Donnie Crevier: Vintage Cars and Fast Horses

In a vast cavern of a building like an aircraft-hanger just a tad more than a stone’s throw from Newport Beach is a sparkling chrome vista that would set any motorhead’s heart a flutter. This waltz through recent history takes you from a sturdy-looking 1931 Ford Model A to a plushly upholstered 1948 Hudson Commodore to a 1956 Ford Thunderbird Convertible the color of a brightly polished London bus, and onwards.

The oldest, most venerable member of the gang is an open-topped 1911 Hudson Speedster—a throw-back to a bygone era of over-sized motor-goggles and Ahooga horns and white scarves fluttering in the wind. Among the rarest is a ’42 Hudson Super Six Wagon—one of only a few surviving “Woodies.”

This 1911 Hudson Speedster is offered at $100,000. It is one of only three known models, and escaped confiscation in World War I | Crevier Motors photo

This gleaming sea of combustion engine antiquity falls under the banner of Crevier Classic Cars, owned and founded by the eponymous Donnie Crevier, one of those silver-peaked coastal-kept California septuagenarians who for decades has remained tanned and trim out on the waves, and an old-fashioned people person, you might say.

“We have some of the nicest people in any industry representing us, and it makes all the difference,” said Crevier, 75, about his broad Crevier car empire familiar to many a BMW owner in this particular slice of Southern California (more on this in a bit). “I want character—people who care about people.”

We were perched in his office, the wall of clear Perspex between us a ubiquitous reminder that these are anything but normal times. Similarly clear is that the niche universe of vintage motors is an apt amalgam of Crevier’s approach to racehorse ownership.

He’s been in the sport since 1988, on and off. Never a big-time player. More a horse here, a leg there. And yet, the collector’s eye evidently extends to all sorts of horsepower. His first graded stakes winner was the Tim Yakteen trained Bench Points, the precocious son of Benchmark who landed the GIII Lazaro Barrera S. at Hollywood Park after picking up a brace of listed victories at two.

Cornier (blue jacket, holding the trophy) after Points Offthebench’s Bing Crosby victory at Del Mar | Benoit photo

Then along came full brother Points Offthebench, who in the summer and fall of 2013 showed enough when winning the GI Bing Crosby S. at Del Mar and then the GI Santa Anita Sprint Championship S. to warrant a leading chance in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint, only for fatal injury to intervene on the eve of the contest. Bittersweet compensation came at the following Eclipse Awards, when Points Offthebench was posthumously awarded Champion Sprinter.

Crevier’s latest runner with an oh-so-smooth engine is the 7-year-old mare Cordiality, who Yakteen claimed out of the Peter Miller barn in February of last year. Since then, Cordiality has won half of her four starts, both of them listed contests, including the Osunitas Stakes at Del Mar earlier on this meet.

Similarly clear is that Crevier’s sanguine approach to business isn’t confined to the job. “He’s a very positive person—you’ve got to love that,” said Tim Yakteen, Crevier’s long-time trainer.

“I feel lucky to train for him—he makes my life easy,” Yakteen added, before pointing to his owner’s much-decorated philanthropic work helping underserved children—a product of a tale ripped straight from the pages of Horatio Alger.

The Crevier Classic Cars showroom | Crevier Classic Cars photo

“I grew up poor,” said Crevier, matter-of-factly. “That’s my whole deal. I do a lot of work with inner-city kids. I tell them, ‘My life hasn’t always been the way it is now. I didn’t always have a fancy car. I grew up with my sister, single mom, divorced, waitress. She was an alcoholic, no money.’”

“We lived in little apartments,” Crevier added. “A lot of times we couldn’t pay rent, and we’d have to move quite often because utilities, rent wasn’t paid.”

Home was Laguna Beach, just down the coastal path from Costa Mesa. “And then at 14, I started getting into trouble hanging around with older guys,” he said. We’re not talking Rebel Without a Cause here. “We weren’t robbing and stealing,” he said. “It’s stuff that wouldn’t be quite so concerning today, but we were still mischievous wild little rascals.”

Still, Crevier was sent as a corrective to live with his father in Los Angeles. Then, at 17, Crevier begged to be allowed back home. “So, I come back to Laguna, but didn’t get along with my mom, and I move out,” he said. “I lived by myself my last year of high school.”

He got his first job during high school in a meal delivery service—an early prototype of DoorDash is how he describes it. A truncated version of the rest of the Crevier success story goes something like this.

Crevier’s Cordiality wins the Osunitas Stakes July 12, 2020 at Del Mar | Benoit Photo

Crevier didn’t finish college—instead, at 21, he got a job as a salesman at a Ford dealership, soon becoming a sales manager. In 1974, he joined his father and uncle’s BMW dealership, purchased a small interest in the company. Eventually, father and son bought out the uncle’s share, “and the company grew and grew, really growing beyond our expectations.”

Just how big? “When we started, the rent for the facility was $2,000 a month,” said Crevier. “The rent when we sold it, I can’t tell you.”

“Give us a ballpark,” I said, cajoling.

