Vic Zast, managing partner
Vic calls his golf adventure Our Longest Drive. It’s a road trip by RV of nearly 5500 miles that four friends will take this June from Chicago to the three-hole Road’s End course in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada, north of the Arctic Circle. If all goes as planned, the golfers will tee up in daylight at midnight of the summer solstice – the year’s longest day.
If that’s not unique in itself, one of the golfers is dead.
That’s right, Mike Allen, who introduced Vic to Dan Johnson and then Dan Johnson and Vic to Jim Thompson - the members of a Saturday morning foursome - created a bond that not even death has broken. And Vic and his buddies are taking Mike’s ashes with them to celebrate their friendship, seek adventure and honor the game that united them.
Vic has invited also Martin Rodahl, a movie director, to come along. Rodahl’s Chicago-based film production company – 71 Degrees North – will be documenting the trip. A documentary film, to be named Our Longest Drive – is due for release in the fall. The enterprise is representative of Vic’s renaissance nature.
Right from birth, Vic has been breaking the mold. He was born at the precise moment President Harry S. Truman declared World War II over in the European theater. The nurses named him Victor Edward after VE-Day; he is arguably the first baby boomer, at least the generation’s precursor.
“I would have been Stanislaus or Mary but for the strike of the clock and a stroke of the pen,” V.E. quips.
Vic’s affinity for horse racing began when he read The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley. His interest was fueled by the excitement of running bets for his uncle, the owner of a grocery store where he worked as a youngster. Ironically, Vic’s idea for driving to the Arctic Circle came from reading another book – Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon.
By the time Vic graduated from Siena College in upstate New York, he was a featured college newspaper columnist. He had his first professionaly-written piece (about travel) published at age 22. Although he attended the University of Buffalo Law School, he chose business as a career. A job in the Chicago area brought him to the Midwest from his native Buffalo, NY.
Working in marketing and management in the fragrance (Jovan, Beecham Cosmetcs, Quintessence and five years for Coty in Europe), distilled spirits (Jim Beam) and horse racing (Delaware North Companies) categories, Vic rose to the rank of CEO in four different companies, two of which he owned.
His resume reflects an entrepreneurial attitude, highlighted by the creation of a museum and a network of souvenir magazines. He pioneered corporate sponsorships in thoroughbred racing and the development of private label brands in the perfume industry.
Today, Vic is best known as the controversial op-ed columnist for HorseRaceInsider.com and the keeper of the Saratoga Diary for The Blood-Horse magazine. He wrote the book The History and Art of 25 Travers.
Our Longest Drive will be the first film he produces.
Write to Vic Zast at:
1010 Miami Rd
Wilmette, IL 60091
Dan Johnson, transportation and logistics manager
Dan Johnson is a member of the Our Longest Drive foursome, the Chicago-area golfers who are driving 5500 miles to the Arctic Circle to play golf in daylight at midnight of the summer solstice to celebrate their retirement, the love of the game and the passing of a friend.
The deceased friend is Mike Allen, who the golfers will take on their trip in an urn.
Allen’s life ended two years ago after a lifelong struggle with Juvenile Diabetes. The fun-loving, unpredictable advertising executive was the person who introduced the three surviving travlers to each other, creating a friendship irrevocable held together by the game that they played on Saturdays for over 20 years.
Dan describes himself as “a man who likes a crease in his jeans.” He is keeping the books and has managed many of the trip’s details, including charting the route and selecting the Class C RVthat the men will drive to Inuvik.
“I chose a southern route that passes by Mt. Rushmore because the other guys have never been there,” Dan said. “The Class C RV may be bad on gas, but it’ll give us a place to escape and to work during the long stretches between stops,” he explained.
Dan is the most qualified to make such logistical arrangements, since he is a retired public accountant who completed his career, in 2005, as a partner in the Chicago office of Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co. (PMM&Co.), now known as KPMG LLP, one of the four largest international accounting firms.
Dan was admitted to the partnership in 1978 in the audit practice after earning his CPA in 1970. He joined the firm in 1969 and then dedicated his career to the study and research of the insurance industry, gaining renown for his expertise in the field.
From 1985 to his retirement, Dan served in the firm’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) practice group, managing national and international registrants. He was a board member (chairman) of Illinois State University’s College of Insurance advisory committee for more than 12 years.
Today, Dan and his wife spend summers at their lakeside home in Boulder Junction, Wisconsin. In years when Dan’s not traveling to the Arctic, the local lakes association is the fortunate recipient of his leadership.
Coincidentally, Dan will conduct a meeting of the Boulder Junction Lakes Associaiton on the day after he returns from Inuvik. At other times, he continues also to consult with companies and organizations related to the insurance industry.
A high school and college athlete, Dan earned his Bachelor of Business degree in Accounting at Michigan State University and his Master of Business degree at University of Wisconsin on a full scholarship from Arthur Anderson & Co.
Lest anyone think Dan Johnson is all business, however, he will gladly dispel that notion by taking you for a spin in his red Corvette, the top down and his favorite Temptations Greatest Hits CD playing at full throttle.
Jim Thompson, image consultant and referee
Although now a dedicated golfer, when Jim Thompson was a youngster, he blended his love of other sports with a desire to entertain. He became a proficient imitator, expertly copying the stance and style of every Major League Baseball player and every professional bowler from the late 1950s.
