Tex Earnhardt, one of the most recognized personalities in the Southwest and biggest dealers in the world, celebrated 50 years in the auto business last month.

The founder of Earnhardt Auto Centers grew up in southern Texas. He was a professional rodeo cowboy. At age 20, he moved with his family to Arizona where, in 1951, he started a service station with his father. They soon opened a Ford dealership in Chandler.

He recalls the dealership sold one car at a time — literally. That's because he and his father could only afford to stock one at a time.

Today, with sons Hal and Jim Babe, Tex Earnhardt runs an automotive retailing empire that did over $1 billion in sales last year and employs 2,000 people. Selling 10 different brands in five Arizona cities, the Earnhardt firm moves more than 32,000 vehicles a year.

“The harder you work, the luckier you get,” Mr. Earnhardt says of his success.

He's a participant and financial supporter in several children's causes. Those include the East Valley Boys and Girls Club, Child Crisis Center, Make a Wish Foundation and Head Start.

And at age 70, he still participates in rodeos. He recently won first runner-up in a calf-roping competition.