Raised in the automotive mecca of Detroit, David Rhoten grew up building and racing cars.
He started 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 friends with their car modifications. In March, he opened the So-Cal Speed Shop, located across from Magnolia Market in the Silos, to create a cash flow and brand to support his efforts in building and modifying race cars.
So-Cal has also been host to car shows. Rhoten said he plans to hold them monthly at the shop to bring together Waco’s car community, which he said is strong but currently a bit 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 auto 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 to a car show and raced it and went to So-Cal to Vegas to buy parts, where he met the shop owners.
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Rhoten said he hit it off with the owners and appealed to Rhoten that the family that started the store in Vegas still owned it. Rhoten said opening a store like So-Cal wasn’t something he had thought about until meeting the Vegas owners and after his wife suggested bringing So-Cal to Waco.
Rhoten then returned and found a location in Waco, opening the store just 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 guys, we all became really close friends. We went to So-Cal to get some parts, and (my wife) said, ‘You’ve got to open one of these.’ I called them and they said, ‘Cool.’ Do it.'”
The store sells auto parts as well as So-Cal merchandise, including hoodies, t-shirts, mugs and stickers. Rhoten said the store’s location, on the edge of downtown near Magnolia Market, is perfect for selling merchandise, which helps him supplement his income to pursue his true passion and part of his job. his with So-Cal: building and modifying race cars.
Most of the work is done in Rhoten’s garage in Hewitt, which often has several cars sitting in and around it. Outside, there is a shell of an old Ford racing punch from the 1940s and the frame of the car, each seated separately. Inside, several cars – projects in progress – sit on elevators and car parts line shelves.
Rhoten’s specialty is upgrading classic cars to make them race-ready. In his shop, he works on his own personal projects and mods for friends, as well as cars with minor tuning or suspension issues that customers bring to So-Cal.
For the cars he builds for racing, Rhoten often said that the only thing that remains when he’s finished is the car’s exterior, and even that can be changed while adding things like extra exhaust ports. Rhoten installs new engines, new gearshifts and buttons, new seats, roll cages and occasionally installs hydraulic systems.
All of this ensures that the cars have up-to-date technology, while the vintage exterior retains 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.
“The race starts with building the car,” Rhoten said. “I like to work on them and create them, and then we go to the track and race them, break them and then do it again. At the track, when you get in the car and have to do a burn, you pull up to the line and tip. As you burn, everything else is gone. You have to do one thing: get to the end.”
The race is just one way Rhoten engages with the local car community in Waco. While Rhoten said the community is strong, it’s not as visible as in other places. For Rhoten, the car community itself is 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 cars in general,” Rhoten said. “Texas is a great melting pot of car culture. We got low riders, drag races, and big circle track races. There are a ton of attractive ribbons here. Road racing is a big thing.”
By hosting car shows in So-Cal, he hopes to provide a place for the community he likes to come together.
“I would like to try to create a place where everyone can meet, or if you need some parts, come here and give us a shout,” Rhoten said.
Carter Blom is a Baylor sophomore from San Diego who helps Rhoten modify cars for So-Cal. He got into building cars with his dad and stepfather and built a 1927 Dodge roadster in high school. Blom met Rhoten while he was trying to register his Dodge in Texas and look for a place to park it. Rhoten offered him a place on the shop floor where the autoster is on display and offered Blom a job working on cars.
“I can do what I like every day. It’s fun,” Blom said.
Of the car community in Waco, Blom said it’s smaller than his home in Southern California, which has a big car culture, but is still full of great people.
“Once you settle in and get to know some people, everyone is 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 Saturday. The two made extensive modifications to the cars themselves and brought them to a number of car shows and meets with their local Mustang club, the Wild Side Stangs.
“The car community, you have the brotherhood,” Pruitt said. “Everyone is interested in the same thing. So you have a lot of different things.”
Schimschat said the shows are also a way to show the hard work that goes into modifying the cars.
“A lot of people don’t realize how much blood sweat and tears go into most of these cars,” Schimschat said.
Car enthusiast Johnny Matthews brought the only pickup truck to the show, entering from China Spring. He said he began building the custom truck as a way to honor his late father, since the truck, a 1971 Chevrolet C-10, was the same model as the truck his father owned, while teaching Matthews that how to drive as a teenager.
“It reminded me of my father. “Every time I drive it, I think about it,” Matthews said. “We’re just taking (the truck) out and showing it around. Everyone at the car shows is so 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 make some income. But at the end of the day, it’s not about the money. Building race cars is what he loves and he would do it for free if he could.
“Every day, 10-5, I’m in the store,” Rhoten said. “I go home, eat, stay with the children. Then, from 7-10, I’m back here in the garage, working on cars.”