By Sarah Whitman
Senior Staff Writer
A 1981 motorcross accident left Randy Neiswender partially paralyzed from the waist down, reliant on a wheelchair and walker.
The accident didn’t stop Neiswender from becoming the top salesman at Jarrett Ford in Dade City, where he has worked for 30 years.
“I could have sat at home and collected a monthly check from the government but that would have been a waste,” he said. “I’ve had a productive career.”
Neiswender moved with his family to Zephyrhills in 1972. He and his brothers, John and Mike, were interested in motorcross and the area was a perfect place to race. Their father Winfield owned Pasco Motor Sports, a local bike shop.
Neiswender graduated from Zephyrhills High School in 1977 and went to work as a motorcycle mechanic for Yamaha in California. He traveled the United States attending bike races. In 1980, he returned to Zephyrhills and was offered a job working with his dad, a manager then at Jarrett Ford.
In October 1981, Neiswender earned his first salesman of the month award. It was the same month he went bike racing with friends at the Pasco County Fairgrounds and woke up in intensive care at University Community Hospital.
“It was October 29,” Neiswender said. “My friends had gotten some new bikes. I crashed. I wiped out. The crash wasn’t really worse than the other crashes I’d had racing through the years, but my body hit a tree.”
Neiswender had three crushed ribs, a broken arm, internal bleeding, a bruise on his brain and a bruise on his spinal cord, which resulted in paralysis.
“I was never expected to walk again but with some good doctors and the help of the good Lord I can walk with a walker and have some feeling in my legs,” he said.
Neiswender was in physical therapy from 1981 to 1984, when he decided it was time to go back to work. He received an unexpected response.
“I went to the government office and said, ‘I want to discontinue my disability,’” Neiswender said. “The man said, ‘What, nobody ever does that?’ ”
Jarrett Ford welcomed the salesman back without hesitation and Neiswender has since earned the salesman of the year title 13 times. The company stopped handing out awards in 2000, or he would probably have many more.
Neiswender’s co-workers attribute his success to a genuine desire to help customers.
“Randy truly worries more about the customers’ needs than he does about just selling a car,” said Michael Kline, new car manager. “He is probably one of the most compassionate salesmen I’ve ever met.”
Neiswender’s brother, John, is general manager of Jarrett Ford in Winter Haven.
“Randy’s a great salesman because he’s tenacious and he never misses work,” John said. “He never has a bad day because he always has a positive frame of mind. ”
The two brothers support one another in good times and hard times. They lost their older brother Mike to cancer, also in 1981. Their father passed away a decade later and their mother, Mary Lou, is currently struggling with Alzheimer’s disease.
Neiswender, now 51, doesn’t believe in dwelling on the negative. In his opinion, it is a blessing to get out of bed everyday and drive his Ford Explorer to work. His biggest complaint is able people who park in handicap spaces.
“I can honestly say there’s never been a morning I’ve woken up and thought I didn’t feel like going in to work that day,” he said. “I really like what I do.”
Neiswender loves chatting with customers to get a feel for what type of car they need.
“I sit them down and talk to them because I want to sell them something that fits,” he said.
Jarrett Ford receptionist Ruth Johnson loves Neiswender’s approach to sales.
“It’s his honesty, and if he sees someone come in, he’s always right there, ready to take care of them,” she said.
When he’s not working, Neiswender spends time with his wife of almost three years, Carolyn. The couple likes watching sports, especially Bucs games.
Neiswender also follows stock car racing. He keeps a signed lettered from driver Richard Petty on his wall at work, and he hasn’t forgotten his love for motorcross. He watches the races on television and keeps in touch with old racing buddies. He doesn’t fault the sport for what happened and wouldn’t tell any young man not to race.
“Some of my fondest memories are of waking up, going out into the woods and racing with friends,” he said. “Accidents happen. You can always fall off a horse, or off the sidewalk for that matter. You can’t stop living.”
Contact Randy Neiswender at (352) 567-6711.