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Barbara Terry interview with Dan O’Brien

Dan 0′ Brien is a three-time world champion and gold medal Olympic dec athlete. How many people could com­pete in so many events -10-10 track and field events…to be able to finish them, let alone beat everybody in the world at the 100-meter run, the long jump, shot put, javelin toss events and so forth ? How much energy must a guy like Dan O’Brien possess, how much drive?

So, what was your first car?

My first car was a beat-up B210, when I was in 11th grade. I got it for $500.

What color was it?

It was primer gray.

So, it was obviously used when you got it. How many miles did it have on it?

You know what, I don’t even remember. But it was really old and beat-up. I do remember I sold it when I went off to college. I had that car in high school, but I didn’t drive it a whole bunch. I had a buddy that knew this girl that had a convertible. We drove around all the time. My car was just kind of a rig that I would use when I didn’t get a ride from somebody else. And it was amazing, I sold it for more money than I got it for when I went off to college a couple years later.

Wow. It sounds like you were a kind of car wholesaler.

Well, you know what? I lived in an apartment complex before I went to college and there were a couple of girls that borrowed my car all the time. Finally, I said, ‘You know what? I’m leaving in a couple of months and it’s yours if you wanna buy it.’ I had a couple people that wanted it and I sold it to the highest bidder.

Where do you think that truck is now?

Oh, you know it’s gotta be in the scrap someplace.

All right so what’s your favorite car, or dream car, if you don’t already have it? What would that car be and do you think that you’ll ever buy that car?

Absolutely, and I do believe I will actually own that car at some point. But the car that always catches my eye, that always stands out, is the E55, the Mercedes E55. They’re sports sedans, top-of-the-line sports sedans.

Do you think you’ll ever pull the trigger on the Mercedes?

You know, I’m actually looking around right now and I like the older Mercedes. They offer a little bit more room inside. I owned a C Class – I owned two C Classes – in the ’90s that were actually World Championship awards. A Mercedes with an IAAF Track and Field sponsor in the ’90s, and I won a C Class Mercedes in 1993 and then another one in 1995. So I owned a C Class Mercedes, you know, for many years. I got rid of those, and I got my wife a car. I’m sure that I’ll get my E-Koff at some point. It’s interesting, I always look for a carthat’s a couple years old. I’m kind of stuck in the old models. I like the old European, where it’s really, really roomy inside.

What color combination Mercedes are you going to buy?

You know, I like the traditional black exterior with the tan interior. I also like the silver and white in the desert. It hides the dirt better, if you’re always clean­ing your cars. Leather’s a little bit more tough to han­dle in this heat, but I don’t know. I think it’s probably gonna be the black or silver.

Okay, I guess living in the desert area, you have to change the batteries a little more often.

Yeah, you do. It’s really interesting. I lived in the Northwest my entire life until about 2002 and it didn’t seem like you had to really pay that much attention to the service on your vehicle. Every 3,000 miles, 2,000 miles, you get your oil changed. But your tires seem to last a lot longer, your bat­teries seem to last a lot longer. Here, I’ve moved down to the desert where, in five years, I’ve changed my battery, I’ve had to get a new windshield. You really gotta keep up on the maintenance of your vehicle just because of the toll the hot weather takes on the car.

Yep, and with the air filter, you’ve gotta change it every 3000 miles, 10,000 miles because of the dust.

Absolutely. And when I moved down here, my car had to go through an emissions test. I’ve never really had to do that.

Can you drive a stick shift?

Absolutely. Yeah, I learned how to drive a stick shift when I was just in high school, when I was just learning to drive. We had about a 20-acre farm and it was important that I, even at age 14 or 15, knew how to drive a car. My uncle had a Volkswagen Bug that he made into kind of a beach dune buggy, and he used to let me drive when we got out into the country. That’s how I learned.

Sounds fun. How old were you when you got your driver’s license?

I was 16, and I think I failed the first time.

The classroom part or the driving part?

The classroom part. But I remember I took my driver’s test in a stick shift.

Oh really?

And I remember I stopped on a pretty decent incline of a hill one time and had to gun it pretty good. But I can remember, it was like a little Toyota pick-up that I took my driver’s test in.

So, funny stories? Like any bad mishaps?

Actually, there is an interesting story. I told you about my friend…he always had a convertible, whether it was a V-8 or an MG. His name was Don and he and I were best friends. We were such good friends that people could’ve mistaken us for each other; we looked alike and hung out together all the time. But he had an MG – a ’78 MG – where, instead of the lug nuts, he had one big bolt in the middle and you could screw off the bolt and you could pull the whole tire off. I remember driving down the road one night and, all of a sudden, the back right half of the car clunks down,

sparks are coming out the back and we’re going 45,50 miles per hour, and we see this tire pass us on the right side. The tire had come undone on that side. The big locking nut in the middle had come undone and the tire had come right off. We’ve got a big rooster of sparks coming off the backside and we see this tire just go past us on the right side. It’s at night, and it looks fantastic with the sparks and everything. So, the tire goes down into the ditch and I’ll bet that tire went a mile into a field. We had to go find this tire in the mid­dle of the night, jack it up and put it back on. That little MG, we just put it through so much. But it was a real­ly strange little car. It was always in the shop. We were always working on it or something. But I haven’t been in any major accidents. Not any mishaps too major, anyway.

What has been the most interesting thing you’ve done in a car?

