Story by Pamela Price
Note: This story originally appeared in the November 2010 edition of Leon Springs Community News.
For Kermit O’Neal, who spent many formative years hanging around his father’s Corpus Christi classic car shop, there were early signs that he too would build a life around cars.
“Yes, my father’s business and his racing definitely influenced my career path. I think my mother hoped for a doctor or lawyer, but my passion ever since I was little was racing. I started reading ‘Sports Car’ magazine in the third grade, and I went with my father to the races. He allowed me to drive interesting sports cars from a very early age,” Kermit noted. “It is no surprise to me looking back that I followed this path. I realized early that I would not have a career as a race driver, but this did not diminish my passion for the cars themselves or my enjoyment in being around them.”
After a globetrotting stint in sales, Kermit purchased the Alamo Sports Cars dealership, as it was then known, thirty years ago. That was just before the ’80s-era savings and loan mess, back when affluent San Antonio residents made their way down to Broadway in Alamo Heights to select a Triumph, Alfa Romeo or Fiat. The business also made repairs to higher-end European models such as Ferrari and Maserati.
Over the next few decades, Kermit tinkered with the business. Most notably, he began selling BMW and Triumph motorcycles and got into classic car races, too.
“He started out by working as a pit crew to some clients,” said Suzanne O’Neal, Kermit’s wife and business partner. “And then it just grew from there.”
These days, restoring and racing are as central a part of the couple’s life as their business, which they relocated to Leon Springs two years ago.
“We started thinking about moving out here [to Leon Springs] in 2005,” said Suzanne. “All the development was coming out to this area then, back before the recession, and there were a couple of other motorcycle dealers in the area, too. The demographic of whom we serve is out here, too. Plus, Leon Springs is en route to where everyone goes to ride in the hill country. We have clients here from all over, here and Mexico and elsewhere. It’s a great location for us.”
The move also afforded the business more space. Today on the grounds of Alamo BMW/Alamo Sports Cars situated between the IH-10 frontage road and Old Fredericksburg Road, there’s a go-cart track and ample space for both the shop and dealership. There’s also room for the racecars, many of them vintage models.
“It varies, but we typically have 5 to 6 cars being prepared to race at any time, mostly for races in Texas and Oklahoma,” said Suzanne. “We travel to College Station, the Denton/Decatur area, and up to Hallett in Oklahoma.”
The 2010 racing season was lively for the O’Neals. Among the cars the dealership prepped for race days this year were a 1971 Lola T212 Can Am, a 1969 Brabham BT29, and a 1979 Crossle Formula Ford. Kermit said his team also prepped or took to races for clients a 1959 Alfa Romeo Sprint Zagato, a 1958 Lotus 11 Sports Racer, a 1960 Lotus 20 Formula Junior, and a 1958 Stanguellini Formula Junior.
“[The yellow Lola] is the fastest car we run and that generates the most excitement,” said Kermit. “Jeff Anderson, who owns & races the car, won third place at the first Legends of Motorsports race, a new series set up by [legendary race car driver] Bobby Rahal. It was Jeff’s first time at the Barber Motorsport Park and in the new race series that features more competitive cars than he generally faces during the year. That was a key event for us. The Lola also won first place for the year in the Corinthian Vintage Auto Racing Club. [In early November] it also captured the fastest lap in its group.”
The tasks of crewing and racing cars demand that the O’Neals travel often throughout the year. Naturally, some journeys are more memorable than others.
‘When the trip is to Monterey, California in the middle of August, where it’s 75 degrees and crawling with outstanding vintage cars, the trip is a the highlight of the year. When it’s a slog to Hallett, Oklahoma in the freezing rain in March, it’s another story,” Kermit observed. “But, as they say, ‘a bad day at the track is better than a good day at the office.'”
Tapping into the racing community throughout the year brings the O’Neal hidden benefits, both personal and professional.
“We have formed some of our most lasting friendships through racing, whether it be our clients and other racers who come from other parts of the country or in the perpetual search for vintage parts,” said Kermit. “We have formed business relationships with small companies around the country and internationally that share the same passion for old race cars. The racing business has a positive effect on our employees as well. It motivates our technicians to a higher standard since that’s the only way to win races. And everyone takes pride in winning.”