Eric Rychener strikes a confident pose with his 1967 Pontiac LeMans, which he transformed into a GTO model .
PETTISVILLE, Ohio - There's a smell of burnt rubber in the air as Eric Rychener pulls his 1967 Pontiac GTO into the driveway.
With the convertible top down and white paint gleaming, the muscle car has roared down Fulton County roads lined with corn fields before - showing off with a burnout at the end of the ride. The rear wheels spin with gusto, heating the tires enough to push thick, white smoke into the air.
"My friend says it's a neck-breaking car," Mr. Rychener said. "Turning as you go by, somebody almost breaks their neck to look at it."
The 22-year-old and his neck-breaking car received national attention earlier this month at the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association Nationals in Columbus. Mr. Rychener won the Young Guys award for contestants under 25.
"When I started seeing some of them come in I didn't think mine would compare," he said. "When you look at something that's yours, you know all its flaws."
When Mr. Rychener bought the car as a senior in high school, it was a 1967 LeMans. In the years since, he has torn it completely apart and put it back together again himself, with modifications to make it a GTO.
His photo album chronicles the car's story, from building the engine to welding the frame to putting together the wiring and beyond, all done in the evenings after school and work.
Eric Rychener of Pettisville cruises the Fulton County countryside behind the wheel of his car.
"I built this machine," he said proudly. "We think one of the helpful reasons that I won down at Good Guys was that book. I had proof that I did all this myself."
Mr. Rychener said he's been to about a dozen shows since he started showing in May, 2005. He got into the scene through his uncle, Bob Rupp, who owns several cars of his own.
The uncle and nephew have actually competed against each other at shows, but Mr. Rupp said it's all in good fun. "There's no problems if he wins and I don't or if I win and he doesn't, and that's the way it should be," Mr. Rupp said.
The two go back and forth between cars and houses, helping each other out.
"He'd usually ask me when he had a problem with wiring," Mr. Rupp said. "One I'm working on now, he's doing most of the welding. When it comes to the tough stuff, I let him do it - he can do it better than I can."
Mr. Rychener graduated from Owens Community College in May with a degree in welding. During the day he works for Custom Agri Systems in Napoleon, but in the evenings he continues to work with cars - both his own and those belonging to others.
"He's always open for someone to drive on into his shed," said his mother, Marilyn Rychener.
Mr. Rychener said he loves old cars for their uniqueness.
"Part of it's the attention," he said. "Everyone here knows me, but if we go to Wauseon or something I'll see faces pressed up against the [car] windows."
The uniqueness of his particular car might best be expressed through its license plates, which read, "MY 67 GTO." Mr. Rychener said he chose that line as a theme for the vehicle because his '67 GTO is unlike any other.
"I built it how I like it, not how everybody else would have it," he said.
Contact Carin Yavorcik at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 491-724-6050.
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