Once upon a time in a suburb east of Cleveland there was a young boy who fell in love with race cars. Yes, most boys like playing with cars. But, Larry Pfitzenmaier took it to another level. He liked to build them. From an early age, Larry Pfitzenmaier enjoyed cars, tinkering, and building stuff in the garage.
Larry was just 10 years old when he and his dad worked together to design and build his first race car: the “Pfitz Special.” It was powered by a five-horsepower lawnmower motor. Larry reminisces that working side by side with his father on the six-month project was “the greatest gift ever from dad.”
Two years later he discovered hot rod magazines at the local drugstore. “I was forever changed,” Larry said. Day after day he stood in front of the magazine rack and devoured the pages. The magazines had beautiful cars, palm trees, and pretty California girls . . . which was just perfect for a 12-yearold boy. He never bought a magazine, but the owner never kicked him out . . . “much to my surprise!” he added.
When he was 14, Larry was tinkering, restoring, and transforming a 1930 Model A Coupe. The finished product was a “high school hot rod.”
College was next, and Larry was admitted to Iowa State University. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, so he defaulted to mechanical engineering because “it covered a lot of bases.” He crammed four years into five, and it was late in that fifth year that he
discovered his second great love.
Larry was walking on campus and there was “a white Chrysler convertible, top down, with gold Navy wings painted down each side.” The U.S. Navy was there to recruit pilots. “It occurred to me that I might be able to fly Navy airplanes instead of going to work,” Larry said.
A short-time later he was on his way to the Naval Air Station in Pensacola for training. Instead of driving hot rods, now Larry was flying “fast planes.” He was trained in the A-4
Skyhawk attack aircraft. In two tours of Vietnam, Larry flew 250+ combat missions from the aircraft carrier USS Hancock.
His skills and leadership also led him to a three year tour in New Zealand, where he trained them in their new A-4 Skyhawks, as well as the finer points of combat readiness. They also did flight demonstrations in New Zealand, similar to our “Blue Angels.”
Larry then served in executive positions in the Navy, with ever increasing responsibilities. He retired as a Captain in the United States Navy in 1996, some 30 years after seeing that white Chrysler convertible at Iowa State University.
A civilian once again, Larry worked for Texas Instruments and then Raytheon. In 1998, Raytheon transferred him from Maryland to Tucson. Larry and his wife, Jan, were on a return trip from Fort Huachuca and exploring the local area. Highway 82 brought
them to Sonoita. “We fell in love with Sonoita before we even got out of the car,” Larry said.
Through the years, Larry never lost his first love: cars . . . especially racing cars. Larry’s “Watson Indy Roadster” won him the “Best of Class” award at the 1995 Pebble Beach Car Show. The same car was one of only two privately owned cars to parade the race track
in 2016 prior to the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.
Once upon a time there was a young boy who fell in love with race cars. Some 60 years later the dream came full circle at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the greatest drivers in racing compete for racing immortality. Larry Pfitzenmaier is still living his boyhood dream!