A Custom Life
story by Deanna Del Ciello
Brad Starks will not leave Paducah. His business would thrive in a larger place, but there are people here who need him. Besides, he's not a city person, anyway.
He's a car guy – hot rods. It's a hobby he shares with his dad, who is a big reason that Brad stays in his hometown.
His hobby turned into a profession and his profession into prestige. Brad Starks Rod & Custom shop has won national awards – two trophy cases full, though he's never counted exactly how many. His crowning achievement came in 2009 when he was awarded Custom Rod of the Year for a 1950 Ford Tin Woody he restored and customized, landing him television interviews and appearances on TV car shows.
That success translated into steady work, but growth and access to more creative work would require leaving Paducah, which isn't an option.
"With my daughter, who just turned 13, and my dad still here, I cannot leave. I don't want to leave. No matter how far the passion would go somewhere else, I'm not leaving them," Brad says.
He lives with his girlfriend, Kim Baker, and her two children in their home on the same piece of land as Kim's parents. Kim and Brad take her kids to their grandparents' house for dinner at least twice a week. Nearly all of Kim's family and all of Brad's family live within five miles of the couple.
His close-knit community can sometimes be a distraction from work. Brad regularly takes calls from friends and family, listening to their problems or saying yes to favors asked of him. He says sometimes "it feels like I can't get any work done."
But his family keeps him rooted here.
"Success and all that, it's just not worth growing up without the family," Brad says. "Missing out on anything that [my daughter] had or stuff that dad does, or weekends at the lake hanging out with dad. It don't matter how big business gets. It's not worth missing out on all that stuff."