To our readers,

The COVID-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-century type story, ... Click here to continue

People Around Us

Service and cars bring Paxson family together

Father and son Tom and Brett Paxon love to tinker, work their car-fixing magic in own shop
By Zack Miller | Sep 04, 2020
Photo by: Zack Miller Brett Paxson, left, and his father, Tom.

Rockport — For the majority of their lives, Tom and Brett Paxson have dedicated their time to service, backed by honesty and the mentality to do the right thing.

The father and son work together at their shop, West Street Automotive, in Rockport, as second- and third-generation mechanics, fixing customer's cars, while also working on a special project of their own.

While Tom has been in the car-service industry 35 of his 55 years on earth, his youngest son, Brett, has 20 years of experience from the young age of seven, but a different form of service cemented itself in Brett's life out of high school, namely, the U.S. Marine Corps.

Service to nation

Brett was a part of the Marines for three years, and was deployed to Helmand Province in Afghanistan — as one of three dog-handlers in his company — from September 2013 to May 2014.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself [out of high school],” Brett said. "You don’t pull much out of infantry, but you learn a lot about yourself and how you handle things. I loved being [a dog handler]. [It was] a lot of thinking and it’s not easy. I don’t want to say I could tell people what to do, but the trust they had in me to ask me what to do. When I was on a foot patrol, I was almost always the first guy [into an area] watching the dogs for bombs.”

“That was the most anxiety-ridden time of my life,” Tom said. “I’d rather have been with him [over there] than have him be there and me here, but it was horrible.”

Brett — who calls Warren home — admits he saw plenty of “action” during his deployment, “almost every time we went out.”

“It was an eye-opening experience,” Brett said. “That’s why I don’t get into politics because people don’t understand how good we have it here. They have no idea. It really made me grow up. It was nerve-racking at first, then I got used to it. You can train all you want, but it’s not the same as when you are there and you have to do it.”

Grease and oil

The father and son co-workers have spent countless hours together at the shop over the course of the past five years.

Tom — who resides in Rockport with his wife, Susan — started the shop 10 years ago, after he moved to Maine when his wife wanted to move back home, since she is originally from Warren.

“From my experience, nobody wants to pay you what you are worth, so that was the motivation for this,” Tom said. “I was either going to start my own shop or I was going to go home [to Pennsylvania]. I was making $80,000 working at the Hyundai dealership in Pennsylvania, and was set to make $19,000 in Augusta [when I arrived in Maine].”

Tom spent two weeks at a Hyundai dealership in Augusta, before taking a job at VIP in Rockland, where he worked for two years as he got his business up and running, which did not employ Brett to start.

"I hired a few people before [Brett] was old enough to come in here and legally work, but I didn’t come across one that was qualified to do the things we do,” said Tom. “You need to be well-rounded. There’s more to this job than slapping [brake] pads on, and Brett understands that.”

Some people may not like to work with family for a variety of reasons, but Brett and Tom appreciate the time spent with one another.

“I drive him crazy,” Tom said. “It’s hard because my father did the same thing to me, even when I was 40 years old. It’s been good though. [Brett’s] brother [Ben] is a prime example. [Ben] is an engineer at Boeing in Seattle, and I see him once a year, maybe, and this guy here I see every day, and that to me is awesome, because you don’t always have that opportunity. I’ve learned that with his brother living in Seattle.

“I know I get on his nerves and he gets on my nerves. I think it would be worse as far as someone else getting on my nerves. Ninety-nine percent of the time we get along fabulous.”

“I like it,” Brett said. “There are not many people that can work with their dad and he teaches me a lot of stuff. It is tough sometimes though. A lot of [frustrations] are the stress of trying to get things done. I thought about going to a technical school, but there was no reason for doing that because half of the stuff he can teach me."

Special project

When not in the shop the two enjoy swapping a wrench for a fishing reel, while also fixing dirt bikes, which Brett races in the JDay Off Road series around New England.

“I was racing [Aug. 1-2] about 20 minutes west of Lewiston,” Brett said. “Half the track is in the woods, like Enduro, and the other half is on a motocross track. It’s about a three-mile loop.”

When in the shop, though, one may notice a dirt bike, or a car covered in the center bay, which looks like an ordinary car when given a quick glance, but fold back said cover and a surprise is in store.

The colors of blue, white and red are the first one sees of a 2010 Dale Earnhardt Jr. stock car — which retired from full-time racing in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2017 ——most of which is straight out of Hendrick Motorsport’s shop in Concord, N.C.

Tom, who also has a background in metal fabrication, says “it was more connections than an idea,” when it came to the car.

After a shop-warming present from a “good friend in Charlotte, N.C.,” Tom called back and asked his friend to "let him know" if anything General Motors became available.

“He called me back a month or two later and said he had one of Jr.’s 2010 cars,” Tom said. “The engine and transmission had been taken out, and the graphics ripped off it, and everything else is still in it. He told me I could buy the car the way it sits for $5,000, and I told him I’d send him a certified check and make arrangements to have someone pick it up and get it up here.”

With the car in hand, a father-and-son project to make the former stock car street legal has amassed 100-plus hours over the course of five years, and is still not yet complete.

“I waited for Brett to get back from Afghanistan before we built the motor, because it would be good practice for him,” said Tom. "One of the cool things is the parts that I’m missing I can fabricate.”

Brett and Tom have since rebuilt the motor and transmission from scratch, but Dale Jr.’s original seat needs to be removed, and another seat installed on the “passenger” side, which are among a few of the modifications remaining.

“It was a bummer this winter because we had all the time in the world, but we didn’t have the money,” Tom said. “Now we have some money, but no time.”

No time on their hands is due, in part, to their service to customer’s cars, but one day soon perhaps one will be able to see this father and son burning rubber and cruising down the Midcoast roads in a piece of racing history.

Pictured is the rebuilt engine to the 2010 Dale Earnhardt Jr. stock car Tom and Brett Paxson are making street legal. (Photo by: Zack Miller)
The rebuilt engine to the 2010 Dale Earnhardt Jr. stock car Tom and Brett Paxson are making street legal. (Photo by: Zack Miller)
The rebuilt engine to the 2010 Dale Earnhardt Jr. stock car Tom and Brett Paxson are making street legal. (Photo by: Zack Miller)
The driver's seat to the 2010 Dale Earnhardt Jr. stock car. (Photo by: Zack Miller)
Brett and Tom Paxson are rebuilding the 2010 Dale Earnhardt Jr. stock car to make it street legal. (Photo by: Zack Miller)
Brett and Tom Paxson are rebuilding the 2010 Dale Earnhardt Jr. stock car to make it street legal. (Photo by: Zack Miller)
Brett and Tom Paxson are rebuilding the 2010 Dale Earnhardt Jr. stock car to make it street legal. (Photo by: Zack Miller)
If you appreciated reading this news story and want to support local journalism, consider subscribing today.
Call (207) 594-4401 or join online at
Donate directly to keeping quality journalism alive at
Comments (1)
Posted by: Jack Lane | Sep 05, 2020 07:18

Two very competent and professional mechanics. Thanks for your dedication and good work!

If you wish to comment, please login.