After a San Diego man was diagnosed with Stage 4 brain cancer, friends rallied to help him finish a car build and bring it to the Super Bowl of auto shows.
Kristian Nyberg, who was a service manager for a biotech company in San Diego, a job that allowed him to travel all over the world, had a passion for living, according to his wife of 10 years, Stacy.
"We got married in 2008 at a small ceremony on the beach in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, and we had a really happy marriage," Stacy told NBC 7 on Monday. "Kristian had an absolute passion for everything in life, so no matter what it was, he was looking for an adventure. He was rock-climbing, mountain-biking, jet skiing, boating. It was like one big adventure with him, and we all got to live that."
Aside from traveling and his family, cars were his passion.
"When I met him, he was part of a Mustang group -- he had several Mustangs -- it brought such light to his eyes," Stacy said. "That was just part of him."
That love for travel and fast cars brought Nyberg to Indianapolis in June 2018, where he met up with some friends at the Performance Racing Industry event. While they were there hanging out, the 42-year-old first noticed that something was wrong, his friends told NBC 7. He went to grab his drink and spilled it. When his friends began to good-naturedly rib him about it, he told them his hand wasn't working properly.
"He left the event early to get his shoulder looked at, and it wasn't his shoulder," said Charlie Rose, the director of business development at Speed Society, a self-described "automotive vertical content publishing and online retail services" business in Sorrento Valley. "They thought it was something in the brain, so they did an MRI."
Not long afterward, Nyberg, the father of three and a Navy veteran, was diagnosed with cancer -- in his case, it was Stage 4 glioblastoma multiforme.
"December 28, I was told I had a tumor," Nyberg said in a video recorded for a Build for Brain Cancer series produced by Speed Society. "Right, there's no cure, not great expectancy. It was a really scary time. Went home, had to tell my wife."
"They gave him 11 months to live when he was diagnosed," Rose told NBC 7.
SAN DIEGO GEARHEADS
While Nyberg didn't work for Speed Society, he was a fan who became close with the people at the company and would "always show up magically" at events around the country, with a "cooler packed and ready to go, have dinner reservations and would pick us up. He was everywhere."
It was only natural, being so close to the high-performance auto world, that Nyberg would want a dream car of his own, so he flew out to Michigan to look at a Z/28, then brought it home.
"It was an OK '69 Camaro with stock pretty much everything, and he always had a dream of making it a twin turbo, and he started taking apart the car in the two years before he had been diagnosed," Rose said.
The car wasn't his dream car, though, so Nyberg would buy parts to modify the vehicle. The cancer put an end to those efforts, though, after he lost the use of his right arm.
So the Camaro sat and became the kind of standard garage saga, where a car sits for 10 years and nothing actually happens to it.
But this Camaro wasn't destined for dust, not after something Nyberg said to his Speed Society friends, including Bryan Cole, the company's chief marketing officer.
" 'My dream is to drive this car finished, and that my son would be able to drive this car and enjoy it when I'm gone," Cole recalled Nyberg telling him.
Before long, the dream started to become a reality.
"We didn't even think we were going to do a car build -- so we took it out of his garage one day and that's where it went," Rose said.
They got to work at the start of last year -- and then word got out. The project was supposed to take three months, Rose said, but then 43 different manufacturers came together to give the Camara a top-to-bottom restoration.
"We started to build this car and the entire automotive industry … came to the table and offered support and parts to make this dream come true," Rose said.
Nyberg's wife, Stacy, said he was very enthusiastic about the project.
"He was excited but he had no idea what [Speed Society was] going to do," Stacy said. "He thought they were just going to get it to where he could actually drive it. It gave him something to really look forward to. His prognosis was not a good one, and there were so many different sponsors and people he had made friends with that it was a really personal thing for him, for so many people in the industry to come forward and show him such passion and love."
On Nov. 2, the build was complete.
THE SUPER BOWL OF AUTO SHOWS
The team had assigned themselves a deadline of Oct. 30 to complete the build, but they were late by three days. There was no longer time to ship the car to Las Vegas for the SEMA show. The annual Specialty Equipment Market Association event brings together the best of the best and is, in Cole's words, the "Super Bowl" of the auto-enthusiast world.
"His dream was to have that car and have it finished, but he never thought he would have a car of his at SEMA," Rose said.
So Nyberg and the Speed Society team had no choice -- they jumped in the Camaro and lit out for Vegas.
"Everybody wishes things were different, but I guess the thread of it all at the end of the day was, in a weird sort of way, to have a car -- which, for car people, is their passion -- it gave him the fight and the will to see it was finished and to see that with his son," Cole said.
Nyberg lost his battle with cancer on June 24, but not before he got to take that ride of his life. The Camaro, now parked in the Speed Society showroom, waits for his young son to take ownership sometime later in the 2020s
The journey for the car, a testament to Nyberg and his deep friendships in the auto world, hasn't come to the end of the road, however.
Just this week, the Camaro was entered in a Virtual Hot Wheels Legends Tour stop competion with 20 other vehicles.
"What the concept of that is, is for car enthusiasts around the country to submit their car to have the opportunity to win and actually have their car made as a commercially sold Hot Wheel," Cole said.
A vintage Mini Cooper that was extremely modified with a huge engine drove away as the winner. It's kind of what some people think a Hot Wheel looks like -- almost a caricature of a car.
But not all Hot Wheels are overbuilt. Some are just cool, and some are very, very cool, which is the case with Nyberg's Camaro, and which is why, no doubt in further tribute to the man and his friendships throughout the industry, this story doesn't end on the showroom floor of Speed Society.
"It apparently is going to be made into one anyway," Rose said.
"I think it's really exciting," Stacy Nyberg said. "I think it's a great legacy and an honor for sure. It's pretty incredible."
So Nyberg's Camaro, which might have ended up as just another garage saga, will instead undergo the 18-month process from selection to retail sale, and will be "immortalized as an iconic Hot Wheels die-cast vehicle," according to Rose.
"My only guidance is to be in the moment as much as you can ... just enjoy the time you have left, 'cause it goes very, very fast," Stacey said.
Speed Society put together a long-form video series on Facebook about the building of Nyberg's Camaro called Build for Brain Cancer. Watch it here.