Memories of a Friend
By Joseph Stephan
Car enthusiast and artist David Deal, best known for creating a line of model cars in the 1970s called "Deals Wheels" and then later for work on the movie, Cars, died after a battle with cancer Oct. 14 at his home in Vista, Ca
Needless to say, I'm devastated by the death of Dave Deal who was my long-time "amigo". Something seemed to click between us from the first time we met. Because of that I was privileged to be a part of his private life, something apparently not many were allowed into. I saw and experienced many things that his "public" fans may not have been aware of. My life was only the richer for it, and being the kind of person I am I would like to share some of it with you.
Like many, my first exposure to Dave Deal came via his "Deals Wheels" Revell model kits when I was a car crazy young teenager. I also started noticing his comical drawings in magazine ads which soon became a monthly treat. http://www.bigdealart.com/
In the early '70s I began a fledgling writing career and was fighting for entry and acceptance. About that time my folks moved to Escondido. When I discovered he lived not far away I asked to come over and visit him. Not only did I want to meet this obviously wacko character, but I reckoned that a business card with his artwork on it would definitely get notice.
That first visit turned into a life-long friendship. He was someone with a warped sense of humor worse than mine. Visits to the folks also meant going over to hang around with "Big Deal" as they called him when he served in the Marines. It was always fun to see what he was up to, let alone working on. It also meant laughing 'til I hurt. My favorite response to him was slamming my hand into my forehead and jokingly saying, "Big Deal".
On one summer-long racing "safari" I took a young lady and her two small kids along. Her five-year old boy wanted to do nothing but draw all day long. I would set up the table in my VW camper, give him a piece of paper and a pencil, and we'd never hear a peep out of him. We went by to see Dave and he got a kick out of the kid's scribblings. He said though crude it was the creativity that counted. He'd started out doing same when he was young, to the point both parents and teachers were chastising him to stop. Thankfully he didn't take their advice.
Dave taught his own son Travis how to draw and he was just as good. I got to see some of their work side-by-side and it's hard to tell them apart. I also had the chance to see some "normal", "straight" paintings by Dave that would be unknown to those familiar with his trademark caricatures. He was that talented.
Dave was what many people would consider eccentric. I called him "wonderfully mad" upstairs, which obviously came out thru the tip of his pen. Not many people know that when he was young he roomed for awhile with the legendary Von Dutch himself. That would have been worth the price of admission!
One of the most special memories I have of Dave is the day he finished up his one of a kind VW Kubelwagen kit car. It was a project of Meyers Manx that died when VW brought out their Thing. Dave ended up with it and since I was in town he wanted to take it out and do some pictures to try and get it into Hot VWs magazine. When I got to his house my jaw fell open. He'd gone all the way and painted it in Nazi Afrika Corps colors--complete with accurate markings! When I objected that he was going to get up both shot he pointed out what he was just finishing up: Speaking fluent Hebrew, he'd used a pin striper's brush to on the back in small Hebrew letters place the words "Strictly Kosher". In Dave’s warped mind that made it OK. I was too dumbfounded to speak.
I should have known better than to think that was the end of it. He said he was going in to wash his hands and change clothes, and then he suddenly reappeared wearing an Afrika Corps uniform--complete with short pants, sandals, and insignia-ed pith helmet. I was secretly saying my prayers while he spent the afternoon driving me around northern San Diego county. As long as I live I will never forget the look on the poor girl's face when we pulled up to a Del Taco drive thru window. One picture definitely was worth a thousand words!
But that was Dave to the max. It was like he sort of lived the characters he created as some kind of alter-ego. He was very much a "motor head" long before terms like "car guy", "car crazy", etc, became popular. He early on was involved in sports cars, owning Porsches (including a 550 Spyder like James Dean's) and Ferraris. He was also into sports car racing. He went to school with Hollywood director Bruce Kessler, who was one of only a couple of people to ever drive Lance Reventlow's legendary Scarab race cars.
