John Weinberger’s Life Mattered For So Many Reasons…
I don’t remember exactly when I first met John Weinberger, but it was undoubtedly somewhere in the early 80’s, at the old Continental Motors building on Ogden Avenue.
Out of embarrassment, I’d parked so far away I should have brought a canteen, driving something my aunt Millie would have appreciated as practical, efficient, and the literal opposite of ostentatious.
As I got closer, people were driving into the event in cars that I would have gladly shanked the owner for, just to sit in something with 12 cylinders.
Easy to figure out who John was, the owner of Continental, obvious as everyone wanted his attention. A moving object, John, like a running back or a landslide-elected mayor, stepping aside to greet an old acquaintance, turning to a new introduction, managing to somehow touch nearly everyone, waiving to those too far away for his voice to carry.
When I finally did introduce myself to John, he treated me as if we were long time friends, chatted Ferraris for a much longer time than he actually had to spare, peppering our conversation with words of encouragement not just about Ferrari, but cars in general, motorsports, and his long-held passion for those that felt the same.
You’ll get a Ferrari, he would said. I believed him…
I learned from John that there was no best car, that they all had their appeal, that they were like your children; frustrating today but sublime the next. But I did get that Ferrari, and later a couple more from him.
The Ferrari Dealership…
Lots of people, especially newer clients, don’t know how John came to own a Ferrari dealership. When the Ferrari factory came to Chicago to scout out a new location, everyone at that time assumed restaurateur, Joe Marchetti, would get the nod. Long a Ferrari supporter, Marchetti was deeply ingrained in the midwest and an ardent Ferrari guy.
But the Ferrari factory had sent a mechanic, not an executive, to explore a new dealership. John, with his intimate knowledge of what’s-under-the-hood was the perfect guy for Ferrari here in Chicago, and as only two mechanics can do, the deal was done with a handshake and a bit of vino. In an interview, John confessed a bit of wariness after besting Marchetti, a little nervous that he would wake up with a horse’s head in his bed, like the scene in The Godfather.
John’s consumate sales skills were certainly on display when he asked me to take over as Regional Director for the Central States FCA. Just for a month or two, and he would help me through getting things running. Four years later, I was still in the job, and John had given more than he’d promised, of his time, energy and sponsorship. But we often have laughs about his con job and how his simple request for a few months work was by design. He knew I would be in for the long haul, even if I didn’t.
Inevitably, John got old, and his health began to fail. Aside from having to speak up a bit when his hearing went, he was always chatty, never missing an opportunity to spread kind words, always looking on life’s bright side no matter how sick. Everyone hoped that the universe saw what we all saw of the man, and would convey a couple more decades of life to him. It was not to be.
Forget all the successes John had in his life, from racing to dealerships to family. What you do in life and who you touch, is far, far more important than accolades you’ve gathered.
Countless times in conversation, John would quote Yogi Berra’s famous line, “when you get to the fork in the road, take it”, chuckling a bit, using it to make a point about this or that. Many have come to realize that when John stood at the crossroads of life, he always opted for the road less traveled. John’s life was really about that; of all the praise that was and will be spoken about John Weinberger, it’s how he always took the path of a gentleman, at a time when that word has so fallen out of favor.
We’ve all been along on the ride with John Weinberger. If his life was a movie, it would become one of those you’d watch again and again, sitting through the credits at the end, knowing his time, and our participation, was time very well spent.