A little more than 15 years ago, a battle broke out between two Norfolk car dealerships — Cornhusker Auto Center and Courtesy Ford.
Car Wars — a play on the title of the iconic sci-fi franchise “Star Wars” — started as a playful competition between Cornhusker Auto owner Al Rajaee and Courtesy Ford owner Darrel Novacek. The goal was to see which dealership could sell more cars in a designated time period. Over the years, the competition became somewhat of a summer tradition between the two dealerships.
“Car Wars is certainly something everybody talks about every year,” Novacek said. “And I think it’s been good for the community in Norfolk to know that you can be competitors and not dislike each other. You can work together and have promotions, and it’s good for everybody.”
But the tradition of Car Wars will change this year.
On Friday, Rajaee and his wife, Julie, became the new owners of Courtesy Ford of Norfolk, and Novacek and his wife, Linda, took their first step into retirement after almost 34 years at the Ford dealership.
Novacek said he and his wife had been contemplating the idea of retirement, and he began speaking with Rajaee about the possibility of selling the dealership to him.
“We’ve always had a desire to own a Ford franchise because they are the No. 1 franchise in the country, but we have never had this opportunity this close to home,” Rajaee said.
As soon as the decision to sell was made, the Rajaees began the intensive vetting process Ford requires of its dealership owners. Rajaee said a variety of factors were examined, including experience and knowledge in the field of auto sales, finances and customer satisfaction rate in previous sales.
“Ford is very selective on who they allow to succeed, and Al and Julie fit all of their criteria,” Novacek said.
Rajaee said the emphasis his existing dealerships put on customer satisfaction was a strong point in helping them fit that criteria.
“The philosophy has always been to make the customer the number one priority,” Rajaee said. “We’re a customer-focused dealership. Every process we do in our dealership is based on our customer feedback, so we make sure we’re listening to our customers.”
Under the Rajaees’ ownership, the Ford dealership will operate under the name Courtesy Ford of Norfolk; day-to-day operations will mirror that of the Cornhusker dealerships.
Courtesy Auto Sales, located at the northeast corner of the 13th Street and Omaha Avenue intersection, will cease operation, but all of the Courtesy employees will be retained, Rajaee said.
“One of the reasons we really strongly looked at the dealership is the quality of the people Darrel has working for him,” Rajaee said. “The employees that are building that dealership have been with Darrel for a long time, the longevity is amazing.”
Novacek praised his employees, giving them much of the credit for Courtesy Ford’s success over the past 34 years.
“I can’t say enough good things about them,” he said.
Rajaee said he plans to expand on the number of employees in the near future and also alluded to other “exciting news” coming, as well.
Rajaee said he believes purchasing Courtesy Ford benefits the Norfolk community, as well, because it keeps the dealership under local control. He and his wife have been longtime advocates of supporting local merchants.
“All of our investments stay here at home,” he said. “The best scenario has happened here, and we’re excited to take it to the next level.”
Novacek said Northeast Nebraska has been a great location to own a business and raise a family, and he’s excited about the enthusiasm he believes the Rajaees will bring to the dealership, even though the Car Wars tradition will change.
Both Rajaee and Novacek, however, offered reassurance that Car Wars should not yet be considered a promotion of the past: “We are cooking up some really clever things to continue the tradition that pays homage to the two guys that started it,” Rajaee said.