Although he’s best-known for sitting at the helm of vintage wheel and tire giant Coker Tire, Corky Coker has done a lot for the automotive specialty equipment industry. In addition to his work at Coker Tire, a company started by his father Harold, Coker has also helped to further the industry through his extensive work with SEMA. (He is credited with helping to found both the Automotive Restoration Market Organization and the SEMA Political Action Committee.)
But make no mistake — Coker is no stuffy corporate businessman.
“People may not realize that I’m kind of a bluegrass pickin’ cowboy,” the Chattanooga, Tennessee-based Coker says. “I grew up on a farm, I love horses and I play the five-string banjo!”
Coker took the time to chat with the Goodguys Gazette about his car collection, his days on reality TV and his secrets for maintaining what may be one of the most impressive mustaches in the automotive industry…
GG: You own well over 100 cars and bikes. Is there anything left to buy on your dream car list?
Corky Coker: I still have cars on my want list. We’re working on stuff at the Honest Charley Garage just about every day. I always like the barn finds. I recently found an original ‘55 convertible that was in a garage for 38 years. It’s absolutely perfect. So I’d say that my dream car would be the next barn find.
GG: Everyone calls you Corky but…is that your real name?
Corky Coker: When I was born my mom named me Joseph, after the [Bible story about the] coat of many colors. The name Joseph means productive. But my dad said he was going to call me Corky, after a character in the Sunday morning comic strip “Gasoline Alley.” When you grow up being called Corky, you’re kind of destined to be in the car industry.
GG: You’ve been very successful in your various business ventures. What are you most proud of, career-wise?
Corky Coker: I’m proud to be involved in the leadership of an industry that’s been wise enough to develop a federal PAC [Political Action Committee] to make sure we don’t allow politicians to put us out of business. I’m proud of being involved in SEMA leadership to help with that. I’m also very proud of being part of a great company like Coker Tire that has wonderful employees and tries to give back. I want our industry to be around for years to come, so we can sell tires to someone’s kids—or grandkids!
GG: You have taken a step back from Coker Tire in recent years. How are you enjoying retirement?
Corky Coker: I’m semi-retired, so I meet with the company president, COO and CFO to discuss big picture items. I’m still involved in the weekly development of new products, and of course I still get to play with cars and wheels and rims in our Honest Charley Garage. Now I get to restore cars and work on my own stuff too. Since I’ve stepped back and let others who are more gifted in certain areas than I am [take charge], the company is more profitable than we have been in years! I’m now able to concentrate on the stuff that I do well.
GG: Do you have any regrets in your career?
Corky Coker: Too often success goes to one’s head and creates pride. Pride always goes before the fall; it’s a direction completely opposite of a Godly direction. I have realized that, despite the fact that I told my family I was always doing everything for them, I wasn’t. I was doing it for me, and I realize that in my later years. Today, I do it for them.
GG: How do you usually spend your weekends these days?
Corky Coker: You’d most likely find me on my farm. I have two animals on my farm—an 11- year-old border collie named Banjo and an 11- year-old cat named Whitewall. I’m going to be getting some horses as well. I like to be on my farm with my animals and my sweet wife, enjoying my grandkids.
GG: You and your family starred on the reality show “Backroad Gold” in 2014. Will we ever see you reality TV again?
Corky Coker: Sure. That show was great, but we probably just picked the wrong TV network [for it]. The Travel Channel has a great bunch of people but they don’t understand car people. We would do it again. I had a great time with my daughter, son-in-law and dad. Not long after our last episode aired, my dad [Harold Coker] passed away. He’s probably up there in heaven showing Gary [Meadors] around.
GG: You have one of the best mustaches in the automotive industry. What’s your secret to achieving the perfect mustache?
Corky Coker: I profess that the way to have a perfect mustache is to live well underneath it. Speak words of truth and overlook your mustache with two eyes and two ears, knowing that you have twice the numbers of ears and eyes as you do a mouth. In all due respect to my friends Wayne Carini and Dennis Gage, I respectfully quote that I have the third best mustache in the industry. They can decide who’s first and second. I admit I have the third best.