Some of us are privileged to meet and to be affected by someone that is so different and unique, that they could never be replaced. That was Steve Aderholt to me.
I first met Steve as I was breaking my way into racing while working as a mechanic at the Jim Russell Racing School. Steve had his formula Mazda race car then and would show up to race. I didn’t really know Steve then, but I did know his reputation of a wild man and I was definitely going to watch his race. Steve was never afraid to mix it up with whoever was around him and always created a little drama and a lot of excitement along the way. I finished my mechanics program and went on to chasing my dream of being a race car driver; I never knew what happened to Steve. That was 1993.
Now fast forward to 2006. My Mom called me and said Memo, some guy named Steve Aderholt called and he wants to come see you race…and he said something about the Jim Russell School and now wanting to sponsor you in the Indy 500. In racing, phone calls like this are not unusual, and you really have no idea what to expect. My first thought was this guy must be crazy. When I called Steve back, he was going on and on about wanting to help me do this and that. I stopped him and said hey…forget about doing stuff for me…just come out and watch me race and have a good time. Little did I know that this would begin what would be almost four years of complete unpredictability, excitement, good times, and the beginning of an awesome friendship.
Since 2006, Steve and I have had many great adventures and more excitement than I could have ever imagined. Steve wanted to start driving again, and I wanted to see him do this. It started with go-karts. First him driving mine, them him buying his own and keeping it in my garage. I’ll never forget the smile he had when he pulled his helmet off that first time back on the track driving. He was a little rusty that first couple of runs, and I jokingly said to him that I could not be seen associating with him until he picked up the pace! He laughed. It did not take him long to get fast again, and I was surprised by his progress.
Soon after, Steve asked me if he thought he should rent a garage at this new car track in Vegas. Myself being the ultimate planner and organizer told him I thought he was jumping the gun…after all he didn’t even have a car yet. True to the Aderholt style a week later I get a phone call telling me he rented a garage at this new track and he wanted to go down and rent some cars and drive. So, we flew down to Vegas, rented a couple of school sports racers and drove. That day Steve walked me through the track sales office and said, Memo, what do you think of this new Radical race car here. I said Aderholt, let’s just rent some cars for a while and tear up their equipment instead of yours. Of course, a week later he called me and said his new Radical race car will be arriving to his garage and let’s go down and drive.
Steve was like this with everything, he was so spontaneous and something I admired about him. So now in Vegas, Steve would drive his car and then rent a school car for me, because of course he wanted to race me. After a few times, Steve was right on my gearbox. I used to tell him I was a little worried with him in back of me so close. I told him I thought he might make a mistake and step on the clutch pedal instead of the brake pedal and run right over me. We laughed about this a lot. From then on before we went out to drive on the track he would smirk and jokingly say to me that he hoped he hit the brake pedal and not the clutch.
Then last time we drove together he started taunting me by saying how he was going to rub me on is way by to pass. I told him, no problem because his credit card was on my car and I would be happy to run right back into him since he would have to pay for it. I knew that this would not bother him; he would ultimately do what he wanted. We laughed over and over about this. As much as we joked, I was really impressed with how this guy could drive…and I told him this all the time.
The other great passion we shared was sailing. The first time we went sailing was on my little 14ft sailboat. I gave Steve the tiller and the first gust of wind that hit us…immediately he had the rail of the boat berried in the water with me scrambling over the side waiting for it to tip over. Steve just laughed out loud and I realized that whatever Steve did, he took it to the limit right away unlike most that would wait to get in a comfort zone.
Steve then proceeded to tell me about him owning and sailing his super fast Nacra Catamaran. He told me about one race where he cut it a little too close and ran into a competitor and sawed his boat in half. Steve could not understand why the guy was so mad at him because he did offer to buy the guy a new boat! It was one of many stories that we laughed at over and over. One of the other funny stories was Steve telling me because he had named his Nacra Pegasus, someone gave him the seemingly great idea of painting a huge Pegasus Horse on his sail. They assured Steve that they had a special type of paint that would stick to a vinyl sail. Steve being Steve, and I guess being that was in the 80’s he decided to do it. The hilarious thing about this story was that after a couple of sails, the Paint started to flake off. Steve said then he was sailing this catamaran around and before he knew it the entire head had flaked off….and only the body was left! So not only did he have the reputation of boat killer, now he had the headless Pegasus on his sail too!
Steve did persuade me to buy a Nacra and I will never forget the fun sailing it with him. He had this crazy, fearless, but much focused look when he was sailing it. He used to say Gidley; we have to flip this thing so I can show you how to get it back upright. I would say Steve, do you realize how cold the bay is? He would just laugh.
The small boat sailing didn’t last long. One day I get a call from Steve and he said hey Memo, come down and meet me at this boat I found for sale, I want you to look at it. I said you’re kidding me right; you’re not going to do something crazy like buy it? He said no, just meet me and let’s have a look. I walk out to the dock and am in awe of this 50ft sailboat, and I see Steve waiting for me. I look at Steve with my skeptical look that I think he was getting used to seeing. We end up taking the boat out for a sail with the broker. Steve is asking the broker all kinds of questions and telling him about all of his sailing experiences that have gone bad. The broker was so skeptical of us that he held on to the main sheet line and every time the boat leaned over past his comfort zone (20 degrees we found out) he let the sail out to straighten up the big boat. It was like Steve had a leash on and I could tell he couldn’t wait to get this guy off the boat and really go for a sail. Steve asked me what I thought and I told him it was a nice boat but did he really want to buy a 50ft boat? I said, maybe starting off a little smaller would be a better idea. I had a pretty good idea what Steve was going to do. Of course, that night Steve called me and said Memo guess what, I bought that boat and we are going to sail!
And sail we did. The first day we sailed Steve was obsessed with how far we could heal this big boat over. He would watch the angle meter and say look I got 29degrees…now 31…hit 32, beat that Gidley! He would smile and say that’s more than the broker recommended of 20. This then became a competition to Steve, who could get the most degrees of lean on the gauge. Then on only our second sailing day, as we got close to the Golden Gate Bridge, Steve said, hey Gidley let’s just sail right out the Golden Gate and go to Hawaii! I’m pretty sure if I would have said yes, he would have done it.
Even though I only really knew Steve for four short years, I could write dozens of pages of unique experiences, fun drama, excitement, and good times. Steve became a friend of anybody I knew, including my family and friends. Steve made not only a unique impression because of the whirlwind of excitement that always followed him; he made an impression because everybody knew he was a great guy and had a good heart.
And as much as I liked Steve for his impulsive, let’s just do it attitude and the excitement that came with him, I liked him much more for his loyalty and friendship. He was such a great person and a one of a kind friend.
Steve passed away on his boat this past Wednesday of a heart attack, he was 53. Steve is survived by his Mom and Dad, two past wives, sister Sherry, and his two children Stephanie and Eric. Steve spoke of his family every time we were together and I know he cared for them more than anything else in this world.
I’ll sure miss you Steve-o, thanks for the great times!