Saturday, February 21, 2009


Thunderhill Raceway, 27 December 08

I was surprised by just how many people were at the driver’s meeting. There was a raise of hands to show how many had never done wheel-to-wheel racing before, and a large percentage of the hands went up. Cool. I’m in good company. (And I will probably be in good company for the next race too at this rate)

Now, I've done my fair share of canyon racing up in the Sierras as a younger, dumber lad, but never wheel to wheel on a real track. The group I hung out with had all kinds of rides we used to flog up and down the Yuba canyons of Hwy 49 in the middle of the night. There was a Datsun Z, a Cosworth Vega, 1 fairly quick 76 Toyota pickup we called the Green Machine, and a sprinkling of other cheap crap-cans. And then there was me in my Blue AMC Gremlin X, which I unimaginatively named Gizmo, that had a “Japanese Cadillac” bumper sticker on the rear.

It had a 258ci (4.2L) straight 6 motor and a 727 Torque-flight automatic. It wasn’t the fastest car up there by far, but it did have LOTS of torque, sharp quick ratio steering and a short wheelbase, and was fairly light except for severe front end weight bias. The front wore nice sticky Pirellis tires I got for free, while the rear set was made up of 1 Sears and Roebuck, plus 1 JC Penny bias ply tire. The heavy front end of the Gremlin would plow into a sharp corner, and then the rear would slowly begin to slide around as the body pitched wildly. Exciting!

I found I could control the amount of rotation by slightly adjusting the throttle. When I came out of the corner and put the hammer down the rear tires would strain for grip and I often found myself a bit sideways with the poor inner tire smoking until I flung it the other direction for the next corner. It seemed a silly way to drive, but it was the only way to keep up (and was a lot of fun). My car buddies said it was frightening to see my lights zig-zagging in their rear-view mirrors. I could never pass anyone, but they could not quite shake me either. It sure was hard on those rear tires though.

I’m just glad I never hit a deer. Just the owl I dazed, that ended up scaring the crap out of my mom in my closet (sorry mom), but that’s another story for another day...

Many years later a friend from Malaysia showed me a Japanese animation series called “Initial D”, which was about a teenage tofu delivery driver for the family business. His early morning route takes him through the mountains, and he wants to get back home as soon as possible. But to keep him from doing anything stupid, his father places a cup full of water in the car that he has to bring back full without spilling a drop.

He soon learns a faster new way to drive, sliding sideways, or smoothly “drifting” through the corners… HEY!! WHADAYAKNOW!?!?

I thought it was the coolest thing since the original Speed Racer, even though I could not understand anything from the storyline. It was in Japanese and subtitled in Chinese! Eventually it became a huge pop culture hit, spawned movies and apparently evolved into the whole JDM/Drifting lifestyle thing.

Huh.(looks around puzzled) Drifting eh? Boy was I born in the wrong decade.

To be a flannel and leather coat wearing teenage hick in the mountains, driving sideways in a crappy American Motors car, and then to see a Japanese version of it (done WAY better of course) made me smack my forehead. Oh the Synchronicity… which.. happened to be my favorite Police album at the time as well

Between our canyon racing and my Dukes of Hazard style dirt road driving, I’m really surprised at how well that poor Gremlin held up. That is, until the car met the 2 cedar trees… and then that drainage ditch with some help from those stoned hitchhiker chicks… but those are REALLY stories for another day. The poor car's career ended with a massive fix-it-ticket, and a police man asking me what color the car used to be...

Back at Thunderhill raceway:

After the drivers meeting we went and checked out the snack bar. Lo and Behold! They had breakfast burritos! SCORE! My are-you-serious-spouse looked back in the direction of the RV full of goodies and asked “Are you serious?”

Oh Yes, Yes I am. Munch-munch…

We tooled around in the pits for a while, and then met up with a few people from lunch at the Chinese restaurant a month earlier who were driving the #88 Lemon-Martini Porsche. They realized I was here with Lou’s team, and introduced me to the 4th team member Robert, who I hadn’t met yet. He was also waiting for Lou to show up, and held out with a sense of humor. He said they received word from Lou and Armand who had made it as far as Williams Ca, within 20 miles of the track. They could be here any time now. Wow! Really? I didn't actually think it was possible…

And then the race started.


Previous: Thunderhill or Bust!

From The Beginning: The Hook... (Part 1)

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