Fire Injuries Take Long-Time Auto Journalist/Car Collector
by Walter R. Haessner
Sacramento, Calif., January 25, 2004: William L. Finefrock died at 5:15 PM of injuries sustained in a garage fire Thursday night, January 22. At home when he smelled smoke coming from the garage, Bill opened the garage to find a fire which engulfed him. He ran to his neighbor next door, Doug Chandler, who put the fire out and called 911. Bill was airlifted from his home in Auburn, California to the very highly regarded Burn Unit at Univ. of Calif. Davis, in Sacramento. Burns covered his back, face and head. His lungs became infected from the burns, and his body gradually failed. Friend and business associate John Sweeney spent much time with Bill and kept us informed of his condition until the end while close friend and neighbor Carl Thornton handled insurance and personal details.
Well-known as an auto journalist in the 1960s through the mid '80s, particularly for his involvement with Competition Press and AutoWeek (now AutoWeek, part of Crain Communications), Finefrock devoted most of the past 20 years to his car collector activities, including displays at the San Francisco Auto Show and as proprietor of the Reno Swap Meet. An avid historian, he was frequently called upon by today's auto writers as a prime resource.
Highly respected by many throughout the automotive world, Bill will be missed for his cheerful, easy-going manner, joie de vivre, professionally-produced productions, and willingness to share his knowledge and love of the automobile.
Bill was born November 8, 1930 in Alliance, Ohio. In his early childhood he moved with his mother, Kay (Kathleen) Matticks and step-father to Port Angeles, Washington, where he subsequently graduated from high school. Bill returned to Ohio to attend Antioch College in Yellow Springs, graduating with a B.A. in English/Journalism.
After graduation, he worked as a police reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio. August 20, 1953, he entered the U.S. Army and was assigned to Stars & Stripes, Asian Edition, in Japan. Bill rose to the grade of Tech Sergeant; he was released from active duty June 2, 1955 and continued to serve in the Army Reserve.
Upon release from the Army, Bill settled in San Francisco, Calif., eventually setting up shop as an advertising/marketing firm known as Finefrock, Goebel and Bice. Among the firm's accounts were the San Francisco-area SCCA, for which they did the SCCA event programs; and Qvale import car distributors.
The company moved more heavily into publishing with the acquisition of a weekly newspaper from Road & Track magazine. Jim Crow was editor at the time Competition Press & AutoWeek was purchased. Finefrock, Goebel and Bice moved to Walnut Creek, Calif., with this new enterprise. Bill was editor; Russ Goebel was publisher. Bill and Russ bought out Bice's interest, and eventually Goebel bought out Bill's interest.
While editor of Competition Press and AutoWeek, Bill hired the late Leon Mandel, who went on to become editor and publisher of what is now AutoWeek.
Always the entrepreneur, Bill took on another publication, Women's Sport. His editor was Sally Ride, who went on to become a NASA astronaut.
For awhile, Bill published the SCCA's national member magazine, Sports Car. During this period, circa 1970, he and Walter R Haessner worked together to publish race programs for the Can-Am, Trans-Am and Continental 5000 SCCA events nationwide.
Later, Bill tried his hand at general newspaper publishing. He bought a paper in Dillon, Montana; with a human population of about 200, Bill tried diligently to teach the 20,000 members of the four-footed population to read, but to no avail. After a couple of years, he returned to California to thaw out.
Bill's last publishing involvement was Coast Car Collector, which he produced for several years in the mid-'80s.
Always a car enthusiast, particularly for sports car racing and antique car collecting, Bill had numerous involvements in these types of activities. For several years, Bill participated in the San Francisco Auto Show, providing cars for the collector car display. During this period he also put on a number of swap meets in California, and eventually revitalized the Reno Swap Meet in Reno, Nev., which for years had been run by the late Bill Harrah. With the commencement of Hot August Nights in Reno, Bill moved the Reno Swap Meet dates to the same period. Bill personally ran the Reno Swap Meet until 1998, when he brought in John Sweeney as an associate to do the actual running of the event.
In 1996 Bill became actively involved with the International Automotive Media Awards, held first at the Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino and later at the SEMA Show, both in Las Vegas, Nev. Bill remained active in IAMA until it relocated to Sardi's in New York City in November, 2002, though he continued in an advisory capacity through the 2003 event.
Bill's last promotion was the La Conner Festival for collector boats and cars, held in the Fall of 2003 in La Conner, Wash.
Best known for his editorial, entrepreneurial and collector car interests, Bill also enjoyed remodeling houses--and bought, remodeled and sold several quite successfully. One of the first was in Placerville, Calif., where his mother lived and did business for many years. Others were in Santa Maria, Calif. (a multi-year, live-in project), and several in the Port Angeles-Sequim area in the state of Washington.
At the time of his passing, Bill owned four boats, harbored at the marina in Laconner; and three collector cars: a 1936 Cord convertible, '41 Cadillac convertible and '41 Lincoln convertible. He also owned a '97 Cadillac El Dorado and two pick-up trucks.
Bill's "family" was those three cars and his friends and acquaintances throughout the auto journalism and collector car arenas. He was a walking history book on the subject, and always willing to share that knowledge. Though there is no record of when or why Bill became an autophile, it appears to have been a life-long passion--one that may have caused his death. He was in the house when he smelled smoke, and it is thought he entered the garage to try and save his beloved cars. Bill was not married, had no children, and has no known heirs.
Therefore, if anyone wishes to make a donation in his name, it is suggested that donations be made to the Burn Unit, Univ. of Calif. Davis Medical Center, 2315 Stockton Blvd., Sacramento, Calif. 95817; or to the National Automotive Museum, Attn: Exec. Dir. Jackie Frady, The Harrah Collection, 10 Lake St. S., Reno, Nev. 89501.
As per his instructions, Bill Finefrock is to be cremated and his remains taken care of by the Nautical Society. A Celebration of Life is tentatively scheduled for February 21st at the Yacht Club at the Lake of the Pines, Auburn, Calif. Those wishing to attend, or to be kept up to date regarding this, are asked to contact Walter R Haessner at email@example.com so your e-mail address may be added to the register.