“Hundreds of thousands.”

In fact, when Crevier sold the company in 2011, theirs was the fifth-largest seller of BMWs in the U.S., by which time he’d already founded Crevier Classic Cars. Throw in a small real estate empire and the Alger-esque metamorphosis is complete.

There’s more than a touch of the autodidact about Crevier, and he’s driven to impart those lessons to new generations of disadvantaged kids, provide them with their own set of tools to craft their own sets of bootstraps. A guiding principle of self-dependence can be viewed through the books propped up upon the bookshelf in his office.

“The Coddling of the American Mind” warns against a culture of safetyism across college campuses. “The Ultimate Gift” is a novel centred around the ordering of life’s priorities. “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” is a self-help manual focused upon attaining one’s potential.

Cordiality and jockey Joseph Talamo win the 2019 Fran’s Valentine S. at Santa Anita | Benoit photo

Another motivation, Crevier said, is a sense of penitence for those early teenage years in Laguna. “I wish I could go back and apologize to some of the people I maybe mistreated or wasn’t respectful of,” he said. All of which has led to Crevier wearing enough philanthropic hats to fill a small warehouse. “I was a bit of a challenge as a kid, and now I want to help other kids who are a challenge like that.”

He started the Crevier Family Foundation, focused on youth, the environment and education. He sits the board of the Boy’s Girl’s Clubs in Laguna Beach. He’s a member of the Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce and a former trustee of the Laguna Beach Community Foundation. He donates to and was past board member of THINK Together, a local educational program for children in rough neighbourhoods. He and his father took home the Time Magazine Quality Dealer Award for Exceptional Performance and Distinguished Community Service.

He’s also chairman of High School Inc., a Santa Ana-based program that partners high school students with local businesses, giving them practical skill sets in a variety of career paths.

“The idea was, a lot these kids wouldn’t go to college and have professional careers, so we would try to teach them in these areas,” he said. “They would commit to joining one of these things sophomore, junior, senior year. By the time they graduate, they get a certificate in that field that could allow them to go to work, if they didn’t want to go to college, at a little higher pay level had they not been certified.”

The number of Santa Ana high school students participating in the program has grown exponentially over the years, Crevier said. “And now our kids are graduating [high school] at 98 percent,” he said. “The other so-called academic kids are graduating at less of a percentage.”

When it comes to Crevier’s long journey through the world of horse racing, the educator admits to being the educated.

Back in 1988, when Crevier bought into his first horse, the filly Heed to Speed, “I knew nothing about horses,” he said. “I’ll tell you something else that’s embarrassing, when I first got Heed to Speed, somebody asked, ‘is it a Quarter Horse or a Thoroughbred?’ I thought for a minute—Quarter Horses, they race short distances. I said, ‘I think it’s a Thoroughbred.’”

A Thoroughbred she was, and not without a little talent. Heed to Speed scored on her debut at Santa Anita at the end of Jan. 1988 for trainer Chuck Marikian, he of Swing Till Dawn fame. “We’re thinking, ‘This is easy—why didn’t we get in this before?’” said Crevier. In a Newtonian twist, however, Crevier and co. were brought back down to earth with a thud.

This 1956 Ford Thunderbird convertible is a multiple concours award winner. Restored by Amos Winter and recognized as one of his best restorations, it is both rare and investment-quality | Crevier Motors photo

It took Heed to Speed another 15 tries before she got back into the winner’s circle, only to later get claimed. “My wife, it just broke her heart. She didn’t understand—every time you put them in one of those, you’re at risk.”

Crevier’s interest in the sport waxed and waned over the years, until about a decade ago when he asked a friend for a trainer recommendation, and the name Yakteen was tossed into the mix. “He’s a super honest, super straight, superman,” said Crevier, of Yakteen. “He’s a man of his word.”

Their crowning achievement has so far been Points Offthebench. “Bitching horse. A lot of heart,” said Crevier. “Most people would be lucky to have one of those in their life, and that’s how I feel about that horse.”

Were it not for Crevier’s perseverance, Points Offthebench might have disappeared into the annals of unfilled potential. He’d raced just three times, winning twice, when he suffered a condylar fracture after a workout—an injury necessitating either retirement or a long convalescence.

While the co-owners were leaning towards retirement, “Donnie was willing to do the surgery, and it paid off,” said Yakteen. “Mike Smith, who ride him, said that he had a turn of foot like no other sprinter he’d been on.”

Points Offthebench and jockey Mike Smith hold off Goldencents to win the GI Bing Crosby Stakes in 2013 at Del Mar | Benoit photo

While Cordiality may not have the same stratospheric talents as a Points Offthebench, she has another chance this weekend to enhance her own estimable roll-of-honor. She’s entered in the Solana Beach S. at Del Mar this Saturday.

“I don’t want to make any predictions,” Crevier said, “but we’re hoping for a very good race.”

“You’re the eternal optimist,” I said.

“You have to be,” Crevier replied, before rounding off with what appears a pretty succinct Crevier axiom. “You’ve got to try.”

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