With his dad, he went to a marketing event Audi held at a track outside Chicago. Both fell in love with the S7. “We drove the S6, S7, S8 and R8, and RS 5 on a racetrack,” he says. “Did a bunch of hot laps for the day, both with ourselves driving and having a professional driver take us around and really show us what the cars could do, and from that moment forward, I knew I wanted to get an S7.”
His father ended up also buying a car after that event—the A7. “It really is an impressive way to experience a car rather than just leaving a dealer lot and doing a five-block drive around the block and thinking, ‘Do I want to spend tens of thousands on a car after that little drive? I’m not quite sold. ‘”
What sold Stine on the Audi was the car’s stability. “It felt more planted and more secure on the track than the S6. I wasn’t planning to track it, but the way it drove, to me, felt sportier and more secure even than the S6, which is the car I was looking at,” he says. “I was like, ‘Do I pay extra?’ The back seat’s a little more cramped, but just the appearance of the car was enough to push me over the edge.”
He loved the way it looks. “I loved the design, and the hatchback was a more practical way of having more storage instead of a conventional trunk,” he says. “So those were the things that really got me—the look of the car, the design of the interior, and of course the performance, that V-8.”
The only downside is that the backseat has begun to feel more cramped in the last year, when he tries to secure a rear-facing child seat for his 10-month-old son. So they often go in his wife’s 2018 Acura MDX for longer drives. “We’ve had a lot of great road trip memories and trips in that car, but [when] that child seat goes in, the front seat’s not nearly as comfortable sitting so upright to make room for it.”
Stine has always test-driven cars for fun, and he thought a dream job would’ve been to work at an automotive brand like MotorTrend.
“I’m that much of a car nut,” he says. “I’ve been getting MotorTrend since I was 12. I remember going to Osco drug store with my dad, and I saw MotorTrend in the magazine rack. I picked it up and [asked if I could get it.] All of a sudden I had a subscription. I had every car magazine organized on my bookshelves or in boxes.”
Stine researches everything, to the point where friends ask him what car they should buy. “At least once a week I get a text from someone. I always wanted to know all things about cars even if it wasn’t the most exciting model,” he says, adding that he used to read minivan reviews, even as a kid.
Car he learned to drive in
Stine grew up in Naperville, Illinois, and learned to drive in his parents’ 1983 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser wagon. “A silver station wagon. No wood paneling. Which was pretty in vogue at the time,” he says with a laugh.
Both his parents took turns taking him around. They’d talk through what he should be thinking about and watching for at an intersection.
“My dad would tell me that you’re always watching the other cars even when you’re stopped. Try to think of an exit route if there’s an accident, if there’s going to be a car coming toward you, if you see someone coming out of their lane,” Stine says. “He always had me paying attention to what possibilities were there, even if you thought you were in a totally safe spot and stopped.”
One time, they were at a stoplight when Stine was 13, and an accident happened in the intersection in front of them.
“We were the first car at the red light. Someone blew a red light and T-boned, and the one car spun and slid right past the front of our car just missing us by inches,” he says. “[My dad] just told me, ‘You always have to be aware; you never know what might happen. As soon as the light turns green, doesn’t mean you step on it. You still look both ways because there might be a car that disobeyed the signal.’ He always taught me to be a very aware driver, which I appreciated.”
Stine’s old station wagon was a popular butt of jokes for his friends in high school. “People joked, called it the ‘grocery getter,’ the joke was it was the ‘honey wagon’ because you weren’t really going to pick up girls in a station wagon,” he says, with a laugh.
But it ended up being a popular car because it could transport nine passengers. “Any time there was a home football game or a school event, everyone was like, ‘Let’s just take your car!’ I think my parents didn’t really love that idea because they didn’t like the idea of the new driver having the liability of nine people in a car. But it was a great car for high school life, and I have fond memories of it.”
Although it wasn’t the coolest car in high school, Stine was thankful for it. “A lot of people aren’t lucky enough to have a car passed down to them,” he says. “It wasn’t the car I would choose if I could pick a car, but I was happy to have wheels and to be able to drive to high school and school events and give people rides.”
First car bought
After he’d worked a bunch of summer jobs in college and saved up, Stine was looking at the classifieds for a car during his senior year and came across a 1997 Mercedes-Benz E 420 sedan.
“The price just seemed way too good to be true,” he says. “I looked at the price. It was in the mid 20s. It was way off. I took it to my parents, and it was at a dealership that was 60 miles from us, so we drove up there. When it came time to negotiate the price, their price was not at all what was advertised. I pulled out the newspaper and said, ‘This is why I came in.’ They looked at the ad in the paper and the price was not correct in the paper. Much, much, much lower.”
The dealer sold other brands, and Stine’s dad looked around and the sales guy came up with a solution. “They said, ‘We’ll honor this price in here if you guys agree that you’re going to buy your next car from us.’ My dad said, ‘That’s pretty honorable. If you’re going to stick to the pricing mistake, then we’ll do that.’ My parents ended up buying their next two cars from that dealership.”
Stine had enough to buy a car that was around $20,000 because he’d saved up from working odd jobs in high school and college. “I used to detail cars, I ran my own detailing business in summers, and I worked at Best Buy and Structure, and a restaurant as well, I bussed tables,” he says.