Obviously a cut-up when young, Jim got serious at some point, nurturing a highly successful career in advertising.
He is an investor and entrepreneur currently engaged in a technology start-up named Crowd Metrixx LLC. He also consults with several charitable and for-profit entities in the areas of branding, marketing strategy and business planning.
Jim spend the first 31 years of his career, however, at the Leo Burnett Company. he joined Burnett in 1970 in the media department and eventually developed into a topnotch account manager leading the account teams for Nestle, Memorex, United Airlines, Oldsmobile, Reebok, Maytag, Smucker’s, Pillsbury, Motorola, Delta Airlines, Sealy, Hallmark and others.
Jim chaired Burnett’s Client Services Department and its Investment Committee. He was a member of the Leo Burnett Worldwide Board of Directors.
A study in contrasts, Jim earned his Bachelor’s degree at Northern Illinois University, after a haltingly painful college start at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He has described himself as a “poor student but a stellar fraternity president.”
Ironically, he not only completed his MBA at the University of Illinois in 1967, but became a member of the graduate faculty at the University’s College of Commerce, teaching the course he originally flunked.
A man for all seasons, Jim has climbed Mt. Kilamanjaro, ran a couple marathons, ridden the Orient Express from Paris to Istanbul, chatted with Richard Nixon, hung out with Muhammad Ali for an evening and shared a box lunch with Count Basie.
He enjoys writing short stories and is an avid reader of literature (a dozen books at a time , rarely finishing one). He is a 12-handicap golfer, an emerging jazz pianist, a decent skeet shooter and former president of the Chicago Literary Club (2009-2010).
Oh, yes, and how could we forget: He is “moderately fit and a charming conversationalist.”
Mike Allen, cargo
Although dead, Mike Allen will be a presence during Our Longest Drive, the 5500-mile trip that a Chicago foursome will attempt by RV to tee off on a grassless three-hole golf course at midnight of the summer solstice in celebration of friendship and the love of the sport.
Sadly, Mike’s life was ended two years ago by complications from juvenile diabetes. Therefore, he will travel in an urn.
“Mike is coming along because we miss him,” explained Jim Thompson, one of the three travelers. “If not for Mike we’d have probably gone separate ways,” he said.
Mike was the person who introduced the men to each other. He played in their Saturday morning foursome and traveled with them when they vacationed at golf resorts. An annual gathering that Mike named the “Man Among Men Tournament” took the foursome and others in their circle of friends to take their game to Las Vegas, Tucson, Pinehurst, Palm Springs and Phoenix.
As a fun-loving guy, and a fellow who traveled down roads that others wouldn’t take, Mike would make each gathering unpredictable, if not hilarious. There’s the story about Mike jumping out of an airline as it taxied on the runway and the tale about him disappearing for the first through seventh innings of the most famous game in Chicago Cubs history. That was the game in which Steve Bartman thwarted the Cubs’ chances of going to the World Series by interfering with a foul ball that could have been caught. But, of course, Mike, inexplicably missed it, despite being at Wrigley Field.
Probably because of his formidable disease, Mike lived with no holds barred. In his last five years, he was unable to finish a round of golf without having a diabetic seizure. He had frequent car crashes. He made up lavish tales to keep pace with his friends, who lived normally.
Despite these misgivings, Mike rose in the ranks of account management at the Leo Burnett Company. He represented the agency on its McDonald’s, The Beef Council (“Beef – it’s what’s for dinner”), Union Carbide (Glad) and Green Giant accounts. He served a tour of duty for Burnett in Copenhagen, Denmark and Zurich, Switzerland – all while dealing with the haunting effects of his illness.
Mike was a graduate of the University of Chicago at Champaign-Urbana and, before that, a high school athlete in his hometown of Rockford, Illinois. His athlete’s discipline helped him to keep fit and taught him to exercise regularly, a practice that undoubtedly added years to his life.
Mike died a 22-handicap, adding 10 strokes, at least, to his Index in the last three years before death. he stood about 5 feet nine inches tall and tipped the scales at about 170 pounds. His ashes, however, are encased in a cherry wood hexagonal box that stands only nine inches tall and weighs 10 pounds – still a load, but not as heavy as when he lived.
Martin Rodahl, director
Martin Rodahl began his directorial career by documenting his friends while they skateboarded the streets of Norway, Martin’s country of birth. After moving to the U.S. to attend boarding school in Connecticut, Martin enrolled in Northwestern University’s film program where a series of internships and independent studies led to the creation of a commercial director’s reel.
This reel allowed Martin to enter the industry as a self-employed commercial director and he soon founded his own production company, 71 Degrees North, which thrives on bundling all facets of production, a workflow that became wildly popular following the recession’s decrease in marketing budgets.
Martin continues to handle the directorial, producing, and editorial duties for the majority of his own projects. Aside from spending time on set, Martin most enjoys to hunt, fish, grow beards, roll around in the snow, or participate in any other activity that reinforces his Norwegian stereotype.
Write to Martin Rodahl at:
71 Degrees North
300 N. Canal St., #3604
Chicago, IL 60606