Living Big, Giving Bigger

Over more than 20 years of friendship, our shared adventures were peppered with his trademark gestures of kindness. Wherever we went together, he made friends.

On weekends we’d motorcycle together, and sometimes take off for weeks biking across North America and down into Baja. When we needed gas, he transformed routine fill-up stops into a personalized pit crew experience for me, always insisting on getting off his bike first, pumping gas into my motorcycle so I didn’t have to climb off, put down the kickstand, take off my helmet and do it myself.

He literally blocked me from putting my own credit card in the pump so he could cover the cost. Once my bike was full of gas and ready to go, he’d offer to get down on his knees on the dirty concrete to check the air in my tires. After all, he’d say, “Greg, riding with low tires is how you end up on the ground instead of on your tires.”

When we needed gas, I’d try to get to the pump first and do the same for him, but on those rare occasions when I did, he graciously accepted it, but I felt like I’d robbed him of his greatest joy… giving.

His larger-than-life personality wasn’t confined to our cross-country motorcycle rides; it extended to breakfast tables and restaurants. He’d playfully steal pancakes from your plate, only to insist on settling the tab. In restaurants, he’d effortlessly walk around, introducing himself to patrons, using his magnetic charm to turn strangers into friends… instantly.

Who is this man I hold in such high esteem? His name is Tex Earnhardt, and if you missed knowing Tex, you missed watching a man who defined living big and giving bigger.

Since his passing in 2020, I’ve written an article about Tex each December in the hope he won’t be forgotten. December 9th would have been Tex’s 93rd birthday.

Sadly, Tex departed us in April of 2020, during Covid, a time when it was impossible to honor him appropriately. I made up my mind to do so each year, not just because of his contributions to my life, but because of the difference he made for those around him.

Tex Earnhardt exemplified the pinnacle of what I aspire to be as a human being. He defined the art of living big while giving bigger.

Tex is known in his home state of Arizona as an incredibly successful entrepreneur, a former bull rider who bought a tiny Ford dealership in 1951 and built it into an automobile empire. It’s only right that Tex’s son and grandkids are now managing this mega-business, Earnhardt Auto Centers, comprising, as I believe, 17 dealerships offering 15 different brands of cars.

Despite the wealth that afforded Tex the ability to acquire anything he could imagine, he remained grounded, driving Ford trucks, and occasionally a used car trade-in that intrigued him. He resided in the same lovely but conservative home for over 30 years.

While Tex became somewhat of a celebrity in Arizona through his iconic TV commercials, he never let fame go to his head. He once shared with me that true importance came from making others feel important – a principle he lived by and genuinely believed in.

Even in unconventional situations, Tex showcased his unique approach to friendship. When I asked him to be a reference for my application to the Arizona Bar, he hand wrote one bold statement over the many pages of questions about me: “I’d trust Greg with my wallet and my wife.” The admittance staff later told me it was the “most memorable recommendation” they had ever received.

In a reflective moment of life and legacy, Tex’s words to me were as succinct as they were profound: “How much can I do for how many?” His legacy wasn’t just about financial success. Tex’s automotive empire was built on a foundation of caring about every customer and seeing them as valued friends.

Every year, Tex’s December birthday serves as a poignant reminder to me of the incredible heart he brought into the world. In the words of Henry Ford, “My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.” Like my wife Teresa does for me now, Tex brought out the best in me back then.

I hope this glimpse into Tex’s life philosophy is a reminder to those who knew him, and an inspiration to those who did not. Tex’s body may be gone, but his spirit lives on as an eternal reminder for each of us to continue “Living Big and Giving Bigger.”