2016-02-01 / Up Close

Wheels & Deals

with Dave Dix
Anne Quinn Corr

As a little boy, Dave Dix always dreamed of flying. He liked to pretend that he was a pilot by putting a fan on a chair and sitting behind it on another chair, steering behind his “propeller.” When he retires next month from his 44-year career selling cars at Dix Honda, he will be able to pursue that dream full time.

“You wouldn’t guess it to look at me,” says the self-effacing Dix, “but I am definitely an adrenalin junkie.” His office next to the dealership entry is decorated with photos of small airplanes, race cars and a group of smiling children he had taken up for a flight. Behind his desk, propped against the wall, is an antique wooden propeller from the Piper plant to keep him mindful of his flight plan. A large crayon drawing, prominently displayed, is a thank you from the Centre County Youth Service Bureau, one of his many community service endeavors.

Dix has lived in the State College area since 1955, when his father, George, moved the family here from Pittsburgh to open a Cadillac dealership. The intent was to move back to the big city, but central Pennsylvania proved too appealing. The family stayed and became an integral part of the community, with a Cadillac and Pontiac dealership during the heyday of big American motors. Dix attended State College area schools through high school but opted to go to Clarion for his teaching degree.

While there he met fellow elementary education major Tina Mrazik from Munhall, a steel town outside Pittsburgh. They married in the beginning of their senior year. Dix jokes that her GPA was higher than his when they both graduated in 1969. They moved to Harrisburg, where he taught sixth grade for three years, and soon son Jason was on the way. The teacher’s salary didn’t prove sustainable enough for the growing family, so when Dix’s dad offered him a position at the dealership in 1972, the young family made the move to State College.

“I never really liked the big American cars of the 1960s,” says Dix. “Back in the ’60s and early ’70s, the cars were huge.” But the times, they were a changin’. The Dix dealership sold Cadillac and Pontiac cars until 1980, then added Toyota in 1972 before selling it to Confer in 1977. In 1975 Dix became the first Honda dealership in the region, and the Japanese vehicles proved to be more in line with his personal style as well as many in the nation who realized the toll of the gas guzzlers on planet and purse. The dealership thrived, outgrowing the site on North Atherton Street and moving to its current location on West College Avenue in 2001.

You wouldn’t guess it to look at me, but I am definitely an adrenalin junkie.

While it may be gratifying to run a successful dealership with 40 employees who clearly like him, according to sales rep Susan McGrail, Dix definitely fuels his passion away from his desk and the ledger. He obtained his pilot’s license at age 29 and enjoys flying the small plane that a customer once traded in for a new Honda van. “The plane and I are the same age, 69 this year,” smiles Dix, pointing to a photo of himself in the two-seater. He flies it to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for the annual Experimental Aircraft Association meeting every other year or so and camps out next to it in the field, happy to share a runway with 10,000 other airplane enthusiasts who trade tips on antique planes, refurbished military planes and hand-built and experimental airplanes. He currently stores his plane in a barn near his home out toward Centre Hall, along with a glider that he uses to ride the ridges in the right conditions. He shares a partnership in a plane at University Park Airport that he uses for commuter trips, an arrangement he says is very popular these days.

His wife, Tina, uses the barn as well, to house her horses. Though Dave will sometimes accompany his wife on the trail, he says “they don’t go fast enough for me, generally. I like it when they gallop.” The couple’s son, Jason, and his wife, Sherry, live in Penns Valley, and granddaughter, Lindsey, 19, attends Shippensburg University while grandson, Connor, 17, goes to Penns Valley High School, where he plays on the baseball team.

Dix has other sporting interests: He owns a blue race car and may take it to a track for a spin once he has the free time. Or else he may fire up one of his dozen or so motorcycles — among which there are a BMW, Ducati and Moto Guzzi. He especially enjoys jumping on a motorcycle — with a helmet — and riding with no destination in mind. He’s a skier, and while he has done Tussey Mountain in the past, he is partial to the powder on the slopes of Colorado.

But his favorite avocation is aviation, and he looks forward to spending more time after he retires in the air once he is finished with Tina’s to-do list, which is likely to include some kitchen duties. “We took a cooking class at The Hummingbird Room several years ago, so she is looking forward to me doing more than just flipping a burger on the grill.”

Bobby Rahal of Lewistown will be taking over Dix Honda in March, and all the current Dix employees will stay on board. And Dave will be able to thrill seek full time, especially in the air. He looks forward to being a flight instructor at University Park Airport and giving more people the courage to flex their wings.

“People have different reasons for learning to fly,” explained Dix. “Some just want to say that they did it, ‘I flew a plane.’ Others may pursue it as a career.”

“I feel like I am coming full circle, back to being a teacher. I look forward to doing more flight instruction, because there is nothing like seeing that light in someone’s eyes when you teach them something that they didn’t know.”

And when that happens at 10,000 feet, it is even more thrilling. •SCM

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