Two for the Road Father and Son, Gary and Benjamin Francis
Being a biker is all about brotherhood, and in this case, fatherhood. As we celebrate Father’s Day this month, we tip our hat to an inspiring duo in the form of Gary and Ben Francis of Winter Haven, Florida. This father and son team have an incredible relationship, and as you’ll see, they have each taught the other many amazing things in life. Things that they can happily share.
Gary rode dirt bikes as a kid growing up and now owns a Honda 250R and a Goldwing. His son Benjamin was only four or five years old when he threw a leg over his first motorcycle. He started with an electric minibike and that led to a Honda 80XR, then a 150R and a 125 two stroke. “Ben actually got me more into bikes,” Gary recalls. But looking back in time, Gary had always been into mechanical things.
Growing up in Boston, Gary’s father was a CPA with five children. Then one day he up and moved the whole family to Florida, where the weather is perfect, and traded his CPA job for a completely different business, opening up a Tailor-Rental Shop. Gary grew up around all kinds of cool mechanical things in that shop as they rented out just about everything.
“My dad hired several really talented mechanics,” Gary tells us. “One was an expert Harley mechanic and another was an aircraft technician. They taught me a lot about how things go together.” Gary loved mechanic stuff and enjoyed taking things apart and putting them back together, better than new.
“My dad hired the best mechanics he could find,” Gary remembers. “Larry Kasiba was a trained Harley mechanic. Dennis Cargil was a certified Yamaha shop and race team mechanic. Joe Ray was an FAA-certified aircraft mechanic with over 40 years of experience keeping airplanes in the sky. They were beyond the best ever teachers, mentors and best friends any mechanically enthralled kid could ever imagine to have.”
At age twelve, Gary took apart a motor that had been in an old Ford Courier delivery van and completely rebuilt it. He says that van was later turned into a custom that was hot rodded around for years, still burning rubber with the motor he rebuilt in it.
Gary was into computers in college and in 1999 he created a program for a friend who was a tax collector. The Internet was just getting started and Gary found a way to develop a program that allowed people to pay the government online. All payments could be taken over the Internet for the first time. Gary is also a pilot and flew all over Florida, showing tax collectors how the program worked. The venture turned into quite a successful company and Gary sold it back in 2006 when he got an offer he couldn’t refuse.
After traveling and seeing the world for a few years, Gary got involved with the Tailwheels Etc. Flight School and took that company from three to over 30 planes, training pilots all over the world. Gary even had a cool place for pilots-in-training to stay while getting their training in. “I started up a place called the Aviation Inn that had 16 rooms and a condo that we rented to would-be pilots,” Gary tells us. “Aviation Inn received $500 average per person, per 16 rooms per week. It was the most fun $500 per week vacation and training you could ever have imagined.” Most people got their pilot’s license in two to three weeks.
“About then, my cousin Jerry wanted to retire from 30 years with Publix and we had the idea to create an indoor farmer’s market,” Gary says. “We started My Farmer’s Mart and that eventually became Treasure Mart. To get things started, we leased an old Winn-Dixie grocery store building and converted it into an indoor rental space for vendors to sell stuff.” Gary created the computer program to track all the merchandise and keep it all together. Treasure Marts was born. This quickly grew to five successful stores.
“Then about two years ago, we heard that the Wildwood Antique Mall business was in, through, and getting out of bankruptcy,” Gary says. “We turned three of those into successful concerns.”
Like father, like son, Ben learned his love of all things mechanical from his father and he can fix or repair pretty much anything. Ben and Gary recently rebuilt a 8.2-liter V8 GM motor in a 27-foot Baja race boat! The father and son enjoy doing a lot of cool projects together, taking the motor apart, cleaned it all up and brought it to United Speed World Engines. “We polished the crank to perfection, Gary laughs. “Then they reassembled the crank, rod and pistons. Ben and I finished the job by putting on the heads, oil pan, wire brushed and painted it.”
Another thing this father and son team enjoy is motorcycles. Ben is currently 16 years old and got himself a job learning to be a mechanic on boats and bikes at Barney’s Powersports Superstore. “Ben is an incredible rider,” Gary confides. “He learned a long time ago to ride with agility.”
When Ben first started riding we had a game to see who could go the slowest. We would especially practice in the thickest sand we could find. Ultimately, knowing how to go slow is the best way to know how to go the fastest. Interesting how that works with everything in life, huh?
While Ben enjoys riding and racing motocross, Gary is happy on his Goldwing and riding trails on his Honda 250R with Ben. “Ben of course talked me into a 250R instead of a 250F,” Gary says. “He explained that the 250R has better suspension, more power and is much more responsive. I’ve come to agree with Ben.”
The love they share for motorcycles and building stuff will never die. Happy Father’s Day, Gary. We hope you and Ben get out for a ride together on that special day.