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Saluting a Soldier

When Jason Clary was deployed to Afghanistan by the Army, he left his beat-up pickup in the hands of
a good friend, thinking he was only going to get a tune-up. But when he arrived home, he found out he got a lot more.

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Jason Stahl has 28 years of experience as an editor, and has been editor of BodyShop Business for the past 16 years. He currently is a gold pin member of the Collision Industry Conference. Jason, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio, earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from John Carroll University and started his career in journalism at a weekly newspaper, doing everything from delivering newspapers to selling advertising space to writing articles.

jason clary in afghanistan with the 82nd airborne division.the torn-out look in the left rear of the truck, complete with clary’s unit’s misfits logo, ghosted american flag and company/battalion number.Jason Clary and his wife, Holly, with his newly tricked out truck.the back wall under the back glass made to look like a rock-climbing wall. Black-and-tans, running and rock climbing. These are the types of things – quaffing beer and pushing the limits of what the physical body can do – that only good friends, blood brothers, can share. But make them the basis for a custom truck job and they become something much more.

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That’s exactly what Richard Henegar, Jr., did when his best buddy, Jason Clary, left for Afghanistan last year as a member of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

Clary’s pickup, which he had had since high school, was in sad shape. It was 40,000 miles overdue for a tune-up, and he left it with Henegar with the understanding that his friend would look after it while it was parked on the three-acre lot of his shop, Quality Paint & Body in Roanoke, Va.

Clary had paid for the tune-up at a local service shop out of his own pocket, but as Henegar stared at the truck day after day while it sat on Quality Auto Paint & Body’s lot, a thought came to him. He had served a term in the Navy and knew what his friend was going through overseas protecting his country.

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“Given that I had been there and done that and knew the mental anguish, anxiety and pressure you go through when you’re overseas like that, especially during wartime, I began to think that I wanted to do something more for Jason,” said Henegar.

The wheels, so to speak, began turning. Henegar decided right then and there that he would put a nice, new paint job on his friend’s truck. But then he thought, why stop there? He had a lot of connections in the business, people who could help out with a total makeover on the truck, so he began reaching out to his friends in the industry and telling them about the project and how deserving Clary was.

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“I told them how humble Jason is and that he would do anything for anybody and wouldn’t ask for anything in return, and now he’s over in Afghanistan giving his life for his country,” says Henegar. “So let’s take this lightbulb and make it big.”

The offers came pouring in. A painter who was an ex-employee of Quality Auto Paint & Body drove all the way from Charlotte, N.C., to paint the truck. A friend of Henegar’s who does custom pinstriping on old hot rods volunteered his time. An airbrush artist who happened to be a veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division jumped on board the project. A local sprayed-on bedliner company agreed to donate a $500 bedliner. A local glass company volunteered to install a new windshield.

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Before long, there was a flurry of activity around the truck, turning the old junker into a gem that Jason could marvel over when he got back to the States.

The Work Begins

Henegar himself purchased a full-system stainless steel exhaust and installed it with his friend, John, from the headers back. The rest was subletted out to another friend of Henegar’s who specializes in muffler repair. They also added helper springs to lift up the rear and level off the truck.

The truck body was painted gold pearl on the sides and black on the top, colors Henegar felt reflected the desert environment his friend was surrounded by overseas.

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The left rear corner of the truck was painted to look torn, and inside the tear was painted the skull logo of the “Misfits,” the name Clary’s band of fellow soldiers gave themselves in Afghanistan and also the name of their favorite rock band. Clary’s unit has the same logo on all their tanks, helicopters and humvees.

Underneath the tear, they made the truck to look like the side of a hummer with a military tan color, sprayed-on rivets and a ghosted American flag. The symbol 1/508 was also painted on the bumper underneath the tear, signifying Clary’s company and battalion.

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“The idea was that, at first glance from the front, you would think the truck was just a really nice driver,” says Henegar. “Then, as you walked around it, you would see all these subtle things that popped out at you and go, ‘Okay, this is no ordinary truck.’”

Another nod to Clary’s military affiliation was the inclusion of the 82nd Airborne’s “AA” symbol in the concave indentation where the Nissan emblem had originally been.

Interior Makeover

The color scheme was carried over to the inside of the truck, where a local custom upholstery company gave Henegar a great deal on the work. The seats were covered in two-tone black and tan leather, a nod to his and Jason’s love of black-and-tans, a drink made from a blend of pale ale and a dark beer such as a stout or porter. The leather would also be easier to clean than cloth when he and Jason jumped in there all dirty after a day of rock climbing – another one of their passions.

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But the interior makeover didn’t stop at the seats. Behind the seats, Clary had had a giant subwoofer box since high school that left little room for anything else. So with the help of the upholstery company, Henegar designed two 10-inch enclosures for it, one below each extended cab window. Then, the sub floor was built up roughly six inches and hinged, which created a hidden compartment that could hold a jack or spare tools. Also in the sub floor was hidden a power converter so that Clary could charge his cell phone.

Rock On

But the best part was the back wall below the back glass. Henegar wanted to pay tribute to his and Jason’s many rock-climbing adventures, so they made it look like an actual rock wall complete with cracks and anchors that rock climbers set in the walls for their ropes. To do this, they sprayed the whole sub enclosure with liquid filler, sanded it down and then airbrushed it. And the anchors are actually functional: Clary can clip his bungee cords to them or secure other gear so it doesn’t go flying all over the place.

