After a brief stint playing as a fullback in the NFL in the 70s, Mike Hennessy decided to pursue his ultimate passion: cars. Now he owns his own automotive repair shop, runs Hot San Jose Nights Car Show and has a TV show that airs on local stations and YouTube.

We sat down with Mike to talk about his love for cars, and what it takes to put together a show on a huge scale.

What brought you to San Jose?

I was born in Arizona and moved to California when I was five. My mom had five kids and packed everyone up in a 1951 Plymouth with rusted out floors and drove us across country. She found a rental  house in San Jose and decided that it would be our new home.

How did you get into cars?

I’ve been into cars my entire life. I learned to weld at 10 years old and was always building mini-bikes and go-karts. I got a car when I was 13 and got caught driving it by the police. When the cops drove me home they told my mom I was driving her car and she told them she would talk to me.  After the cops left she told me “show me my car.” I’ve been driving ever since.

What inspired you to open your own shop?

I’m a firm believer in taking a trade, and this is what I know and love. If I won the lottery today, I would still be running this shop, but probably on a much grander scale.

How long have you been in the business of automotive repair?

Over 37 years.

How did you get involved in creating car shows?

San Jose has never really had a car show that’s worked and stuck around. In 2007 the San Jose Grand Prix came to town and 100,000 people bought tickets. They organizers of that event came to me and asked if I could be a part of their project by hosting a classic car auction.

After trying to work with the city, we weren’t able to host an auction, so we decided to have the San Jose Grand Prix car show at the San Jose Convention Center. From there, we had 30 days to put it together and I volunteered 60 cars from my own personal collection. When it was all said and done we had 155 cars for the show, all by word of mouth. The San Jose Grand Prix worked great for three strong years, but then it folded.

How many cars do you have and which one is your favorite?

I have about 60 cars and I keep them all over the place from my house to the shop to a big warehouse I own. This month, my favorite car is the Ferrarrio Testarossa, the month before that was a ’68 Ford Mustang.

If you weren’t a car connoisseur, what would you be?

If I wasn’t doing this, I don’t know what I would do. This is all I know. I’m a hands-on  person so it would have to be something along the lines of construction or fabrication. I enjoy anything that has to do with machinery. I’ve probably built and put together nearly 2,000 cars in my lifetime and I’m always looking for my next project.

What do you love most about the San Jose?

I think San Jose is such a versatile city because it’s close to so many things. In my world of automotive, you can take any direction you want and it’s easy to navigate because it’s still growing. This town doesn’t get stale. Here we have the high-end car world as well as the regular classic stuff. This town has a wide range of my interests and my hobby, so it works for me.

What local spot would you have your last meal on earth?

I really liked PF Chang’s downtown and I like the Loft. Downtown just seems to be a little bit challenging to me. When I do go down there, I drive classic and special interest cars, so I get a little nervous with the parking situation. My new favorite restaurant this month is Los Gatos Bar and Grill. For all time favorite, By-th’-bucket Bar and Grill is pretty good.

Where is a cool place to take an out-of-towner?

Everyone should check out the Mountain Winery in Saratoga.

Name a couple events every local should attend this year.

Obviously Hot San Jose Nights and the 4th of July parade are home runs.

You can check out Mike Hennessey’s Car Guy Channel: