20th Anniversary of Beltsville Shell

I began writing Beltsville Shell: You Are What You Drive on November 30, 2000 as I wrote a eulogy to my childhood friend, Mike Tanguay, who I had discovered had passed away without my knowledge one year earlier.



“I Remember Tanguay”, a two-page memory, grew over the next three years to become a 196 page memoir.  After 42 revisions, the final book text was completed on September 29, 2003, and sent off to Nyenensch Printers in San Diego for its first printing.

Looking back now, twenty years and three printings later, I marvel at how old friendships were nourished, new friendships fostered, and memorable adventures experienced.

The first Beltsville Shell Reunion, held on March 9, 2002, was my first face-to-face meeting with seven people who worked at the Shell Station, or were helping me to develop material for the book. 

"Big" Frank Porto, Cary, Sonny Boteler, John Bradley, Nace DeLauter, Frank Bollinger, Jim Noll

After I distributed the Tanguay remembrance, many people encouraged me to put down in writing all the crazy stories that I and my friends had told about those times at the Shell Station on Route 1 in Beltsville. The nearly three-year slog to get everything right was arduous, and I got discouraged from time to time.  But support and encouragement came from many people.  First among them would be my wife, Nan, who read drafts, made excellent suggestions, questioned decisions, and afforded me time and space for writing.  Sonny Boteler, John Bradley, Ralph Bull, Nace DeLauter, and Bonnie Hontz provided photos, corrected text when my memory was faulty, and reconnected me to friends I lost touch with when I moved from Maryland to California in 1976.  In the same way, my Mom, Helen, my brothers, Wayne and Pat, and my sister, Barbara, were very helpful.  Everyone who heard about the project embraced it and help was always readily at hand.

In addition to trips to Maryland for research and inspiration, I took trips to Florida and Alabama.  In Florida, Darryl Richards enthusiastically read an early draft and made many contributions.  Chief among them was Darryl’s impromptu phone call to his friend T Quill, who made the all-important connection to Sharon Cox, the woman who secured for me my first ride in a Corvette at the age of 15 – one of the most important events of the book which lacked some important facts that only Sharon could provide.  A trip to Alabama, to reconnect with Jeff Hughes, proved to be equally rich in providing history and photos.

Once the book was published, it needed a website, and my dear friend, Vivian Black, met the need with aplomb.  As the interest in the book grew, and book reviews and testimonials arrived, Vivian was always there to give the book a sparkling, growing web presence by adding content.

I thought that once the publication was behind us, not much would follow.  But I became enthused to understand that publication was just the beginning.  Long-distance friends became closer by virtue of the Internet, email communications, and the increasingly popular Beltsville Shell Reunions.  As word spread about the book, complete strangers would write to me, many of whom shared their similar experiences in their hometowns to those that we had at Beltsville Shell. 

A few “strangers” have become dear friends. 

Bill Goodwin, who was raised not far from Beltsville, in Montgomery County, heard about the book from a friend of John Bradley, Al Beck.  After getting a copy of the book, Bill decided that he wanted to meet the characters in it and asked me about arranging a rendezvous.  Since I was in California, Nace agreed to interview Bill to be sure he was worthy.  Their meeting over a few adult beverages spawned a close friendship.  Bill, and his wife, Mary Jane, have attended many reunions, and they have visited us in California on multiple occasions. 

Another friendship fostered by the book was sparked by neighbors Linda and Wayne Cowie.  Linda shared news about the book with one of her flying partners, a United Airlines pilot named Thomas Payne.  Thomas is internationally famous for his “Garage Journal” postings and his restoration of a 1930’s auto shop in Philo, Illinois.  Thomas loved both the concept of the book, and its stories.  Through Linda and Wayne, he and his wife Chris, reached out to Nan and me and we have become close friends.  That friendship led to Thomas introducing us to the legendary Lou Bingham, Bonneville Land Speed record-holder.  Thomas, Chris, and Lou have visited with us many times. 

Even more impactful, Thomas and his Garage Journal buddies hatched the idea of having one copy of Beltsville Shell passed from one reader to the next, with each reader autographing the inside covers and passing it on to the next person waiting in line.  Here is how Thomas describes the Brotherhood of the Traveling Book:

“Hello again Cary! Here's some statistics and information regarding The Brotherhood of the Traveling Beltsville Shell Book from the Garage Journal Gang.

