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Strong Roots

by Fuelish Media

Giving Back with Finish Line Speed Shop

While every custom truck has its own story to tell, some builds are just a little more meaningful and heartfelt than others by nature. This particular ’78 GMC is just one such pickup that not only carries with it a long list of modifications, but it also represents the loving life and eternal memory of a very special individual, Julie Anne Whitmore Nichols. 

Julie was a lover of life and family, someone who was always looking to broaden her interests and talents while always remembering to stop and appreciate her children CJ, Austin, Pono, Mycah, and her husband Alapai, who considers himself to be her biggest child of them all. In 2014, when Julie was only 41 years old, she was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer, but not even that news could stop her from doing the things she loved most while learning how to fight harder with each passing day. 

The original prognosis gave Julie only 3-6 months to live, but with no other choice but to develop a newfound strength like she never thought was possible, she extended her time with her family to 25 incredible months! “I witnessed her lows, but her highs were beyond all expectations”, says Alapai. “My wife was the most selfless person who loved unconditionally, and the little things meant the most to her.” 

Looking for a way to honor the love of his life, Alapai decided to build a truck to stand as a memorial for Julie – a truck that she would’ve dreamed up for herself. The only problem Alapai was dealing with during the process of drawing up inspiration and a solid direction to navigate towards was the lack of resources there on the Hawaiian Islands where he and his family live. Having to search a little harder for the answers to his many technical questions led Alapai to begin scouting out talent in the continental United States. Washington State to be precise. 

While Washington served as the Nichols family official “second home”, most of Alapai’s contacts regarding the truck build were there as well. One particular name on his list of shops he planned on visiting was Finish Line Speed Shop in Ellensburg, WA. Lyon McClenahan, who runs the family operation at Finish Line, has been pumping out killer custom vehicle builds year after year. Alapai took notice of Lyon’s work with a noteworthy ’75 C10 that had debuted at SEMA 2016 that was dubbed the “MC10”. This particular Chevy was low and clean, featured the best products on the market and was ultimately built to raise awareness of ALS – better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. 

Sure, Alapai was drawn to the classic and attainable style of the MC10, but it was the message behind the build that struck a chord inside of him. What Alapai did not know about the MC10 Chevy was that it was part of a series of builds that Lyon had been creating under the “Project Giving Back” name, where a different truck is built each year to represent a different cause and then debuted at SEMA in order to gain as much awareness as possible. In the past, Lyon has built trucks to promote the benefit of disabled US veterans, and helping fund treatment and research for Parkinson’s disease, as well as different types of cancer. It was only after that long-awaited first face-to-face meeting with Lyon that Alapai learned of the entirety of Finish Line’s “Project Giving Back” endeavors. The future of Julie’s truck shined brighter than Alapai had ever imagined possible. 

Together Lyon and Alapai began formulating a plan to start the build of what would be called Project Strong Roots, named after the clothing line of the same name Julie had created five years prior to her cancer diagnosis. Julie’s brand promoted the importance of family life, which made a huge difference in the lives of others, and seemed to be a fitting foundation for the build. Julie’s truck would be Finish Line’s 5th build under the Project Giving Back umbrella to be fabricated and debuted under the SEMA lights. 

Beginning with the factory chassis, Lyon utilized a GSI Fabrication frame stiffener as well as a healthy amount of other suspension components. A TCI Pro Touring IFS system and rear 4-link, along with QA1 double adjustable coil-overs ensure the GMC has the best ride quality only the latest and greatest aftermarket products can provide. For a sporty appearance, a set of 20/22-inch Budnik wheels wrapped in performance-centric Toyo Proxes ST III tires were put in place to make the absolute most of responsive suspension geometry. 

To assist in getting Julie’s truck really moving though, Lyon implemented the phase of one of his shop’s specialties – speed! An LS motor sourced from Jasper Engines was locked down and then heavily modified with top shelf go-fast products and dress-up parts to give it the look and feel of true racing spirit. Lyon took the time to build the LS to proper gearhead spec while still allowing the GMC to be practically driven on a daily basis just in case Alapai and family decided to take the truck out for an extended cruise or set up at a local show. 

To give the vintage GMC a polished appearance, Lyon recruited the expertise of Brendan Greene and Jeff Rider to handle the body and paintwork respectively. The House of Kolor Pavo Purple and Ice White Pearl Coves hues make for a combination that won’t be easily missed anywhere the truck happens to be occupying space. Again, only the most revered bolt-on wares in the classic GM truck industry were used to make for a lasting impression. 

The same winning tactic as the rest of Julie’s truck was also used inside of the cab. From the TMI Products seating, door panels, dash and headliners, to the impressive list of high quality accessories, complete audio system and overall high-end restyling – there were no shortcuts taken to achieve the results a memorial build of this caliber was deserving of.  

While the physical building of the truck to be completed to meet the SEMA timeline did take precedence during the nuts and bolts reassembly processes, the memory of Julie was still the force behind the final push. Lyon McClenahan, along with his team of talent, and the inspiration of the Nichols family, this old GMC pickup stands before its audience as much more than a custom vehicle, but as a symbol of hope with the drive to fight back against cancer.

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