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They also replaced Clary’s speakers and added “bomb-proof” speaker guards so Clary could throw his rock-climbing gear behind the seats without damaging them. In the dashboard, they installed a touch screen DVD player, navigation system and rearview camera. Also, an i-Pod hook-up was integrated into the system where the cord runs from the back of the DVD player underneath the carpet and pops up in the center console so Clary could plug his i-Pod in right there. The smooth plastic parts of the dashboard itself were taken out and painted the same black-and-gold pearl scheme as the outside.

With their tight budget, Henegar and his team were unable to replace the wheel rims. But they did sand down the 17-inch chrome lipped, black bullet hole wheels, paint the inside black and polish the chrome. Plus, they replaced the tires with new ones of the same model because Clary loved them.

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As a finishing touch, the team bought a bike rack specifically made for a truck bed. They decided that for the unveiling, they would clean up Clary’s mountain bike and display it in the back.

All told, there were 22 service and collision techs whose hands had touched the car by the time it was completed, putting in 300 man-hours and $10,000 worth of upgrades.

Grand Unveiling

The grand unveiling of the tricked- out truck to his friend was trickier than Henegar had thought. He found out when Jason was scheduled to arrive stateside, so Henegar planned it for that day. “But Uncle Sam put the hammer down and wouldn’t let him come home that day but instead made him stay in Ft. Bragg for a few days.”

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So he was forced to postpone the homecoming and had to e-mail everyone from family members to the caterers and tell them about the change of plans. Henegar, Clary’s wife, Holly, and his parents drove down to Ft. Bragg to spend the weekend with him, and he asked how his truck was. This was when Henegar had to put on a performance worthy of an Oscar.

“I told him I was sending it to a detail shop,” he said. “But it was actually at a dealer to get some engine codes fixed, which the truck had had forever. So I told him it should be ready by the time he got home but I wasn’t sure, playing it off like the dealer was holding it up.”

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When Henegar finally got a firm date, he told all the guests to be at his shop 30 minutes before Clary arrived. Everyone parked in the field in the back so Clary wouldn’t see their cars. Clary’s wife took him to the shop to pick up the truck, just like she had done many times before, and Henegar was sitting at the front counter, running his hands through his hair like he was stressed out “because he’s used to seeing me that way.”

Clary opened up the door and was surprised to see WDBJ Channel 7 and the Roanoke Times there. Once he saw the truck, he was speechless.

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“You completely went all out on this!” he said. “How did you do all this?”

Many tears were shed, including from a veteran present at the homecoming who experienced D-Day. He said, “Welcome home, buddy. We’re proud of you!”

Like Father Like Son

For Henegar, the truck project was unusual at his shop since he mostly does insurance work. He says his father is the real genius when it comes to bringing old cars back to life.

“When he started off, he took anything that came in the door, and that included restorations,” says Henegar. “But when we got bigger and had to move to a bigger facility, all that custom and fun stuff that most bodymen are passionate about had to go by the wayside because there is no money in it. It’s one of those, ‘If you have to ask how much, you can’t afford it’ deals.”

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The proudest moment of his father’s career came after he slammed, chopped and tubbed a tangelo orange ’57 pro street Chevy with an all-custom interior and a big block engine. The owner brought it to a show, and up walked someone who said, “I’ll give you X dollars right now for that.” That someone was famous bike builder Roger Bourget.

“[The customer] knew who he was, and after hearing the price he threw down, he was like, ‘Done!’” said Henegar. “So now a famous bike builder owns one of the cars we built from the ground up, and we’re so proud of it.”

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Henegar’s shop currently has two customization/restoration projects going on right now, but he says they’re not seeing much action because he’s slammed with insurance work. One is a 1942 pro street Ford pickup that is going completely custom from the top down. The other is a 1978 Chevy C-10 4×2 pickup which is being totally restored from the ground up.

A Public Affair

Asked if his friend’s truck has become a rolling billboard for his shop, Henegar said he has gotten a few custom jobs from it, but he really didn’t do it for that purpose.

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“I don’t have Quality Paint & Body stickers on the truck, and Jason is stationed four hours away in Ft. Bragg, so we wouldn’t get any business from there anyway,” says Henegar. “Even though there is a video on our website and YouTube now and we made the Roanoke Times, I didn’t do it for the publicity. I did it for Jason.”

The publicity, Henegar says, was in part to get some of the vendors to help out with the homecoming. He knew that if there was some potential PR benefit for them, they would be more apt to volunteer their services.

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Henegar’s advice to others who might want to fix up a soldier’s vehicle? Get the word out.

“If you’re trying to do it right, as much as you want to pay for it all by yourself, it’s tough to do in this economy,” he said. “Let people know what you’re doing and why and spread the word as much as you can. Pound the pavement and ask for money. The worst they can say is no.”

One thing Henegar wouldn’t necessarily advise is holding a bikini car wash fundraiser…especially when you have to wear a bikini. Even though there was some humiliation involved, he thought it was worth it.

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“It’s even more special to me because Jason is somebody I’ll be friends with till I die, and we can look back on this together when we’re older.”

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