Dr. Hot Rod
Dr. Ronald Finger is famous in these parts as being one of the best plastic surgeons in the south. Few people know him as Ron the Race Car Driver.
LIFE ON THE EDGE
Over 25 years of races, Dr. Finger claims to have won over 75 first place victories, but he didn't cross the finish line every time.
“I’ve had some spectacular crashes,” he said.
Besides breaking his neck in a motorcycle race in 1971, Finger has started a few races in one car only to finish them in an ambulance.
During a practice session in Atlanta, he had just passed another car when the driver decided to get back around him in the middle of a hairpin turn. “It broke the car in three places and my back in three places,” he said with a laugh.
Another accident at Watkins Glenn brought him closer to the edge than anything else he’d done. Heading into an S curve, mechanical failure caused Finger to slam into a wall at 145 miles an hour. “I was airlifted out of there. I shouldn’t have survived.”
Dr. Ron Finger has a habit of taking pretty things and making them even more beautiful.
As a plastic surgeon, he’s gained widespread renown for his work in Savannah and Bluffton, representing the leading edge of his field. His practice, rated No. 1 in Georgia by RateMDs.com, has helped countless locals look and feel their best.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, that he treats his cars with the same care he treats his patients. A self-professed gearhead, he recently let us into his semi-secret lair tucked away in Savannah to get a few shots of his prized collection of vintage automobiles and muscle cars.
&“There’s a lot of overlap,” he said, discussing the skill sets needed to race cars and perform plastic surgery. “Hand eye coordination, precision… the big difference is, with plastic surgery, you’re dealing with other people’s lives.”
Regarding restoration of vintage cars to their one-time glory, he’s not averse to getting out there and tearing up some pavement in them.
“Racing is exhilarating. It’s an endless frontier – like plastic surgery, you can always get better at it.”
START YOUR ENGINES
While he describes his passion for cars as more of a hobby when compared to his work as a plastic surgeon, it’s easy to tell how much this hobby has meant to him over the years.
As a young man in Marion, South Carolina he first built his need for speed racing his dad’s cars against his friends (when asked if his dad knew, Finger responded with a hearty chuckle and a “hell no.”)
“The guy that got me interested in cars is a cousin of mine, Henry,” he said. “He still loves cars and he’s still my hero in that respect.” The pair of them used to head out when Finger was around 9 years old, riding shotgun while his 15-year-old cousin tore up and down King Street in Charleston in a 1936 Ford, Henry had modified himself. “Of course, back then everyone was drag racing down King St.”
From there it was, ahem, off to the races. In college, Finger rebuilt a 1955 Chevy, adding in a four-barrel, dual exhaust and a Duntov cam that he bought for $12.50. When he rolled into Savannah from California after leaving the Air Force, he did so in a Ferrari he’d bought for $8,200 (plus the cost of a Sears & Roebuck roof rack). He would later sell it for $10,000. “That car’s probably worth a million now, I wish I had it back.”
It wouldn’t be the only Ferrari that Finger bought, fixed up and sold for a modest profit. He’s lost track, but estimates that the 22-23 Ferraris he’d flipped over the years are what helped launch his racing career.
“I’m a gearhead, but I love to race anything,” he said.
For nearly 25 years, racing on weekends while building a practice, Finger competed in races all over the east coast, in circuits from the Sports Car Club of America to Historic Sports Car Racing to the Sportscar Vintage Race Association. He also pitted himself against the legendary endurance races – the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring. It’s enough for a full-time job, and Finger was running these races on weekends while building a successful plastic surgery practice.
“It sounds crazy, doesn’t it?” he said. “And in the meantime, I’m just buying and selling these old cars… The only race I ever lost in the pictured Cobra was when I had transmission problems."
It's a 1964 AC Cobra, one of just 16 ever made for racing. In a vast collection housed in an undisclosed location in Savannah, it’s his baby. The rest represent a cross-section of automotive excellence, from high-performance muscle cars to vintage automobiles more than a century old.
“I really love really old cars,” he said, pointing such nuances as the throttle on his 1911 Model T, located on the steering wheel. “It’s just so much fun to see what millions of people drove years ago.” The ’11 is one of two Tin Lizzie’s in Finger’s collection, the other being a 1912. And if you think this old race driver keeps them just for show you’re mistaken.
“We’ll go out and do 500-mile tours in the 1912 Model T,” he said. “It just has 20 horsepower, but I’ve had it up to 52 mph.” (Of course, he’ll generally cruise around 30 since there’s only so much you want to ask of a car with wooden spokes).
Apart from the Model Ts and and the Cobra, the rest of the doctor’s collection reflects both his pride of ownership and his skill as a gearhead. There’s the 1970 454 Chevelle, the 1966 Shelby GT 350H, the 1967 427 Corvette, the Sunbeam Tiger, cars built for the simple conversion of horsepower into exhilaration.
And then there’s the car that started it all for Finger. Tucked away among the 71 Mercedes 280 SL, the 2001 Porsche Turbo 996, the 37 V12 Caddy and the 1931 Model A, you’ll find a 1936 Ford. Just like the one Henry drove, when he tore up King Street and inspired his young cousin to a life spent on the track.
“Some people will say you’re a control guy or you have a complex or some other silly thing that someone who’s never raced would say. But the thing about racing is just… the exhilaration.”