Dave was involved in an early '60s company that built exotic, low-slung, extended-wheelbase custom trucks that hauled a race car on its back. This was at a time when most cars were still flat-towed or on flimsy single axle trailers. It was so sensational it was featured in all of the magazines of the time, on the cover of a number of them. The flowing lines were obviously a product of Dave's pen.
During this period his drawings began showing up in ads for MG Mitten, one of the original sports car accessory outlets. His funny little drawings in their multi-page ads were like a story within a story. That format was later repeated when ads for Meyers Manx and their new fangled dune buggies began showing up. Dave even owned one of the little known, limited edition Manx SR sports cars they built complete with gull wing-doored roof.
And he readily adapted to the new sport of off-road racing. Being a regular visitor to Baja, a country he loved, it was a natural. His comical drawings being included in a great little pocket-sized book on how to speak the language like a local were a great “ice breaker” to someone facing the daunting apprehension of communicating in a foreign country.
Dave drove in several of the early Mexican 1000s and is credited as builder of the first VW Baja Bug for the 1968 race. He told me the story of the time they were broken down alongside the course, awaiting rescue, when Bill Stroppe pulled up with a lame vehicle. What should pull up a few moments later but another of Stroppe's vehicles also having problems. With the clock ticking, instead of a bunch of frantic action, what took place was a bartering session: "No, I will trade you two quarts of oil for a hose clamp". Off-road racing was obviously a lot different back then.
Dave's last competitive drive came in January of 1973 when he and Don Ernst drove a “hopped-up”, not even full Baja Bug, VW sedan from Tijuana to La Paz in 19 hours and 58 minutes, a record that still stands today. As part of Baja's 40th anniversary he received a special pioneer of the sport award at a gala evening of celebration.
Dave also loved flying and was a pilot of many thousands of hours. He was a charter member of the Baja Bush Pilots, an early group of intrepid adventurers who risked all and began flying down the peninsula when almost nothing existed in the way of maps, charts, and information, let alone navigation. Thru their combined efforts they began publishing the first of such, adorned with his drawings as well as his doing their logo. Anyone flying down there today owes these guys a debt than can never be repaid.
On one trip he spotted a salt pan down along the coast he'd never before noticed. Since it wasn't on their existing map, circling overhead he quickly made a sketch which he took back to the group. When the next map came out the spot was identified as "Salina Deal".
I braved all when he invited me to chase the ‘79 Baja 1000 in his plane. Not only was it my first peninsula run, but the first under SCORE back to La Paz. One of the real thrills of my life was his dropping down to near ground level, and with my camera out the window, matching speeds with the big trucks as we chased them across Diablo Dry Lake. I was absolutely stoked after that first pass. When I wanted to go around and do it again, in typical fashion he insisted on showing me how world war one biplane pilots got out of trouble. After a couple of demonstrations of how they "gunned" the throttle and peeled-off up and over, he had to land so the photographer, now green about the gills, could get out and wobbly-kneed walk around for awhile.
We eventually flew into Alfonsina's beach strip where he said a friend had a cabin we could use for the night. However, when we got there the key was gone. We camped out under the wings only to be awakened in the middle of the night by a ferocious wind and resulting sand storm that had kicked up. I laughingly reminded that every time I let him take me somewhere he would put my life in jeopardy. What a guy!
On our way home the next day we landed in Ensenada to refuel the plane, while pilot and passenger refueled at Hussong's. With a Mariachi band in the house, Dave, who spoke fluent Spanish, in his usual irrepressible manner led the whole place in song.
As my motor racing reporting grew, to the point that I was sometimes working for a dozen publications world-wide and often doing over 50 races a year, and with my folks also having moved from that area, I saw him less and less. The last time I was at his house we "bombed" around San Diego in his late '30s Ford Sedan hot rod. No stranger to even doing a parody of himself, an image of that car, with two occupants strangely looking like us, suddenly appeared on the cover of CARTOONS.
