Phil Braybrooks served in the Air Force during the Korean War. Following his tour of duty, he went to work at Lockheed Aircraft. His passion, though, was cars, and he saved enough money to open a shop selling mufflers. “He loved cars so much and he loved racing cars and even had hot rod cars as young as 13,” said his daughter, Lisa Braybrooks-Somody.
His hobby turned into a lucrative Inland Empire business known as J and M Speed Center in Riverside. The center sold parts for the high-performance cars he enjoyed so much. Phil was an expert when it came to street and strip performance parts. He became somewhat of a hot rod legend in California and at one time was even considering the NASCAR circuit.
Pat Braybrooks remembers meeting her future husband at the Fontana Drags in 1960. “He asked me to the drive-in movie, but when he showed up, his Chevy was really loud and he had a lawn chair in the front seat for me,” she said. That was their first date.
Phil had many years of success in the hot rod industry. His family believes lifelong exposure to what he loved most ultimately contributed to his death. In 2008, Phil fought pulmonary fibrosis, a condition where tissue deep in his lungs became thick and scarring occurred, making his ability to breathe very difficult. Currently, more than 80,000 Americans have idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and another 30,000 cases are diagnosed annually. The causes vary. Typically, life expectancy is three to five years after being diagnosed. Phil had also survived a heart attack and a stroke. His love for his family and a good classic automobile never wavered, even when he was near death.
Lisa said, “I was over at his home. We were out in the garage and he was tinkering around with this ‘23 T-bucket with a flathead motor – royal blue. I said, ‘You know, Dad, let’s go for a ride.’ We loaded up his portable oxygen tank and we just went cruising around town that summer afternoon.” Two days later, he died.
Phil was buried in true hot rod style – in a candy-apple red casket with gold flames. “At his funeral, so many of his friends and our customers showed up and they brought their hot rods. It was like a car show at the cemetery,” said his widow, Pat. “It was just amazing with all the cars and all his friends.”
It’s a tough, tearful story to share, but Pat and Lisa give a lot of credit to the organization that helped them get through it all – hospice. After Phil’s death, Pat and Lisa continued their friendship with the hospice team that helped the family through their most difficult times.
Southern California Hospice Foundation is a nonprofit organization that helps families with things like groceries, utility bills, transportation, and final wishes – a supplement, if you will, for medical care. Last year, 263 patients and their families had their final wish granted or were assisted with basic needs through the foundation.
Lisa took over the business when her father died. Some people frowned, saying she was a woman in a man’s industry, so she had to prove herself, which wasn’t easy. But in the months that followed, the business continued to thrive. J and M Speed Center was also about to become home to one of Southern California’s most popular car shows. The mother-daughter team launched the Phil Braybrooks Memorial Car Show to benefit the hospice program that helped them. More than 400 people signed up that first year to display their classic cars. “Everybody knows someone who has needed the help of hospice. One person gave Lisa $500 ahead of time just because it was hospice,” said Pat.
Year after year the memorial car show grew, and so did the amount of money being raised to help families in need. More than $50,000 annually has been collected for the charity through the mother-daughter efforts.
Phil’s family asked that some of the money be used to pay for much needed fingertip oxygen testing devices for hospice nurses to carry with them on home visits, something they appreciated during Phil’s care. Carrying on Phil’s legacy with a memorial car show and helping others is what his wife and daughter work so hard to accomplish.
Before he died, Phil was inducted into San Bernardino’s Hot-Rodding Hall of Fame and named the Dale Earnhardt Man of the Year. The family of this Inland Empire icon to classic cars wants to support those who can’t always afford the resources for end-of-life care. That’s the American Spirit.
Mary Parks is creator and host of the weekly PBS television series American Spirit with Mary Parks. She is also an award-winning journalist.