Duncan's Future: Customizing Cars
Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.
>> Video: Tim talks up BlackJack Speed Shop
>> Photos: Check out the shop
Down the road from the Spurs practice facility, less than a mile away, Tim Duncan is walking into his future: a garage filled with muscle cars, American classics and customized trucks.
In one corner is a vintage Monte Carlo SS, sleek, white, hoodless. Across the way, a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited rests on a lift, a wheeless, black beauty. Next to it sits a Pontiac GTO, a shiny green classic.
Duncan approaches a 1968 Camaro, all black with hideaway lights. He peers under the hood. Staring back is an LS6 supercharged engine with a Magnuson Supercharger. The vision elicits rarely seen emotion. Big engines in small cars rev Duncan’s inner motor.
This is one snapshot of Duncan in retirement. There is another: Duncan sliding under a chassis, tools in hand, going to work on wheels and suspensions.
“I’ll be living here,” he says. “Absolutely.”
The garage is the guts of Duncan’s new car customization business, “BlackJack Speed Shop,” on Huebner Road. The shop provides wheels and tires, performance upgrades, lower or lift kits, a range of accessories. It was to have a “soft” opening on Dec. 3 and a “hard” opening later. But business boomed faster than expected.
“We’ve had a full house since the second week,” says shop operations director Jason Pena.
Duncan, an avid car enthusiast, and Pena, an expert on all things auto, formed a partnership after years of talking and dreaming. Duncan wanted to turn a hobby into a business, and he knew just the place to open shop.
“On the way to practice every day, I saw this building,” Duncan explains. “I said to myself, ‘I’d love if that would be available. That would be the perfect place. It would be on my side of town where I live. It’d be close to practice. It’d be easily accessible for me.”
The dream idled until the NBA lockout in 2011. The uncertainty of its end wore on Duncan. The non-activity made him think about life after basketball.
“The lockout was a realization of the amount of time I’m gonna have once I’m done playing,” he says, breaking into a laugh. “So I got a small glimpse into that. I knew I had to have something to spend my time doing. Something that was going to be fun. This is it.”
Discussions with Pena accelerated. Then Pena phoned with news: “The building is available if you want to grab it.”
Duncan grabbed it. “That started the process,” he says. “Jason and I got together and figured out a name, how we wanted the place to look, and went from there. It took a lot more than I thought it would to put everything together.”
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images
No one in Duncan’s native St. Croix saw this venture coming. He didn’t get his driver’s license until his second year at Wake Forest. He didn’t own his first car until he was a senior. “On the island, I had friends that took me everywhere,” Duncan says. “I didn’t have anywhere to be and no, I didn’t really care about having a car.”
He credits car movies for his fascination with speed and horsepower. One favorite is Gone in 60 Seconds, starring Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie and Robert Duvall. The top-grossing film on the weekend it opened in 2000, Gone in 60 Seconds spins the story of a master car thief (Cage) forced to steal 50 vehicles in 72 hours to appease a British crime boss. The film also featured a 1967 Custom Fastback Mustang, trademarked as “Eleanor,” which Hot Rod magazine cited as the 19th most influential vehicle in hot rodding history.
“On top of already being a car guy,” Duncan says, “that kind of thrusted me to another level of liking cars.”
Conspicuously absent from “BlackJack Speed Shop” is the owner’s name. Duncan thought “blackjack” -- like the card game -- would capture the essence, if not the excitement of the business. Pena added “Speed Shop” as a tribute to the roots of hot rodding, and a name was born.
Don’t expect Duncan to be a hands-off owner. “I would imagine,” Pena says, “we won’t have to wait until he retires to get his hands dirty. I’m sure in the summer, he’ll have some projects he wants to work on.”
It’s one thing to imagine Duncan under a chassis. It’s another to imagine the bigger plan: building a car. “It’s always been a discussion,” Pena says. “We want to make sure the business is running efficiently first. But I could see him transitioning into doing a full build, probably for himself.”
Pena’s partner nods. “I want to learn as much as I can about cars,” Duncan says. “I want to sit back and do work on my own cars.”
He looks around the shop. “I’m proud of how it turned out,” Duncan says. “We had a vision of how we wanted it to look, how we wanted it to feel. When I walk in the door, it is exactly to a ‘T’ what we wanted.
”It’s a fun atmosphere. A fun place to come visit. Whatever you want, from mild to wild, we can do it all and have fun doing it.”