The most widely traveled copy of Beltsville Shell has the following numbers to its' credit. It traveled to 3 Continents; North America - 3 tours, Australia/ New Zealand - 2 tours, Europe/UK/Scandinavia - 1 tour. In total it was in 9 different countries. In all its North American tours it was in 19 different states and 3 Canadian provinces and read by a total of 66 different individuals who signed it and then passed it on.

 In the attached picture are some of the mementos that were sent along with the book from various readers, a map showing the Australian tour, a real London Metropolitan Police badge sent by a London Bobby, a 13 mm wrench, said to be the most widely used size in Europe, and a slip cover for the book made from NOS Sabb seat material. Because of all the readers signing the book, I had 6 additional blank, inside cover pages added professionally to the book to provide more space for the signings. As a side note, early on the book was lost in New Zealand for 6 months and presumed lost for good until it miraculously showed up in a complete strangers mail box in NZ. They didn't know anything about the book but read and signed it like others had before them and then passed it on to 3 other readers in NZ who did the same before being mailed back to the USA.

I have now officially retired it and keep it in the Restored 1930's Auto Shop for visitors to see if they wish. I agree with you, it must be the single most widely read and traveled copy in existence. I consider it priceless!!”

Through Thomas’ friendship, scores of copies of Beltsville Shell have been purchased.  Here is my favorite edition of the Garage Journal posts:

Garage Journal Post 

Back in Maryland, new friendships have been fostered with “friends of friends” – Jim Ziepolt, Dave Bratton, Scott Thompson, Tick Mangum, Anne McFarlane, and many others.  Closer to home, the book enabled me to connect to so many fantastic people here in San Diego: Don and Shirley Kingery, Bob Rabourn, Dan Schrokosch, among others.

The Adventures

The energy sparked by the publication of the book resulted in a few great adventures!

Corvettes at Carlisle 2003

The first adventure was attending the “Corvettes at Carlisle” in 2003 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  I flew back to Maryland for a rendezvous with Nace DeLauter, Sonny Boteler, and Tom and Bonnie Hontz.

The next day John Bradley, Sonny Boteler, and my brother, Wayne, joined me as we caravaned to Carlisle, Pennsylvania for the massive Corvette show there. 



John brought his Corvette and entered it into the judging. 

The rest of us toured the grounds marveling at the acres of Corvettes, from old to new.  This year was very special – it was the 50th anniversary of the production of the 1st Corvettes in 1953 and more than 50 of these 1st year cars were on display. 

Jay Leno Tour 2005

Due to the popularity of the book, Nan surprised me with admission to the “2005 Jay Leno Tour” sponsored by the National Corvette Museum.  A small group of NCM members toured “the garages of LA” including Dick Gulstrand’s shop, So Cal Speed Shop, Bruce Myer’s Beverly Hills home and collection, and The Peterson Automobile Museum.  The crowning event was a visit to the Jay Leno Show . . .

. . . followed by a personal tour of “Jay’s Garage” -- here is Jay showing off his Z06!

Dover NASCAR Track Day 2006

Bill Goodwin arranged for a fantastic weekend through his connection with Sonny Krum, of Dover Speedway fame.  Sonny treated us to a package of an on-track experience at the Dover NASCAR track.  Joining Bill for the event were Nace DeLauter, Sonny Boteler, and me.

Bonneville Speedweek 2016

Perhaps the most thrilling event triggered by the book was to participate in Bonneville Speed Week in 2016 as the guests of Lou Bingham and Thomas Payne.  The multi-day event was described in this post:

 Bonneville 2016

Lou, Thomas, and Cary waiting for the time trials to begin

Don, Thomas, and Lou at sunrise in Bonneville

Don and Thomas checking out a speedster

Thomas and Cary at the starting line


Final Expressions of Gratitude

There is great danger in naming the people to be thanked for any activity – and I’m worried here that I will have overlooked anyone who was instrumental in the success of the book over the past 20 years.  But I will take that risk by expressing my additional thanks to . . . .

Debbie Degeyter, of Shell Oil, for going to bat for me and securing the rights from Shell Centre in London, England, to use the Shell pectin logo on the book;


Theresa Cox (no relation to Sharon Cox) for artistic support and the “map” in the book;

Julie Wilde for the cover artwork; and

Vladimir Medvinsky for the second and third printing runs of the book.

We thank everyone who had a part in these wonderful twenty years!  Here’s to twenty more!

Cary & Nan

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Remembrances (and appropriate comments) are always recommended! Thank you, Cary