David Lauderdale

A wedding, and then a funeral. The last days for Vince Handley, Hilton Head’s car genius

Vince Handley was the face of auto repair on Hilton Head Island.

For 37 years, Vince was the quiet guy at the front desk at Island Tire and Automotive Services. From 1978 until he moved over to H&H Auto Service in 2015, he was often the one breaking the news to thousands of customers about what was wrong with their car and how much it would cost to fix it.

He was a car builder and car racer, on dirt tracks, steamy asphalt ovals and dimly-lit road tracks in 24-hour endurance marathons in Miami and Atlanta.

And it seems that, in the last days of his life, the race was still on.

Vince died of cancer at age 66 on Tuesday.

It came 10 days after he “danced” with his daughter at her wedding, in his wheelchair.

The wedding ceremony for Katie Handley and Alex Smith had been planned for two years.

“I know he held on for the wedding,” Barb said Thursday. “And his anniversary.”

They had 29 years and two days together.

Thursday was hard on Barb, going to the Island Funeral Home and the St. Frances By-the-Sea Catholic Church.

Just six weeks ago, her mother died, and she was writing the obituary for Henrietta “Hennie” Hohman of Hilton Head.

“My heart is broken ... again,” she wrote on Facebook when she told of Vince’s passing.

Vince’s fight with renal cancer was short, and painful.

He was diagnosed in December, and the cancer was into his bones, which started to bend and break.

He broke his left arm, left tibia, right femur. One of his surgeries was on Christmas day.

Still, he worked until the Thursday before the wedding.

That Friday, he went to the Emergency Room with shortness of breath and was admitted to Hilton Head Hospital. But they set him free on Saturday.

“Everybody knew he needed to be at that wedding,” Barb said. “The doctors and staff, everybody. And they made it happen.”

Barb pushed his wheelchair down the aisle, or actually down the dock at the Spring Lake Pavilion in Hilton Head Plantation, while Vince held Katie’s hand. Vince “danced” with Katie and Barb. And he took the microphone to make a few remarks.

Vince came to Hilton Head to get out the cold of Ohio, where he went to the Catholic Bishop Hartley High School and the Ohio State University.

He would become part-owner of Island Tire before selling it.

That’s where he met Barb Hohman. She too had escaped Ohio, and had a Camaro in constant need of repair.

It took Vince a long time to get his first date with her, she said, and he took her to the Summerville Speedway. It’s where he raced a white Chevrolet Nova, No. 77, that he and partners worked on three nights a week. They would leave for the track at 2 p.m. on Saturday and get home at 3 a.m. the next day.

Their wedding was on the giant steps of The Overlook at the Port Royal Golf Club. Vince waved a small checkered flag out of the limo window as they sped away.

They reared two children here, Matt and Katie, and their 5-year-old grandson, Colton, adored his Papa.

His pride and joy was a 1967 Camaro he paid a few hundred bucks for and totally rebuilt, bolt by bolt.

When Hurricane Matthew was barreling toward Hilton Head in October 2016, I ran into Vince at David Martin’s Piggy Wiggly store at Coligny Plaza.

He was taking her out for one last spin, in case Matthew turned out to be the big one.

His friends are taking one more spin with their memories of Vince and Jimmy Buffet, or of Saturday nights at the speedway. And they’re thankful the man of few words is no longer in pain, and has found the checkered flag.