All the nominees are quality people with great personal and professional life stories to tell.

“THIS IS A TOUGH ONE,” REMARKED TONY NOLAND of NCM Associates as we considered nominees for this issue's Dealer of the Year, our first feature of its kind, and something we plan to do annually.

Mr. Noland is right. So says everyone involved in the process of nominating the candidates, narrowing down the finalists and voting for the winner. All the nominees are quality people with great personal and professional life stories to tell. It wasn't easy picking one person.

That said, our Dealer of the Year is — may I have the envelope, please — H. F. “Bert” Boeckmann II, owner of the Galpin Automotive Group based in North Hills, CA.

He's the top Ford dealer in the U.S., the top Saturn dealer in the country and the biggest Lincoln Mercury dealer in the region.

He's innovative. He was the first dealer to customize vans and the first to open a restaurant at his dealership.

Plus, he gives millions of dollars to charity.

Read about Mr. Boeckmann and the regional Dealer of the Year winners in our cover story that starts on page 12.

Olds leaves Indy 500 with style:

Don Rice at age 11 hired on as a lot boy at an Indianapolis dealership. He spent the next 51 years working at Olds dealerships around town.

He also was a loyal hometown fan of the Indy 500.

“For as long as I can remember, he went to the 500 time trials and the race with his fried chicken dinner,” recalls his daughter, Susan Wagener.

Mr. Rice was a salesman at Ed Martin Olds last fall when he sold his daughter a new Olds. He died shortly afterwards.

“The last afternoon we spent together, we went for a ride in my new Bravada,” she says. “The next day he passed away.”

That story about her dad won Ms. Wagener a special prize in a contest that Oldsmobile sponsored on its web site.

The GM division, which is closing shop in a couple of years, asked people to say in 100 words or less why they would like to drive an Olds pace car on a ceremonial lap at this year's Indy 500.

More than 1,600 entries came in.

The second runner-up's story also had a dealership angle.

“I'm the son of a retired Oldsmobile dealer and I grew up with Oldsmobiles,” wrote Bruce Bisping of Edina, MN, owner of 12 classic Olds. “Everything I know about the love and passion of cars comes from Oldsmobile.”

This was the last year of Oldsmobile's long association with the Indy 500. Olds, age 102, left the Speedway with class and style.

“We took our last lap at Indy and we wanted it to be memorable,” says Oldsmobile's communications director Gus Buenz.

It was bittersweet.

Olds had been part of Indy for 52 years. Thirty of the 33 qualifiers in this year's race drove cars with Oldsmobile engines. Another GM brand — to be announced — will replace the Olds engines at Indy.

Eleven Oldsmobiles served as Indy pace cars since 1949. As part of Oldsmobile's good-bye, all 11 of those vehicles took a commemorative lap around the track before this year's big race.

Leading the way was a 1949 Olds 88 with a Rocket V8 engine. Owner John Perkins of Rochester, MI, did the driving honors. He's a retired GM designer who bought the vintage car in 1987 from a man who stored it in a barn in Lexington, KY.

This year's pace car was an Olds Bravada — the first time an SUV did the pacing duties at Indy. And the last time an Olds will.

It's still hard for many people that Oldsmobile soon will — as Mr. Buenz puts it — “stop doing business in this great country.”

“For the life of me, I can't understand the decision to end Oldsmobile,” says George Nahas of George Nahas Oldsmobile in Tavares, FL.

I've yet to meet a single-point Olds dealer who isn't holding out hope of getting another GM franchise.

One dealer tells me he's hopeful because he's very involved in his state's dealer association activities — and he'd seek a Hyundai franchise if GM doesn't replace his franchise itself.

Another dealership manager says he's got his fingers crossed for another franchise because the dealer principal is a friend of Darwin Clark, the GM executive who's overseeing the Olds dealership transition plan.

GM Vice President John Middlebrook tells me that the automaker will offer alternate franchises to Olds dealers “where it makes sense and if the dealer has a good track record.”

What franchises might GM offer in place of Oldsmobile? Mr. Middlebrook says there are “opportunities” with Saturn and Hummer (although the latter is expected to sell only 30,000-40,000 units a year compared to Olds' selling nearly 300,000).

He adds, “We won't be able to find new franchises for all the Olds dealers. But we'll handle a number of them that way.”


Steve Finlay is editor of Ward's Dealer Business. His e-mail address is: sfinlay@intertec.com