Buying and owning a car you really want is a fantastic experience, but sometimes there are those enthusiasts who decide to use their cars for something that is greater than themselves. There are plenty of regular car meets who often decide to charge admission or raffle something cool off to give the proceeds to charity. However, the subject we’re talking about today is somebody who has done something that takes infinitely more time and dedication.
When Blake became a physical therapist, he never imagined that he’d one day be using a car that he fixed up himself to go to bat for one of his patients. One of his patients has ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which many readers are probably already familiar with because of the Ice Bucket Challenge. That viral internet challenge sometimes lost its original focus, but ended up raising a lot of donations for the ALS Association, and more importantly, raised a lot of awareness about ALS. After treating a patient with ALS for a time, Blake realized he could use his 1957 Chevy wagon towards similar ends by creating a challenge of his own.
On the way home from Hot Rod Power Tour 2018, Blake was talking with his father about the road trips he’s taken before. He noted how many enthusiast groups have started “Cruising for a Cause” style events for various kinds of charities. Blake wondered aloud if he could combine his love of cars with his passion for helping others. He thought of his patient with ALS, who had long since become a friend, and how he could use a road trip in his patina’d(a term referring to intentionally maintaining surface rust and weathered paint on a car) Chevy wagon to help him out. Out of this, Sweet Patina Road Trips and the Sweet Patina Challenge were born.
As the founder of Sweet Patina, Blake goes on road trips in his ‘57 Chevy with the eventual goal of visiting each of the 48 continental United States. He also sells shirts, hats, and other Sweet Patina merch and accepts donations with all proceeds going directly to the ALS Association. His visibility campaign, The Sweet Patina Challenge, involves Blake’s followers on Instagram and other sites, who are encouraged to take their classic cars out for a drive and post pictures tagged with #sweetpatinachallenge and an explanation of what the challenge is about. Using it has generated visibility for Sweet Patina Road Trips that has been valuable. Blake can only spread the word about ALS and his organization to so many people on his own, so to be able to use social media hashtags to get help spreading the word about ALS and his organization is a godsend. It has given him time to carefully plan out the trips that he goes on as part of the challenge and, even after visiting 40 of the 48 states, gives him a lot to look forward to in Sweet Patina’s future.
As of this writing, Blake is very close to meeting his goal of visiting 48 states in his ‘57 Chevy, which he often references in his posts as #48ina57. That makes next year a very exciting one, even in Sweet Patina’s very short history. Blake’s plans include a long tour through the western US to visit the remaining 8 states. Blake is especially excited to visit California. There, he plans to visit Danchuk, a maker of aftermarket parts for ‘55, ‘56, and ‘57 Chevy’s, at its headquarters in Santa Ana, then drive with a caravan of other Tri-Five owners to a show put on by the Tri-Five Association, an enthusiast organization dedicated specifically to ‘55, ‘56, and ‘57 Chevy’s. Other stops will include the Good Guys Arizona car show in May 2020. Throughout the trip, which will be in Spring 2020, he will visit New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon as part of his promise to visit the 48 continental states of the United States. It will be quite the undertaking, and yet another journey in a car to which his particular taste as a car enthusiast led him.
Blake’s upbringing as the son and grandson of automotive painters would lead most to believe that he enjoys anything but patina’d cars, but, as is clear from the previous stories about the Sweet Patina organization, he loves them. Blake first saw patina’d cars on Power Tour 2015 and immediately took a liking to them. It was a unique look that didn’t require much effort to maintain. After that year’s Power Tour, in which Blake and his dad drove a bright red Chevy C10 pickup truck, he decided that he wanted to find a patina’d Chevy C10 of his own. Blake already loved C10’s after growing up with his father driving a ‘68 model, so it was a natural fit to combine his new automotive interest with one of his oldest. He started hunting for a patina’d C10 Blazer or Suburban, both of which would be able to accomodate him, his wife, and his two kids on a drive. Eventually, he found a ‘72 C10 Suburban near his workplace that was an excellent olive green with plenty of patina and bought it. The truck, which many of Blake’s friends considered unlikeable, was eventually named “Big Ugly”. However, he soon sold Big Ugly to a man he met at a car meet who showed a strong interest in owning it. The wife and kids were shocked since Blake loved Big Ugly, but he would soon find a replacement.
Not long after selling Big Ugly, Blake received a text from his brother with a screenshot of a car for sale in Ohio. It was a patina’d 1957 Chevy Wagon. The windows were broken, the interior was ratty and torn up, and the stock engine wasn’t terribly powerful, but it ran and drove nonetheless. Blake, of course, bought the car and brought it home to Texas. Eventually, this tired old car would be modified with parts from HPI Customs, RideTech, Holley, Danchuk, Vintage Air, and others. His daughter, Bentley, who was only 3 at the time, was so upset that she loudly complained that the car wasn’t the old truck, Big Ugly. Trying to help his daughter feel better about the new car, he told her that it was patina’d just like the truck. Bentley then asked a very important question: “Well, is it mean patina or sweet patina? Blake’s answer to her question became the name of the car and, eventually, the name for his ALS charity. For Blake, that makes the car so much more than just a rusty old Chevy.
Sweet Patina’s right rear side window has stickers(with a couple exceptions) from every state the car has been to so far on offical Sweet Patina road trips, along with a few more from landmarks like Mt. Rushmore. On the driver’s side rear window, Blake has placed stickers from each of Sweet Patina’s sponsors. A surprising collection of big names aftermarket parts for such a small charity. In talking with companies that have since sponsored Sweet Patina Road Trips, Blake wasn’t sure what to expect when asking for donations from many of the companies that have made aftermarket parts that are on the Chevy. Many of the companies responded enthusiastically with monetary donations or with donated parts or merch that can be raffled off or sold to raise money for the charity. Blake recalled when Dawn, a representative from HPI Customs in Canada, contacted him about installing their new frame reinforcement kit for Tri-Five Chevy’s on Sweet Patina in honor of her grandmother who had passed away from ALS. Experiences like this where people have come through with much more support than expected or where people have lost a loved one to ALS have made this a humbling experience for Blake. As he mentioned in our video interview, Blake isn’t the type of guy to buy cars just to sell them. Blake buys old, rusty cars to fix them up and enjoy them. For Blake, enjoying the car is the fact that he has turned his passion for cars into a mission that helps others. Given all the hard work he puts into Sweet Patina Road Trips, it’s definitely something to be proud of.
Check out the Sweet Patina website here to donate to the ALS Association, buy merch(with all proceeds going to the ALS Association), and to check Blake’s progress on his promise to visit all of the lower 48 states!