It was unusual to have a car on campus, and he liked that it was silver and didn’t attract a lot of attention. “It was a car that really sparked my love for German cars in general,” he says.
Up to that point, his family had only owned GM cars. “We had a Pontiac Bonneville, the station wagon, a Chevy Suburban,” he says, but “I had so few problems with [the Benz] and enjoyed it so much that my father ended up buying an E-Class for the first time. The way that they drove was so night-and-day different compared to what I’d experienced with U.S. models up to that point.”
The family tried to write GM because they had to replace a timing belt three times before one of their cars reached 100,000 miles, he says, adding that the car once died in the middle of an intersection while his sister was making a left-hand turn. His dad wrote GM a letter listing 15 cars he’d owned that were GM models, but Stine says, “GM responded with ‘Here’s $250 off a Cavalier,’ and we’ve never bought a GM vehicle since.”
Favorite road trip
“In ’92 I was still in high school, and once [my parents] passed the station wagon down to me, they bought a Chevy Suburban,” he says. “We spent four or five years going to the dealership looking at Suburbans in the showrooms, thinking about them, not buying one.”
His dad always wanted to do a big road trip, so the following summer, after they’d finally gotten the Suburban, the family went on a 6,000-mile road trip, covering 18 states in 21 days.
“I was keeping a log while we traveled, all the places we visited, and having to stop and get an oil change during a road trip was crazy to me at the time,” Stine says. “I was 15 and had my learner’s permit so my dad let me drive as practice in every state. By the time I was 16, I’d practiced driving in 18 states.”
They stopped at all the obligatory tourist places including Mt. Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, ski towns in Colorado, white-water rafting on the Snake River, the motorcycle rally in Sturgis, and Wall Drug on the way back.
“At times I had my headphones on and I wanted to be back home with my friends, but looking back, I’m so very glad that my parents took us on that trip and I hope and plan to take a similar trips with my wife and kids someday,” he says.
The long hours and moments of family bonding made the trip memorable. “It was so family focused, rather than when you go to a theme park, you’re more focused on doing the rides, and this was seeing places that my sister and I had never seen,” he says. “It was a fantastic trip. I have some fond memories of my parents and my sister experiencing things for the first time. It was an overall very fun trip, because you spend so many hours in the car with each other. There were stories that my parents would tell that I hadn’t heard before.”
Even though there were times he felt like he was probably a whiny 15-year-old, looking out the window during a lull in the drive, that was part of the experience.
“This was the whole family doing new things together, and there were times where you said, ‘Dad, yep, I can’t believe how high this corn is, either.’ As a kid you’re bored, but at the same time this was a trip for everyone, and back then the Suburban was the perfect road trip car because it seemed so huge,” he says.
The spacious Suburban was great because his sister took the back row, the middle row was for whoever wanted to take a nap, and he and his mom would alternate sitting next to his dad, who did most of the driving.
“I joke about that being the start of National Lampoon’s Vacation, where he’s got the computer and trip laid out. My dad had a 20-page document, this many miles between the hotel on this night, and the second day we have to cross all of Nebraska, having it all planned out,” he recalls. “On a trip of that length you really do have to do that in order to see all the sights you’re trying to get to.”
Straight No Chaser’s album One Shot
On the new album One Shot, the a cappella group tells their story through song, highlighting moments from their start at Indiana University in 1996.
“Half of us were in the music school, but there was no a cappella group. One of the reasons I switched out of the music program was I didn’t want to be an opera singer,” Stine says. “A couple of us got together and said they have these groups out on the East Coast.”
They were also doing it for fun to get free food and meet girls, he said. “In 2006, they had a 10-year anniversary for us, and I threw these old clips on YouTube, and they were Betamax tapes just for us to share, and 18 months later, it went viral on New Year’s Day 2008,” Stine says. “I got a phone call from the CEO of Atlantic Records, ‘Can you get everybody back together and tour?’ I was like, ‘Who is this?’ Is one of my friends making this voice? Five days later I flew to Los Angeles, had dinner with them, and we’ve been doing this for a decade now. We uprooted our lives and took the plunge of quitting our actual steady real jobs, and health care and everything else that came with that, to take the chance on this working.”
Today, Stine is thankful for the opportunity to be making music full time, although he would still find a way to be doing music if the group had never made it from the viral video.
“There’s something fulfilling in the performance, even those playing piano at home,” he says. “If I wasn’t doing this, I would want to be involved in some way.”
When the video went viral, it went beyond anything he could have planned. “Before this happened, I was with a group loosely in Chicago, and I ended up quitting that group and I said to my girlfriend at the time, ‘The only way I could do a cappella is if I could get back together with my old group,’ and then two weeks later the video went viral,” he says. “I was like, ‘It’s an Oprah moment, you put it out in the universe.’ I have plenty of friends that are much more talented than I am, and I know they would want to tour as much and get to play to as many people as we do. I know how many people would love this lifestyle and get to play music for a living.”
Stine says it’s been fun to work with legends on their albums such as Paul McCartney and Elton John. “We performed at the Hollywood Bowl two summers ago with Al Yankovic, Michael McKean tweeting—’Great concert.’ It’s always fun to see who comes backstage at the show.”
For more information visit sncmusic.com