Mike Spitzer takes time out at his offices at Spitzer Enterprises in Greenfield. Spitzer is well known in the National Hot Road Association (NHRA) racing world.
Name: Michael D. Spitzer
Year of Scecina Graduation: 1960
Degree: Bachelor of Arts
Current Position: Owner, Spitzer Enterprises, Greenfield, Ind.
By George T. Newhart '60
“I’ve had a great life,” Mike Spitzer says over and over during an interview about his 44 years in the business of designing and building automobiles, from hot-rod dragsters for racing to custom-designed cars and restored classic autos for private clients.
Mike’s obsession with cars started early as he was growing up on the Eastside. While most of his male classmates at Holy Spirit Grade School were trying to master the complexities of riding bicycles or learning how to operate their dad’s new power mower, Mike was designing his first racecar. Young Mike was intrigued with designing, building and, of course, racing cars or facsimiles. His intense interest was fueled by his father’s part-time interest in racing Midget racecars. Mike helped with the building and maintenance of the Midgets, and watched many of his father’s races.
At Scecina, Mike had an occasion to exhibit not only his mechanical skills, but also his driving skills. Before school one spring morning in 1959, Mike drove his recently rebuilt 1949 Chevy to Scecina to show off the results. Mike thought it would be fun to “gun” the engine just a little, so the students entering the east entrances could get a flavor of Mike’s talents as applied to the Chevrolet “straight-six” engine and drivetrain of the day. But that morning the Chevy had more accelerator and less clutch than he had counted on, and Mike put some new contour onto the east end of the football field. Unfortunately for him that particular morning, Scecina’s principal, Father Harry Hoover, also entering the school from the east doors, and was a spectator to Mike’s driving exhibition. After a brief but informative discussion (for Mike, at least) with Father Hoover, who must have been a “Ford man,” based upon his assessment of Mike and his Chevy, Mike was more determined than ever to become a racecar designer and builder.
From Scecina, Mike went on to the IU/Purdue Extension, now IUPUI, and focused on courses from which he could learn what he wanted and needed to know to be in racecar business, in a big way. Mike worked at the General Motors Parts Depot on Shadeland Avenue as his day job. He was developing his business model, planning and working toward the day when he could devote full time to pursuing his life’s dream. That day finally came in late 1975, when Mike resigned from GM and set up his own shop at his home. In the early 1980s, Mike began buying parcels of property at the present Greenfield location, and has been in an expansion mode ever since.
During Mike’s successful career, he and/or his cars have achieved some notable recognition. A diagnosis of a detached retina derailed Mike’s potential career as a driver. But he still was destined for designing and building, teaming up first with his brother Jim. In the early 1960s Jim won the first race they entered at Indianapolis Raceway Park in a car built mostly by Mike. In that car, Jim qualified first for the race and set the “miles per hour” and” elapsed time” record, for 1/4 Mile competition. Mike repeated this performance in Nationals competition at Terre Haute and Louisville, in 1/8 Mile competition. Mike also has been successful at the First Sports Nationals at Bowling Green, Ky., qualifying first and finishing runner-up. He won the Super Eliminator Dragster Championship one particular year, winning 13 of the 16 races in the series. Mike recalls one rather intense time early in his racing experience. To be competitive, Mike desperately needed a supercharger. After pulling together their limited funds to pay for the new equipment, his wife, Karen, asked Mike how they were going to get home. Mike replied, in typical Spitzer fashion, “Well, I’m going to win the race.” And he did.
In the current operation, Spitzer Enterprises builds about anything with wheels. Using composites of carbon fiber and fiberglass technologies, Spitzer Enterprises can mold body and body parts, including dashboards, consoles, floorboards and custom seats.
As a result of excellent metalworking skills and extensive experience, the company can fabricate chassis and bodies. Spitzer uses many of the “old school” techniques such as “chopping, channeling and louvering.”
Of course, design and engineering are integral elements of any project undertaken by Mike and his highly skilled employees. This descriptive passage from one of the company’s promotional brochures sums up the company’s approach: “The Spitzer Concepts team has decades of experience and can build vehicles in the true hot rod and custom styles of the ‘50s and ‘60s, or incorporate the very latest technologies. The fusion of retro styling and contemporary engineering is Spitzer’s strong suit.”
Mike married his childhood sweetheart, Karen, who has been by his side every step of the way in their remarkable journey. “We’re buddies,” Mike says. Daughter Sherri is deeply involved in the business, working with her mother in the operational and administrative functions. From Mike’s perspective, with Karen and Sherri pretty much running the day-to-day business operations, he has time to continue to dream about the future. At 72, he never even considers quitting. When asked about retirement, his usual somewhat serious facial expression turns into a wide grin. “No, I don’t even think about retirement,” he says. “I am doing what I love and having the time of my life, doing exactly what I always wanted to do. And having my wife and daughter working close by, I don’t know how life could be any better. I have been very blessed and very lucky.” What Mike doesn’t say, but those who know him and appreciate his strong work ethic say, is that his life proves, as is generally the case, that the harder one works, the luckier one becomes.
Scecina had a profound impact on Mike’s faith. Mike and Karen regularly attend Mass at Holy Spirit, usually three times during the week. Mike and Karen have also contributed significantly to the parish, including substantial support to the remodeling of the church and annual support to the Holy Spirit Festival. In Mike’s words, “Scecina prepared me to be a responsible and contributing member of society.”
Mike mentions the atmosphere of learning and appreciation of respect at Scecina. Students were taught to respect the nuns, the priests and the faculty. The teachers and faculty deserved the respect, because their objective was to educate, not only from the academic perspective, but to show -- through hard work and good example -- how to be better adults. Mike believes that giving back to Scecina is so important, because of what it gave and continues to give to students. Ongoing support is also crucial because of the significant role that Scecina continues to play in the education of young adults. Mike sees that the task of secondary education is to teach young people how to teach themselves, and to instill into today’s students the idea of “dreaming big”, and then having the courage, work ethic, ethical values and the perseverance to pursue those dreams.
If anyone can advise young people on dreaming big, and then working diligently and efficiently to achieve their dreams, while being a first-class father, grandfather, employer, church member and all-round great individual and good, good friend to the Holy Spirit Class of 1956/Scecina Class of 1960 alumni, Mike Spitzer is certainly that person.
George T. Newhart, CPA, was Mike Spitzer’s classmate in the Scecina Class of 1960. He is a member of Scecina's Board of Directors.
Posted on Thu, July 30, 2015
by Beth Murphy