I lost track of him during my way too many years of racing having become a 24/7/365 existence with no time for anything else in my life. I had become a professional gypsy to another race track, drive-thru, and laundromat down the road somewhere, which finally took its toll on me and I nearly died. After several years of recovery and reclusiveness, I got to thinking about him more and more. I was sitting around one day, playing with this new contraption called a computer, and decided to see if I could track him down. It didn't take long.
The friendship was quickly renewed and as I soon learned he was as wacko as ever. The e-mails were many and the regular phone conversations lengthy. He had to cut the one short when Jerry Seinfeld called about delivery of the artwork he'd ordered.
You could sense the excitement in his voice when he told me of being asked to draw the cars for the smash Disney/Pixar hit CARS. He told me that when he went there for the film completion cast party, since he had embraced the computer as an integral part of his artwork, he was asked to do a seminar for Pixar's staff artists. They responded with a standing ovation.
In addition to being one of the all-time great films, CARS has gone onto become a marketing phenomenon. Long after major movies usually run their course, there's still new CARS toys and trinkets coming out featuring Dave's colorful artwork. The Australian Post Office even put them on stamps. I told Dave I'd bought some CARS drawing pencils and wanted to know if they would make me draw like him. In typical fashion he responded, "Sure, why not?"
I was one of the recipients of his mass e-mail to which Dave attached the brand new Wikipedia page on the history of the Baja Bug in which he was included. I did a response to everyone in which I told Dave that I'd been at the food store that day where I'd seen his Lightning McQueen character on a can of Spaghetti-O's. I told him you know you've really made it when your name will forever be associated with Chef Boyardee's. I got a mass response back from someone saying that would make Dave "Chef Boyar-Deal". I was screaming in laughter so hard I went over backwards in my desk chair.
To show you what a fascinating person Dave was I only recently learned that he was also a student and explorer of ancient history. Thru the years he had made several trips into eastern Turkey, near the Iranian border, where they believed they had found the remains of Noah's Ark, in an area away from where everyone else has been looking. The evidence and a very good argument for it was going to be shown in a two-hour TV documentary they were putting together with "Indiana Jones" Harrison Ford scheduled to host. You can see what he was up to at: http://www.noahsark-naxuan.com/
I dearly wanted to see Dave again but it was not to be. These days dealing (no pun intended) with a number of health issues, traveling is out of the question. When I called him up he gave me the news he had gone to the post office on his way to the doctor to begin proceedings for removal of a cancerous kidney.
I last spoke to him about three weeks before his passing. I had been on top of the world when he gave me the news that he and his wife were planning a trip up to the wine trail of the central California coast where I now live. I was eagerly awaiting our reunion, but then he gave me the news he wasn't coming because he had new problems. I was going to call him a few days before the end but the call got lost in a crazy day.
Dave Deal was a unique individual who didn't see himself as anything out of the ordinary though he was a cultural icon, something very few people can claim. Motor sports took me half-way 'round the world where I had the opportunity to meet and know people from every spectrum of life, from a Crown Prince, a US Senator, a State Governor, and a dirt bike-riding name Evangelist; down to two different bikers now on death row. I've been on the inside of every kind of ground, water, and air racing there is and have known many of the world's top competitors on a first name basis. I've sipped champagne at the fanciest of affairs and guzzled cheap whisky in the gutter with the dregs of society. I've lived at the top as well as the bottom. I've seen and heard it all to the point nothing phases or surprises me anymore. Through all that, Dave Deal was one of only a handful of people I had a real appreciation for.
My thoughts and prayers are with him and also go out to his charming wife Vicky. She was the only woman of his entire life, a real rarity in this day and age, and someone he loved dearly. Having been around motorcycles since five and racing since I was ten, death and destruction have numbed and hardened my insides to the point tears quit coming out years ago. However, it doesn't stop this one from hurting badly. So I will simply close with the words: "Shalom Chaver"...Goodbye Old Friend.