The most inspiring and encouraging influence of my pathway into the “world of wheels” has been Mr. Lee Mills, left, who took me into his shop and set fire to my passion — as well as every other car buff who entered Granada Hills High School’s auto lab. Decades later, it was a privilege to share a moment at Irwindale Speedway with one of Lee’s heroes — as well as a favorite for all Tonight Show and fellow car buff audiences — Jay Leno.
Over the many years since I walked into Lee Mills auto shop during summer school between my 9th and 10th grade, we have grown from Teacher-Student, to Mentor-Intern, to fellow car guys and lifetime friends. In addition to being a life-changing teacher for me and hundreds of other young men and women, in later years of ongoing friendship with Lee, he and his wife Ruth were at my wedding, have shared holiday dinners and annual gatherings with a handful of fellow ‘auto shop’ students who keep in close touch to this day — all because of Lee.
Among Jay Leno’s many obvious gifts, in addition to talent that led him to Tonight Show fame, is that he is truly one of the automotive cultures most authentic car guys. From his own early days as a professional mechanic, to his stellar car collection in his personal warehouse-museum of machines in Burbank, Calif., Jay clearly has a humility that makes him a true “role model” for others.
In the moment of this snapshot, we had just finished talking with Jay about the fact that Lee Mills is a retired auto teacher who is out with one of his “former auto shop students” — and Jay was an easy gentleman to Lee Mills in pausing for a captured moment … celebrating ‘auto shop’.