Tom Stinnett and his wife, Candy, bought a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air in 1998. The idea was to restore the car, and then take it to cruise-ins and car shows.
The day Tom Stinnett retired form the US Postal Service at 55 was the day Candy was diagnosed with breast and bone cancer. In many ways Tom Stinnett said his retirement couldn't have come at a better time because he had the time to take care of her. Driving her to her many appointments, nursing her when the treatments made her ill. On her good days they would go to cruise-ins, but they cut back on the car shows. In 2006, Cindy died.
It was then that he decided to have a full restoration done on the vehicle, which was originally a race car, in Candy's honor. So he took it to Barry's Speed Shop in New Haven. The car is now two colors, blue on blue. He had a custom interior done in Ligonier at Bohde's Custom Interiors, which is also a two-tone blue. Over the years Stinnett has had eight different engines in the car. His nephew, Rick Stevens, builds the engines, and last winter they put in a new full roller engine. It has 400 horsepower and is all chromed out, even the battery box and hoses.
He had all new glass installed, and replaced gauges in the dash, a new steering column by the specialist ididit, a smaller steering wheel and vintage air-conditioning. He also got rid of the old vacuum windshield wipers and replaced them with a rain gear wiper system.
To honor his late wife Candy he had “Candy's Dream” painted on the back of the car with a pink breast cancer ribbon. He also had a 28-foot breast cancer ribbon made that he places on the car when he displays it at cancer events. Any money he raises goes to the American Cancer Association.
After his wife's death he began going to more and more car shows and cruise-ins.
“I went to 42 car shows and 75 cruise-ins the first year after it was restored,” Stinnett said.
He met a lot of people and a friend of his started a car club in Fort Wayne called the Curbside Cruisers. They meet 5-8 p.m. the first and third Wednesdays of each month May-September for a cruise-in at the Athenian Restaurant, 1020 W. Coliseum Blvd.
“I've had car club friends accuse me of making the car a 'trailer queen,' but I drive it,” Stinnett said.
In many ways the car saved him from sitting at home with nothing to do. It is not unusual for him to go to several car shows in one weekend. His numerous awards and trophies attest to how well the car does at the shows. So far this year he has won nine different awards. When he shows his car he shows in Indiana but also in Ohio and Michigan. This year he will show in Kentucky several times too. In October of this year he plans to go all the way to California on Route 66. Next year he plans to do a ride called Cruising the Gulf Coast that runs all the way to Mississippi.
Within a year of his wife's death their two Dobermans died and he eventually got a tiger-striped cat to keep him company. The cat's name? Bel Air, of course.