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'Ups and downs' in dream auto-painting business

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LAKEMOOR – Dave York will tell you a story, and he thinks it's a good one. He just needs time to know for sure.

A couple months ago, on separate occasions in the span of a workday, York met 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, and a couple representatives from a racing team in the American Le Mans Series. Since York's niche includes doing auto painting and body work for high-end race cars, these were two huge contacts.

After work, the owner of the one-man shop KDX Autopainting went home to his wife and three kids. The kids wanted to go get Slurpees from 7-eleven – a family thing the Yorks do together from time-to-time.

And that's when York realized – he'd had one of the greatest days of his professional career, and yet couldn't spare the money for Slurpees.

Is it a good story? If he's still struggling like this in a couple years, York figures he won't want to tell it anymore.

"There's ups and downs," York said. "But everything comes full circle."

York believes it's just a stone on his path, a path that started back when York's best friend died two days before high school graduation, not much more than a year after he'd handed York a paint gun.

* * *

That paint gun just felt right, York said, leaning against the counter of his Lakemoor office on a cool Thursday afternoon.

Ryan Ruschke's father had given Ruschke and York a free pass to spend spring break 1994 painting his car.

York recalled Ruschke's side needed repainting, but his didn't. He was a natural.

Ruschke was in the middle of repairs to his own car the next year when he died in a motorcycle accident. York and his friends worked over night on Ruschke's car, rebuilding the motor in time to drive it to the funeral the next day.

York, who'd been contemplating joining the Marines, reached a level of clarity with regard to his future.

"That spring break changed my life," he said. "I bought paint to do my own car, I dropped the Marine idea, and I signed up for a trade school in Nashville."

* * *

The shop York stands in is the one he'd always imagined, but he never could have envisioned the path.

Since trade school, York has bounced around body shops. He was painting RVs when the recession hit and brought the industry to a halt.

York had spent time as a repo man previously, so he fell back on it while continuing to work on car restoration projects on the side.

But repossession was becoming more dangerous, as banks had started notifying people that their cars would be taken. The best cases were the ones York could take a car without the owner realizing until after the fact.

Increasingly, they were waiting for him, and ready to fight. He had a gun pulled on him more than once.

York started thinking seriously about opening his own auto shop. He was owed $15,000 from a guy who's car he was finishing up. He asked for the money in advance, got it, and with the help of some funds from family members, opened KDX Autopainting.

• • •

KDX is York's dream shop. He feels lucky he has the support around him to run it.

But it's overstating it to say York has made it. He did seven or eight major restoration projects this summer, compared to three his entire first year in business.

Things are improving, but he still is struggling.

"There's bills that get paid two to three weeks late," York said. "I just have a good group of people that understand what I'm doing and the work that I have coming through here, so they wait for it."

He's hopeful he'll be able to continue to tell his story about his big day that ended without money for Slurpees.

After all, his 7-, 8- and 16-year-old kids – whose first initials are the inspiration for KDX – are on board. They help sand down the cars for painting, and they sleep in the office on nights mom and dad are working on cars until the wee hours of the morning.

"My kids know that we build hot rods. That's what they tell everybody," York said. "Sometimes, hot rods pay for us to do fun things, and sometimes I'm here a lot."

York is hopeful his business will continue to grow, and that some day in the not-so-far-off future, there won't be so much financial insecurity.

"I don't feel like I've made it, but we're here," he said. "And I'm proud of that fact."

KDX Autopainting:What: A car restoration, autopainting and body shop that specializes in working with race cars and hot rods.Where: 27992 Route 120, LakemoorInformation: Call 815-388-5480 or visit www.kdxautopainting.com

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