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Petaluma’s Art Azevedo, putting the pedal to the metal

Harlan Osborne
Harlan Osborne

When operating a motor vehicle, one of the last things you want to see in your rear-view mirror is a red light. Another unwelcome sight — albeit less alarming but potentially more problematic — is the sudden appearance of the mysterious "check engine" light glowing from your dashboard.

The light can provoke instant anxiety, and the problem can range from minor to extremely costly. But there's no easy way to know without consulting a technician, who’ll plug a computer into your vehicle to analyze it. Long-gone are the days when a mechanic could simply lift the hood and point to the problem, or make an educated guess by the sound of the engine.

Today's mechanics and technicians — tasked with interpreting a wide range of electronic, computerized and mechanical woes in our vehicles — possess diagnostic skills unheard of just a few years ago. The layman with a toolbox full of wrenches and knowledge, gained in an auto shop class 40 years ago, is obsolete.

"You've got to keep up with technology, it's always evolving," said Art Azevedo, of A&A Automotive. He grew up learning the old-school methods of auto mechanics and continues studying to learn about today's sophisticated solutions. "We're constantly taking classes and seminars, while updating and buying new equipment.”

While online updates and tutoring keep modern mechanics current, there’s nothing like a lifetime of experience to help solve problems. Growing up on the edge of Petaluma’s city limits, Azevedo could have chosen a career from any of the many jobs he learned in his early years.

He was 6 years old when he moved, his parents, Art and Emilia Azevedo and four older sisters, moved to the 7-acre rural property where his father, a heavy equipment operator by trade and deputized member of the Marin County sheriff's posse, raised, boarded and trained Palomino horses for the sheriff's search and rescue team.

Helping his father feed and care for the horses led Art to his first job at the neighboring Smithwick ranch, where the Smithwick’s raised donkeys for donkey basketball and softball entertainment events. He joined the Cinnabar 4-H and Future Farmers of America and enrolled in every agriculture and shop class at Kenilworth Junior High. By the time he graduated from Petaluma High in 1975, he’d taken every one.

“I took all the shop classes. Whatever Bill King taught, I took,” Art said. “Our Farm Power team would get work experience by going to ranches and fixing equipment. We were so prepared right out of high school, we immediately got jobs. Ultimately, that’s what I did for a living.”

As a youngster, he also veered into racing, beginning on the dirt racetrack his father, a former motorcycle racer, carved into their back field.

“I was tired of horses. They weren’t fast enough,” said Azevedo. “I was into mini-bikes and go-karts. My neighbor, Richie Potts, a charter member of the Petaluma Kart Club, got me started racing at the kart track. Right out of high school I got a job at Petaluma Auto Dismantlers, owned by Ed Potts, where I not only learned how to take things apart, I learned how to put them back together. There’s nothing like a hands-on education.”

After marrying his wife Donna, in 1978, Art had to make a choice between working at the wrecking yard, or starting out on his own.

“At the urging of my father-in-law, Joe Nunes, I started A&A Mobile Auto Repair,” he said. “I had an old Chevy pickup with a toolbox and an air compressor in the back and I’d go to ranches. It was all word-of-mouth. It helped me get my name out there.”

Art and Donna, with sons Brian and Michael, moved to their own rural property in 1986, where they built a new home and a workshop. Although most of his repair work was mobile, truck and tractor repairs, the workshop added another dimension. By 1997, with ranch work fading away, Art decided to open a brick-and-mortar repair shop.

“We’ve never needed to advertise, word-of-mouth works so much better,” he said. “I’m now serving grandchildren of longtime customers. That’s when you know you’re getting old.”

Along with operating his automotive business, Azevedo, who raised and showed sheep in high school, ventured into the purebred sheep and market lamb business.

“Around 1992, we bought a flock of 150 Dorset ewes,” he said. “My son Brian showed Dorsets and Michael showed Hampshires. Brian had the grand champion market lamb at the Sonoma County Fair in 2002 and Michael, the service manager at Hansel Honda, won FFA reserve grand champion market lamb in 2004. We were a family showing two different flocks. It was a big deal and quite an undertaking. We raised market lambs for 4-H and FFA high school kids to show. It was a family business. When we weren’t racing, we were showing sheep.”

Bitten by the racing bug as a kid, Art delved into many forms of the popular sport, including motorcycle motocross and flat track racing, dirt track and asphalt modifieds, BCRA midgets and sprint cars. In 2005, Brian was named Petaluma Speedway’s sprint car division rookie-of-the-year and at 20, its youngest-ever champion, a record that’s been broken since.

Brian worked as an operating engineer before joining his father in 2010. He concentrates on heavy-equipment, while Art focuses on automobile technology. When they’re not otherwise occupied, father and son perform restoration work on custom cars and hot rods.

It should be no surprise he’s on the board of Cruisin’ the Boulevard, especially when he says, “My favorite is working on high-performance cars and hot rods. It’s like the best of both worlds.”

(Harlan Osborne’s “Toolin’ Around Town” runs every other week in the Argus-Courier. You can reach Harlan at harlan@sonic.net)

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