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Tour of Duty: Pat Tillman’s NFL rookie car will go to auction to help veterans


On Veterans Day, we saluted those who have served in the American armed forces by sharing news about a very special project.

Pat Tillman was an inspirational football player at Arizona State University who was drafted into the National Football League by the local Arizona Cardinals.

Though only 5-foot-11, Tillman was an outstanding linebacker who helped his collegiate team go undefeated in his junior season. In addition to winning Pac-10 defensive player of the year honors, he excelled academically, graduating in 3 1/2 years with a 3.85 grade-point average.

Not bad for a player who as a high school senior got the last of ASU’s football scholarship offers. It was a similar story when it came to pro football — Tillman was only 226th play selected in the draft, yet became one of the league’s top defensive players.

Pat tillman benefits veterans
Cars has become a tribute to Tillman’s football and military careers

After making a rookie’s salary, Tillman turned down multi-million-dollar offers from not only his own team but also from the St. Louis Rams, choosing instead — in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 – to enlist in the U.S. Army. His younger brother, Kevin, who had signed to play baseball with the Cleveland Indians, also enlisted the same day.

The brothers became Army Rangers, serving in Iraq and in Afghanistan, where Pat Tillman was killed by what turned out to be friendly fire.

After his death, his widow and others established the Pat Tillman Foundation, which among other things provides money so veterans can pursue college educations.

After being drafted into pro football, Tillman and one of his high-school football opponents turned NFL teammate, Zack Walz, bought a 1968 Chevrolet Impala convertible that they enjoyed during their rookie seasons with the Cardinals. They turned the car into a party vehicle, removing the convertible top and installing a huge audio system.

Pat tillman benefits veterans

After Tillman’s death, Walz kept the car locked away in a garage.

But through another former special forces soldier, Walz was put in touch with Ronald Ross, a Vietnam veteran and business and ranch owner near San Antonio, Texas. Ross also is a car collector who has restored vehicles and sold them at charity auctions to benefit various veterans’ support groups.

Walz offered up the Tillman car and Ross handled the restoration, a process that took nearly a year because the car had been partied hard. Ross brought in acclaimed automotive airbrush artist Mickey Harris to turn the car into a Tillman tribute.

The car was displayed last week at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas and now is headed to the East Coast to be displayed at various venues. Next year, it will be shown at the professional golf tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona, before going onto the docket at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction in 2019, with all proceeds from its sale turned over to the Pat Tillman Foundation.

Pat tillman benefits veterans

The car is the fifth such project undertaken by Ross, who each month invites veterans receiving treatment at the San Antonio Army Medical Center to get away from the hospital and spend weekends on his ranch.

“It is amazing how Mickey captured Pat’s spirit and personality with this vehicle,” one of his former teammates, Zack Walz, told autobodynews.com. “Pat and I would drive around in it all the time while we were with the Cardinals.”

“We covered the entire vehicle with images — from top to bottom,” Harris added. “There weren’t a lot of quality photos to reference, especially from Pat’s years with Arizona State. So, we really did our homework to feature a different range of images showing the various stages of Pat’s life.”


Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


  1. Can you help me get the contact to book the Pat Tillman tribute car to display and appear in my ISCA Sanctioned cars shows that are part of The Summit Racing Equipment Show Car Series.
    O’Reilly Auto Parts World Of Wheels Custom Auto Shows:
    Chattanooga, Tennessee January 5 – 7, 2018
    Birmingham, Alabama February 9 – 11, 2018

    Thank you so very much for your help.
    Sonny McLean

  2. The car was completly restored by Ronnie Rains, of Odessa, Texas, not Ross.
    Ronnie is a longtime supporter of many veteran’s causes, and has donated cars, monet, and time to many groups and events.
    He is responsible for the Dodge Hennesey Viper car tributed to Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor Foundation, the 1956 Ford Thunderbird Medal of Honor Tribute Car, and a 2013 Ford Raptor American Indian Warrior tribute truck currently on tour with Wounded Warrior Family Support.
    Ronnie hosts many veterans groups at his ranch free of charge.
    Many Veteran’s and Active Duty personnel will testify to Ronnie’s dedication and generous support.
    His name is Ronald D. Rains, Vietnam Veteran and a great philanthropist. He is a great friend to many, and deserves our thanks and recognition.

  3. Not a great look to me, but I totally respect the effort and sacrifice, Im a little prouder
    now to be the owner of a 1968 vert impala..

  4. A wonderful tribute to a true American hero. This car definitely is a fitting salute to Pat Tillman, however beyond that it is a tribute to every single American veteran of all eras. It also pays particular homage to all of America’s heroes who made the supreme sacrifice.

    There really is no perfect way to pay homage to all of America’s heroes. There are so many over the years from the Revolutionary War to today. The task really seems nearly impossible. However, I feel this beautiful Chevy Impala accomplishes this arduous task quite nicely through Pat Tillman and his legacy.


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