Lessons Learned in the Auto Industry

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A man with his hand on his chin questioningly is standing between two sets of cars at a Chevy Dealer in Norfolk.

I’ve been working in and writing about the auto industry for decades now and being in this game for so long, I’ve learned quite a lot. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned to listen to the refined wisdom that one can hear and enjoy at a car dealership. I was recently at a Chevy dealer in Norfolk and had a chance to talk to some of the amazing people there.

While I was there, they told me all about some of the great local restaurants I should check out, showed me pictures of their families, and otherwise demonstrated the kind of warmth and hospitality I’ve come to expect while wandering this great nation of ours. I noticed, however, that during my visit, there was one salesman that seemed a bit standoffish, always alone and not really talking to me. I know that my fame and reputation can make me a bit intimidating for the common person, so I took the lead and walked up to him.

I introduced myself and shook his hand. Turns out this fine fellow didn’t even know who I was. He was simply the shy type. We talked for a few minutes, and then, after a moment of silence in our conversation, he told me something I’ll never forget…

A Tale of Two Brothers

In 1952, Todd Jibbersman moved from a small village in Ireland to America, making the long and still somewhat unpleasant journey to the US via steamship. He ventured across the Atlantic in hopes of chasing after and achieving the vaunted American dream. Like so many immigrants, he came with very little in the way of personal possessions and hoped only for an opportunity to find success and prosperity.

Upon his arrival, life was difficult at first. He had relatives living in America, somewhere in the general New York area, but they were not much help to him. After a few odd jobs and finding that there was little in the way of opportunity for him in the city, Jibbersman moved to a small town in Connecticut. He had a cousin living in the town and was able to rent a single room from him to get a new start.

A black and white photo of a business man in a suit and a farmer are standing in a field exchanging leaves.

It all came together in 1957 when Jibbersman met another man named Fred Swoleton, a local farmer in the area whose family went back several generations. Swoleton was interested in expanding beyond livestock and had a particular interest in breeding horses in hopes of finding success in racing. Back in Ireland, Jibbersman’s family was steeped in the horse trade; he had years of experience in the industry with recognizing quality in young horses. While Jibbersman initially worked for Swoleton doing a few bits of maintenance around his farm, as they struck up a conversation one day and Swoleton learned about Jibbersman’s background, it became clear that they could do much more.

Thunderbolt and Biscuit

By 1961, Todd Jibbersman was the manager on one of the most influential up-and-coming horse ranches in the country. A few smart and lucky picks by Jibbersman had resulted in a tremendous amount of initial success, and before long, he was a household name within the horse community. In particular, Swoleton Farms had earned high praise at a few major races and demonstrated a unique ability to spot excellent horses that others had overlooked.

In 1964, Jibbersman traveled to Norfolk, Virginia, to see a pair of newborn thoroughbreds that he had a feeling about. Their parents had not been particularly noteworthy in the racing circuit, but they had each won a few lesser awards in their time. Still, Jibbersman had a feeling about the two of them, and something in his gut told him he needed to check them out – this is a feeling he had experienced before, and every time he listened to it, things went well.

When he arrived at the farm and saw the two newborn thoroughbreds, he knew that his gut had been right once again. He purchased both of them on the spot, twin brother horses that didn’t look particularly remarkable, but he trusted his instincts and the little voice telling him he was making the right choice. In that moment, he named them: Thunderbolt and Biscuit.

A Legend and His Brother

In the years that followed, the names seemed truly appropriate. Thunderbolt was an absolute marvel, a powerful and skilled racehorse the likes of which Swoleton Farms had never had. While training and practicing, Thunderbolt ran like a horse possessed, pounding the earth with his powerful hooves and pushing himself harder and faster every day.

A black in white photo of a horse race.

Biscuit, on the other hand, simply couldn’t live up to the power and reputation of Thunderbolt. At any other time, on any other farm, he would’ve been just fine – an adequate if not particularly remarkable thoroughbred specimen. But compared to Thunderbolt, Biscuit was a paltry and flawed copy. Though they looked nearly identical, Biscuit lacked some of the power and muscle that made Thunderbolt a star.

They entered their first races together, and the results were no surprise: from the very beginning, Thunderbolt was a winner. At home, practicing on the Swoleton track, Thunderbolt would win every time, leaving his brother in his wake. On professional courses, it was no different; the raw power of Thunderbolt couldn’t be denied and he won time and again. Biscuit would often do well, placing in the top five or three, but he could never come close to his brother’s performance.

The years passed, Thunderbolt won time and again, his brother Biscuit always lagging behind.

The Final Race

As the decades went by, Thunderbolt and Biscuit grew older, and their best racing days were eventually behind them. They’d still run every now and again, between breeding sessions or days out on the pasture, but the glory and roar of the crowd at professional races were nothing but a memory. Still, the name of Thunderbolt was legendary within the racing community, and there was a long waiting list for him as a stud.

In October of 1983, Thunderbolt and Biscuit were enjoying their retirements, their coats growing a little grayer with each passing day. One cool autumn morning, they were getting some exercise, trotting together along the Swoleton Farms racetrack when Biscuit began to pick up speed. His playful trot turned into a determined gallop as he flew past Thunderbolt. This was no typical jaunt – this was a challenge.

Thunderbolt accepted, and he too began to pick up speed, his powerful muscles might not have been what they once were, but the earth roared beneath his hooves. Biscuit knew this might be his last chance, his years were growing fewer, and the old fire that had once burned within him was dwindling to embers. He raced with all his might, a great fury burning in his eyes, as Thunderbolt drew closer.

Biscuit tried with every fiber of his being to go faster, but there was a limit to what he could do. He ran faster than he ever had in his life, but Thunderbolt flew by him, leaving Biscuit once more in his wake. In a final maddened effort, Biscuit pushed himself even harder, and, with a terrible cry, he tripped and toppled over himself. The scene was horrible, his legs mangled and twisted, shattered in numerous places. His eyes squeezed tight in agony, Biscuit called out to his brother. Thunderbolt pounded ahead toward the finish line, never looking back.

A black and white photo of an old man in a suit and hat who is petting a horse.

All Things Must End

That evening, as Biscuit laid quietly – morphine keeping the pain at bay – Thunderbolt stood in his stall and thought about his brother. He knew what was coming that night, as he had seen the fate of other injured horses and worry knotted his stomach. As he stood in contemplation, Greysnout, the old farm hound dog, came by his stall.

Greysnout paused before Thunderbolt and stood on his hind legs, his front paws propped up on the stall door to look Thunderbolt in the eyes. The wise hound stared a moment, then said to the old stallion, “He’s your only brother. All he ever wanted was to beat you a single time, but you couldn’t let him. Look at what your pride has done.” With those words, Greysnout shook his head slightly, then mournfully walked away.

In the silence that followed, Thunderbolt considered his words. The long years that he had known his brother haunted him, every race of theirs replayed through his mind. And, as Jibbersman walked by, a shotgun propped beneath the crook of his arm, Thunderbolt thought to himself, “Imagine that: a talking dog!”

Editor’s Note: We’re very pleased with this. Thank you.

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