One of our best-kept secrets

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Person County has lots of well-kept secrets. That’s part of what makes this such an interesting place.

The other day Chip Lofton let me look around in his antique car museum. The cars include some of the race cars his company, Strutmasters, has sponsored over the years. Others are just antique cars that Lofton has rescued from the dustbin of history, restored and turned into a gleaming walk through yesteryear.

The cars are on semi-public display – you have to ask to go see them, or be invited – but the section of the building where the cars are kept is, quite frankly, a masterpiece of its own, a mural that stretches throughout the two rooms where the cars are housed tells the story of Lofton’s life, from his upbringing in Louisiana to his involvement in racing.

The floor, like any car museum is shiny and covered in its own kind of art, including a couple 3-D images you really don’t see until you get your picture taken in just the right spot.

The museum is just the start of Lofton’s interest in preserving antique cars. Around the block from his business, Loftin has purchased the old Fleetwood Homes manufacturing facility. Lofton, who likes to purchase antique cars that still need a little work done to them, first envisioned using that space as a place to work on and store cars.

But then he took another turn. He purchased the Carolina Collectors Autofest, a popular car show that had previously been held at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. He moved the show to Roxboro and, when this spring’s event rolled around back in May, Lofton and his crew found themselves having to sell parking spaces outside the building to accommodate all the car enthusiasts who wanted to bring their antique cars and show them off.

The show drew about 2,000 spectators to Roxboro, most of them from a four-state area.

It’s remarkable, to me, that someone can take a popular show from a big city like Raleigh and move it to the countryside outside Roxboro and still make a success of it.

But that’s what Lofton did. He’s been doing it most of his life. His business, Strutmasters, started as an effort to solve a problem. Lofton had a car that needed new struts. But the struts were going to cost Lofton more than the car was worth. So he he set about building his own struts.

Turns out they were good enough to catch the attention of some other people who asked Lofton to build some for them. He soon learned there was a business model attached to the equipment and Strutmasters was born.

Today the Strutmasters shop is part manufacturing facility, part research and development and part specialized auto repair.

The success of Lofton’s business made branching out into the car show a natural progression.

When you meet him, Lofton strikes you as a no-nonsense guy. But spend just a little bit of time around him and you find out real quickly, there’s a deep-seated passion inside him for cars – those that run fast and those that proclaim the history of the automobile.

And that car that broke down on Lofton and gave birth to Strutmasters? It’s the first car you see when you walk into his museum.

And, in case you forget... all that is right here in little ol’ Person County. What a cool place.

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