It’s one of those dignified, turn-of-the-century homes on the south end of the Water Tower neighborhood, Lake Park across the wide and canopied street, Lake Michigan crouching politely behind the bluffs. Red brick and white trim, double gabled, large but not ostentatious. Quietly regal.
I’m not the first to seek out this house. Cars pull up outside from time to time, their owners surreptitiously snapping photos. What they’re hoping for is a glimpse of the 73-year-old Englishman inside. To some, David Hobbs is simply the owner of a reliable, long-standing Honda dealership in Glendale. But to savvier passers-by, he’s one of the most highly regarded motor racing figures in the world.
From the front path, I sneak a peek at the detached garage out back, expecting a showroom of sorts, Porsches and Ferraris, at least a couple of BMWs. I see only his-and-her Hondas, an Accord and a CRV, parked side by side.
The front door is wide open to pull stiff fresh air off the lake. David and his wife, Margaret, wait behind the screen. They usher me in for a quick tour of the home they proudly purchased and renovated in 2002, though they’ve lived on this street off and on since 1986, when they first broke ground on the dealership. They love this neighborhood, love Milwaukee, and say it reminds them alternately of a European city and their beloved English countryside.
David rolls a wrist toward my car out front, unfurls a long finger and says, in his clipped accent, “I don’t much like the look of that van you’re driving.”
It’s a Chrysler.
David is all sharp wit and soft edges, a straight-shooter from a squishy barrel. He’s a tall man, casually formal in slacks and a paisley tie, his graying hair swept tidily across his pate. I imagine a small, neat comb in his breast pocket. His glasses frame a long, friendly face; his shoulders betray a relaxed confidence. He’s a true British gentleman, warm and strikingly humble, but there’s a clear streak of mischief wending through his outwardly conservative tapestry.
This is a man with stories, a man with an illustrious 30-year track record of racing around the world and a man still on TV, broadcasting Formula One races 20 weekends a year. To kids, he’s familiar, too, sounding eerily like the green Jaguar in Cars 2, David Hobbscap. But mostly, David flies remarkably below the radar. At least around these parts.
There was the time he couldn’t get on the track in Ohio to practice because some bloke named Paul Newman, famed actor and racing enthusiast, was whizzing around in his Ford Escort. David loped down to have a chat with old Paul. When asked if he was starstruck, David answers, without a hint of arrogance: “Actually, he was quite starstruck by me.”