The most interesting thing.J’ve done a lot of driving, I will say that. Actually, my dad, when we were growing up, bought a, instead of a motor home, he bought a converted school bus. Somebody had converted a pretty good-sized school bus into a camper and it had a woodburning stove in it. It held, like, six or eight peo­ple and we had a pretty large family growing up, and we took this bus. It was white and green. We took this bus everywhere. We went camping in it, we took it to southern Oregon, clear down to L.A., up to Disney World, into Disney Land in Magic Mountain. We real­ly lived in this thing. My dad worked for warehousing in Oregon and there were even times when he would take it out on his work station for the weekend and work for four or five days in one area, and he would live in this. As kids, my brother and I used to go with him and live in this converted school bus. It was real­ly big, and we had a lot we took in there. Now that I think about it, man, I don’t remember growing up being a hippie, but I guess we had this hippie bus.

All right, what are your thoughts on owning versus leasing a car?

I always own my vehicles. Always. I’ve always tried to figure out why people lease and what the benefits to that are, and I’ve always been brought up with the mindset that, if you can’t afford to buy it, then don’t.

Buy the thing so you don’t have to make payments on it. That’s the financial advice that I’ve gotten from the people around me. I thought about leasing a vehicle and I asked a lot of questions. I know people that own car dealerships and I know people that have done both. There never seems to be a standard answer. It seems like it’s different for everybody, and I’m still try­ing to figure that one out.

Well, I think a lot of people are told that they can write off their payments when they lease more, but if you drive your car to or from work and you own your car, then you can do the same.

That’s interesting. I’ve always owned my vehicles, but I’ve been on a leasing program as an athlete – a professional athlete – where I would do a deal with a local Chevy deal­er or some Pontiac dealer and I would get a car to drive for the season or the year. Pretty handy to trade that car in every 4,000 miles or 9,000 miles and get to drive a new one. I enjoy that, but there was always that kind of underlying idea that, This isn’t my car’ so you treated them in the sense that, ‘No, that’s not my car.’ When you’re leasing a car, you watch how you treat it and watch where you park and the kind of stress that you put your car through. I remember, when I first got my first Mercedes, I wanted to cover it up and keep it hidden away because I didn’t want anything bad to happen to it So you really have to treat the car differently when you lease them.

other cars in the past you’ve had leases on cars – but how do you think that affected your decision in cars?

I’ve always just been kind of practical when it comes to cars. I want the thing to be comfortable, clean, I wanna go out and just know that it’s going to start up every day. Even when I didn’t have much money. I’ve tried to take care of my cars. People have gotten into my cars and said, ‘Gosh your car’s clean.’ I don’t go really overboard with cleaning my car. It’s kind of part of ownership with me because I like a clean car so that I can have anyone in it at any time and not think, ‘Oh, my car’s dirty and I don’t want to drive it.’ It’s about practicality. I don’t put big, fat tires on my trucks or big, crazy rims or extravagant paint jobs. I like a good sound system in my car, and I usually just go with however I buy the vehicle. I usually just keep it that way. I have never spent an abhorent amount on changing the look of my exterior of my car. I’ve put a step-aside on my Land Cruiser because it had an option.

What kind of music do you listen to when you’re driving?

I’m very odd. I’ve been told by many people – people not even my own age, kids that I coach – that I have a very wide range of musical tastes. The kind of music that I lis­ten to? I actually listen to a lot of talk radio when I’m driv­ing in the car. I listen to the Adam Carolla show, I listen to Howard Stern, ESPN radio, and just this last year. I’ve been listening to a lot of political discussions on the radio, and I listen to some local guys here in Phoenix. It seems that that’s where I get the majority of my flavor when I’m driving in the car. The kind of music that I listen to is, I like classic rock and roll and R&B. The only bad thing about the radio is that you get the same pop music or same R&B over and over and over again, so I change the channel constantly. But on Saturdays and Sundays, especially dur­ing football, I’m always trying to find a football game.

What do you currently drive?

I drive a ’97 Toyota Land Cruiser, with 70,000 miles.

And that’s actually the one we’re going to do the photo shoot with?

Yup. And that’s a pretty cool car. I bought that car in ’97 and, at the time, it was my largest single purchase. I wrote that check and thought ‘wow’ because I’d never written a check so large for anything, ever. I put it in the garage and I drove a leased car with a local car company that I did a trade-out for a commercial, and my Land Cruiser sat in the garage for a couple of years. So, when I brought it here to Arizona in 2002, it had 30,000 miles on it and it was six years old.

How fast have you driven in a car?

I think I’ve gone 110,115 with a friend of mine that owns a Bentley.

Let’s say, if you would’ve not become an athlete – obvi­ously you’ve chosen a ’97 Land Cruiser and you’ve had been very practical. Saying that, if I still lived in Oregon, where I grew up, I probably would’ve gotten into a Ford F-150. If I lived in California, I would’ve had a car because you do so much more driving there. I like driving on the freeway a lot, I like seeing where I’m going. With the gas mileage, it’s kind of hurting me right now. But, for me, it’s a technicality. My all-time favorite car that I had in the mid ’90s was a Toyota Camry. It was a six-cylinder, it went fast, it went tight, the driving went tight, it was clean. I put my Mercedes in the garage and drove my Camry on a daily basis.

Dan was enthusiastic, to say the least. We thought, on the way to meet him, that he had to be high-energy, but the man we met, the guy that beat the world at track and field in 1996 when he won the gold in Atlanta, was far more energetic than even we conceived. I suppose, as a decath- lete, you learn wasting time is wasting possible success. Dan was gracious and infectious, excited to be part of the book, and he wanted to get the whole process going.

Dan gave Catherine and I more material than we could have asked for. He gave us action shots – jumping hurdles, throwing his javelin, running the bleachers, sweating his tail off – and he graciously gave us pictures of his Land Cruiser.

So, how many Gold medalists are this cool. It takes some energy to enter the 10 events in the decathlon – running, jumping, throwing, let alone to be the very best on the whole planet at it I He was a joy to be around, and we had a great time at the University of Arizona with him. If the stu­dents that he teaches get half the energy we got, they’re lucky kids.


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