"Artist to the Cars"

A conversation with Tampa area automotive artist, Ronnie Setser

Ronnie - As a kid, I grew up in the projects in Riverview Terrace, across the river from Sulfur Springs. I was probably twelve when I realized that all I wanted to do was build and paint model cars and go to the racetrack at Golden Gate Speedway. My uncle was a race car driver out there and I’d go out and watch him race, and when he would wreck, I would go back to my house and recreate his wrecked car with one of my model cars. I’d heat it up and smash it to look like his wrecked car. My uncle and model cars were my inspiration until seventh grade.

When I got into junior high, I told my mom I wanted to be a “punk”. All I wanted to do was work on cars!I got into the WIN Program, which helped me find ajob doing just what I wanted to do. That’s how I got my diploma. I worked for Dixie Auto Painting until 1979, when I left home to go out on my own. I already had a natural ability to draw, but I didn’t pay atten- tion to the fact that it would be my career. It was just easy for me. All I needed was some material and anairbrush. My first big job was painting the VW convertible beetle and the van for the Tampa Bay Bucca- neers. Buccaneer Orange! I became hungry for that kind of work. So, I bought a motorcycle, had some business cards printed up and on the back of my mo- torcycle I bungee corded a 7-11 Styrofoam cooler and made that my toolbox for pinstriping and painting. I’d pull right up to the businesses and work on the cars. I’d do an entire pinstriping job for 25 bucks. A job like that today would be $250-$300.

Late in 1979, I got a call from a body shop on Dale Mabry, Bay Area Customs, that wanted me to paint a sign for them. That resulted in me going to work for them. At one point I was approached by World on Wheels to paint a vehicle for them that was to be given away. It was a Camaro. We got parts from just about everyone to complete the job. We did the job so well on that Camaro that we continued doing a car every year until 1990. After that I was approached by one of the radio stations to barter advertising time for painting their vans and trailers that they used for their remote broadcasts. I did paint jobs for Y95, Q105, 98 Rock, and the Power Pig. Who do you think painted all those pink Power Pig vehicles?

I think a couple of my greater accomplishments over the years, beyond my family, was putting togeth- er family-oriented car shows. I always enjoyed see- ing parents with their kids there. Also, I liked seeing some of my work in local and national magazines all through the 90’s. Motor Trend, Super Ford, Mustang Monthly, I was in all of them. Selling my Lincoln at Barrett Jackson was also a great thrill. I ended up get- ting too big, too fast, and I now regret that. I burned a lot of bridges that I needed to repair, and I think I’ve done that.

CCWCF - When I arrived here today we talked a little bit about a challenge you’re now facing.
Do you mind talking about that?

Ronnie - I don’t mind at all. I was diagnosed with cancer about 2 months ago. Lumps on the lower part of my tongue and the lymph node. It took 2 weeks get the diagnosis. For those 2 weeks I don’t remember much of anything.

So now I’ve been going to radiation therapy, and I found at first when I would go, I was angry and irritated. I questioned why, what was it that caused this? Was it the food I ate? What did I drink? What could I have done differently? While Iwas in radiation therapy the first day, there was a manthere in for therapy also. Unlike the way I was feel- ing, he was talking and joking with everyone there. By the third treatment I decided I’d strike up a conver-sation and find out more about him. We immediatelyhad a connection. During one of our treatments, we started talking about our bucket lists. I told him mine and he told me that one thing on his list was to ride in a T-Bucket hotrod. I left there that day thinking about the way this guy has changed my life and my attitude toward life. He has his last treatment this Friday and I’ve arranged with his family to bring my T-Bucket over to where he’s getting his last treatment and take him for his Bucket List T-Bucket ride. 

CCWCF - At this writing, Ronnie has 12 more treatments. We all wish Ronnie all the very best with love and positive thoughts toward whipping this thing.