, including many who have been with the company for more than 20 years and who Guthrie credits with keeping the business strong as he has pursued his other passions.

Q: Describe yourself as a teenager.

A: Motorcycles every day. Loved math and science, wasn’t a fan of English. Loved cars – if I wasn’t working on motorcycles, I was under the hood of a car always trying to make it better. Through my practice of learning how to drive, I also learned how to crash, which then led to learning how to fix cars.

Q: What was your first car?

A: My first car that I owned was an Ambassador. It was like a cop car. … We peeled the vinyl roof off, put some primer on. It was like a race car. And boy did that car get it. Oh, my goodness.

Q: How long did it take before you crashed it?

A: I think I crashed it three or four times in the first year. Yeah. And then I got a Capri V-6. It wasn’t long (before) I crashed that one, too.

Q: So cars were a lifelong interest?

A: Probably. I remember racing my Hot Wheels and then my slot cars; I souped up every one, and went around the neighborhood and had the biggest tires and the widest this and the fastest that – always fixing it. Here I was 6 years old and always saving up my money to go buy the next hottest thing to put in a slot car. I think it’s a disease I was born with, according to my wife.

Q: Where does your building, mechanical aptitude come from? Your dad?

A: He sold insurance. He worked for Allstate for 32 years. … He did his own oil changes and tune-ups. He drove a little Toyota Corolla and before that he had a little Ford T-Bird, nothing flashy or fancy, and he never changed anything – it was always stock. Where I got my got-to-built-it-better-and-bigger-and-faster (attitude), I have no idea. And he is Mr. Conservative and I’m Mr. Risk Taker, so we’re very much opposites, but when I was racing, he was my No. 1 fan.

Q: Did you have a first job before Car Crafters?

A: I worked for Albuquerque Federal at the time. I ran the purchasing department. I did Walgreens after school before that. That’s pretty much it. I’ve been an entrepreneur. (Growing up) I’d build mirrors and the wood for mahogany pool tables, so I did a lot of woodwork in the garage. My problem was my dad made me work for everything – (actually) I wouldn’t say that’s a problem – but you couldn’t make the money I needed (for my hobbies) working at McDonald’s. So I would put in time and effort making these custom mirrors and I’d go sell them in beauty shops – actually Sears bought a load from me – and so I was able to make as a teenager (about) $120-200 a week. That was a lot of money back then. We’re talking in the early ’70s and, without very much effort, I was able to buy a race tire for my motorcycle or buy a helmet or whatever I needed.

Q: When was your peak as a racer?

A: (In) ’97. (Racing is) all about cash, and it’s a lot of zeros. Ninety-seven was my best year. I ran a few races in ’96, (in) ’98 I ran for three teams, ’99 we missed the Indy 500 because of the throttle position sensor. … I was very burned out on racing in 2000. I didn’t even make an attempt. I built a house. I didn’t want anything to do with racing. And then in 2001, (the) house was done and we were back at Indy. That didn’t work out so good either – we lost the car the day before qualifying; (we) had issues with the steering rack.

Q: Racing must have occupied a lot of your time.

A: Oh, it’s 24/7. It is so much effort, and you’re always thinking about it as a driver, as an engineer, as a team owner. I did all of the above. And I financed it, and I paid the bills. I had a little office in my garage. It was a lot of work. If I did not have as good of people as I have (working at Car Crafters), this business would not exist today.

Q: Did you ever have any on-the-track disasters?

A: I did. In ’97. I had a T6, T7 (vertebrae) compression fracture. I backed into the wall, got a helicopter ride out of the Pike’s Peak race track. … And then in ’98 (at the Indianapolis 500) … it was a (race) restart and I hit the turn-three wall pretty hard … (Pointing to various body parts) I broke this arm, got a 5-inch plate, six screws; broke my hand. … I broke this leg, two ribs, cut my eye and had blood out of both ears, because your head is like a tennis ball. I managed to race seven weeks later and finished seventh. … They say if you play with a snake long enough, you’ll get bit and, up to that point, I had not broken a bone in my body in all the years of racing, so I’d been pretty lucky. And I haven’t broke one since.

Q: Do you still race in some capacity now?

A: I drift. I do drifting. I replaced all the other racing with triathlon stuff. I’ve been doing run-bike-swim and working on it. I actually just got back from Mexico. I did a 100-mile bike race down there in Cozumel and am getting ready for a half-Ironman in March down in Monterrey, Mexico. My mornings are training six days a week.

Q: How did you get into triathlons?

A: My son-in-law (Sid Scheer) ran for his high school; he ran for Sandia Prep and then Lubbock Christian and then UNM, and he decided “I’m going to do an Ironman. I’m going to Cozumel.” My wife and I decided we don’t want (daughter) Kayla going down there by herself, so we’ll go with you. Every restaurant we went into (it was) “Oh, you’re here for Ironman?” (The response was) “Oh, no, not me.” Pretty soon, I started thinking “Well, why not me?” Next thing I know, I’m running and riding.

Q: How would you describe yourself as a boss?

A: I like to think of myself more as a coach. I enjoy coaching and I have probably learned more by coaching 8- to 13-year-olds (on his kids’ youth sports teams). They’ve made me become more prepared for employees than anything else. Because everybody is different. (The sports coaching) was co-ed, by the way, so I had to learn what made a little girl tick and what made a little boy tick. And there’s the guy that wants to be the superstar and can kick the ball all the way across the field, and then there’s the kid who can barely run, so everybody has their talents and you have to figure out what makes them tick and excel. And I think for me, that’s a challenge that I enjoy. Coaching: It’s more fun than being a boss.

Q: What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?

A: “You remind me of your dad.”

Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?

A: I’m a softie.

Q: Like cry-at-the-movies softie?

A: No, not necessarily that. Just for a guy that has such a tough outside, I’d give you the shirt off my back and every dollar in my pocket. If people need help, I’m here to help. I get so much joy out of that.

Q: What is your perfect way to spend a day off?

A: Depends on the hobby of the week – doing whatever it is. Cleaning the garage, going flying, going riding, going to the gym. I like bike riding with my wife if she decides to do that (or) going shopping with her. (We’re) trying to spend time together as a family. I have a new grandson now, so that’s been a nice hobby for both of us. I got to watch him by myself (on a recent Saturday). He’ll be 2 in March. We went to Dillard’s and we shopped for two hours, and he was a hit with all the girls. He was a perfect little angel, too.

Q: What was your last splurge?

A: My new triathlon bike – with the custom carbon wheels. (laughs) I’ve bought cars that are cheaper.

Q: How would you describe yourself in three words?

A: Fearless, fast – I like to do everything fast – (and) competitive. Very competitive. I hate to lose. I’m a really bad loser, so I will do whatever it takes to win. Even crash.

 

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