Closing The Professor Files

Nov 17, 2012

Our hearts are heavy.

Dick Dixon-a racer, professor, columnist, industry advocate, mentor, enthusiast, colleague and friend to all of us at Performance Business-died overnight on Thursday, Nov. 15.

Many, many people in the aftermarket will remember him as a performance junkie and industry torchbearer with an indomitable spirit and a heart of gold. Quick with a smile and a wink, he was the guy at the trade show that everyone knew-a bundle of positive energy that projected optimism, fun and a can-do attitude.

Spend even a little time with him and it was easy to pinpoint the true passions in his life. His wife Judi. Racing. Teaching. His friends. His students. Indianapolis and the Indy 500. Anybody and everybody working to make the performance aftermarket a better place.

He came on board as a writer not too long after we started publishing the magazine in 2003. In a stroke of genius, he and former editor Kristian Wieber dubbed his column The Professor Files-a perfect name for his monthly lessons on business management, leadership and the basics of surviving and thriving in a competitive environment. Each article projected the universal knowledge and logic only those born to teach can convey: You can do it. Here’s a framework to accomplish your goals. Work hard. Believe in yourself. Success is inevitable.

When I came back to the magazine in 2009, we were soon working together as if we’d known each other for decades. On the happy occasions I’d get to see him in person, we’d sit down to breakfast or walk the aisles of a convention center, discussing column topics and pressing issues of the day between the many wonderful interruptions of his old friends and well-wishers looking for a handshake or more often a hug.

Of course, he did most of the talking and I did most of the listening: Inspired thoughts on the industry. Exciting tales of his racing days. An absolutely riveting account of what it’s like to pilot a land-speed car.

By editing his column, however, I felt like I knew him that much better. Every month for an hour or two, usually in the afternoon, I’d sit down with his latest submission, just him and I, hoping to polish and clarify when needed while retaining his unique voice-and learning something new myself in the process. It’s time I realize I will surely miss in the months and years ahead.

Readers know that he ended each piece with a hearty “Cheers ‘n gears,” a nod to happiness and racing intertwined. Just above that, he’d include a paragraph encouraging anyone with thoughts or questions to contact him directly to discuss issues further.

And as part of that invitation, he would add a sentence thanking me and the magazine for allowing him the opportunity to write for us. Each time it was worded a little differently, but the sentiment was always the same: it was his pleasure to be a part of the publication, he’d say, his privilege to be able to share his words with the world.

It’s the type of sentiment editors are taught to remove from otherwise serious copy. But it shows just what type of person he was. He knew I’d edit it out, but he’d write it anyway, every month-just to let me know that he cared about what he was doing, that he appreciated the chance to reach all of you.

Now that he’s gone, it’s our turn to tell Judi and all of his friends who are hurting what we told him a million times in response and wish we could tell him a million more-that we are the ones who are thankful for the very good fortune to have shared a small part of his life. It was our privilege to work with him. The pleasure was all ours.

Sadly, The Professor Files are now closed. Cheers ‘n gears, Dick.