When Stacey Sparks was 14 years old, a family member gave him an old car. It had no windows, no engine, no transmission.
“It was walls, tires and a rusty body and that was about it,” Sparks recalled.
He was so excited to have a car, he went down to the local mechanic and offered to sweep floors, clean the bathrooms, anything he could if they would help him fix up that car.
That was all it took. He was hooked.
Recently, Sparks, sat in his own high-end body shop, Sport Motoring, which opened last year in Santa Rosa Beach. His brown hair is gelled into a loose spike and his beard is lightly striped with white.
I asked how many cars he owns.
His response — “I don’t know” — seemed to explain the situation perfectly. After thinking on it a bit, he counted seven. At least on that day.
His favorites are an old Datsun 240Z and a fire engine-red 1991 BMW convertible, though he has strict instructions from his nine-year-old daughter Ansley to hold on to that one for her. She calls it Red Bird.
Sport Motoring, located off U.S. Highway 98 in a building across the street from Publix, is Sparks’ third shop. He also runs his original shop in Decatur, Ga., and a second location in Hapeville, Ga.
Sparks and his wife, Susan, have visited South Walton for years for vacations. In fact, they were married in a Seaside pavilion. In 2014, they bought a condo in Seagrove as a second home and Sparks began eyeing the spot where his shop is now located, believing Santa Rosa Beach would be a perfect spot to expand his business.
Sport Motoring is different than your average car shop. The lobby is has tiled floors, contemporary furniture and a big picture window looking out into an immaculate, white-walled workshop.
“I want people to be able to see what’s going on,” he said, noting they don’t use disposable plastic floor mats to keep people’s cars clean because they just keep the whole shop clean.
“We’re very transparent. We’ll go out in the shop and look at what we’re telling you.”
Sport Motoring can service any cars, but his main customers are people with cars less than 15 years old, which are on their first or second owner.
“Most of our customers are people who are invested in caring for a car and keeping it in good working order for a long time,” Sparks said. “Some people don’t drive cars that way, and that’s fine. They just want to fix the immediate problem, just enough to keep in running right now.”
After 20 years in the new car dealership business, Sparks knows what customers really need to know.
When you come in, Sport Motoring will do an initial full-car diagnostic test, looking at every system on the car, basically finding out what state of repair the car is in. He wants to be able to give a customer a full profile of their vehicle so they have all the information they need when deciding to spend money on repair or maintenance.
“If we tell them about a $1,000 repair but they really need $6,000 of work to get it going right for a long time, they may make another decision about the car,” Sparks said. “We want them to have the full picture.”
Sparks mostly manages his businesses these days, but he said tries to get out there as often as he can. The draw has not let go.
“I’m not in the shop very often anymore, but I make a point of doing it,” he said. “It’s my therapy.”