I know I’ve got my arms around a powerful dream when it ignites a kind of desperation in me to have it, own it, hold it before it disappears: I’m learning it’s wise to pay attention to the ideas that steal inside and prick at your heart with such cold, sweet longing. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the significance of dreams and felt compelled to write about what moves me. Cars have been a part of my life since I was a little kid pushing Matchbox cars across the carpet, making engine sounds with pursed lips. I stared this blog from that same passionate place – this is the adult equivalent of toy cars and mouthed exhaust notes – and I thought it would be fun to share my Top 5 motoring dreams.
People sometimes ask me what my favorite car of all time is. There is *literally* no way to answer that question because the answer is constantly changing. Same thing here – this list is fluid and flexible and in no particular order. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this list and what your own motorized dreams are, so feel free to leave a comment below. Thank you for supporting my passion!
Experiencing the Stelvio Pass
There are an unlimited number of incredible driving roads that could/should be included on gearhead’s bucket list – the Blue Ridge Parkway, California’s famous Highway 1, or the Transfagarasan Highway in Romania to name a few. But, it’s the Stelvio Pass that earns a spot in my Top 5. Imagine you’re a kid again and someone hands you a magic marker and tells you to draw the wildest, most wonderful road you can think of. Marker in hand, you concentrate and begin to scribble – crazy hairpin turns, long straights, maybe even a mountain or two to climb. You’d put every cool element you could think of into a single road. The end result would undoubtedly be the Stelvio Pass. I mean, just look at it! It’s gorgeous! Located in the Italian Alps, this breathtaking mountain pass manages to pack 48 switchbacks into 15 winding miles.
Can you imagine what it would be like to hustle this road in a red Ferrari convertible? Sun beaming down amidst snow capped mountains silently stretching skyward? Hairpin after hairpin rushing toward you – brake, turn sharply, jump on the gas and ride it out, brake, turn sharply… Or, what it would be like to throw a leg over a (insert Italian motorcycle brand here – we are in the motherland, after all), and assault the road that way? I struggle to think of any other road that inspires the way the Stelvio Pass does. It’s honestly the stuff of dreams.
Something happens inside me when I get around racing, and I’m not quite sure what it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s watching Valentino Rossi hang off the side of his MotoGP bike, or Fernando Alonso sliding into the cockpit of his Formula 1 car, or heck, even when I put on a helmet at a go-kart track. It pulls at something in me to, I don’t know, do things. Be better. Get off my ass. Hustle. It’s that desperation thing I mentioned. I’m acutely aware that all hope is lost for my chances at going pro, but I can still, like, compete in rich gentleman’s leagues and stuff, right?
There are a litany of reasons why going racing won’t work – too expensive, too dangerous, I’m too old, I’ve never been, I don’t own anything to race. I say: screw all that. If you do the work, you’ll find the solution. Besides, other people have done it which means I can too. And why not? I’m starting to understand that if something continues to tug at your heart over and over and over again, it probably feels that way for a reason. It would be the easy, comfortable thing to remain a spectator and not do what it takes to go racing. But when something feels like this, how steep is the price of ignoring it?
Visiting the Ferrari factory
I can only imagine that visiting the Ferrari factory in Maranello, Italy, is like visiting God’s holy workshop. Mixed in with spare parts of animals still to be discovered and people yet to be born, are the camshafts, piston rings, and crackle-coated intake manifolds for a Ferrari V12. Someone doesn’t even have to be into cars and there’s a great chance they still understand what the name “Ferrari” entails. My earliest car memory is of a red Ferrari Testarossa in Lake George, NY one warm summer night. My sister and I were downtown getting food, and after seeing it drive by, I actually ran out into traffic to stand behind it as it sat at a light. If I focus hard enough, I can still see the wide straked rear-end, still hear it growling, the way the sound reverberated in my chest.
There’s a certain mystique about Ferrari that few other brands can match. Part of it is Ferrari’s racing pedigree, which is nearly peerless. Part of it is the powerful role the brand plays in popular culture. Another is the certainty – the same certainty that the sun will rise again tomorrow – that every new Ferrari road car will continue to raise the performance threshold. And another is just that damn gorgeous shade of red. Whatever it is, consider me hooked. Honestly, I’m not sure if Ferrari even does factory tours for us “regular people” (someone let me know if they do?), but I don’t care. I’m going. Combine this with driving the Stelvio Pass and there’s a good chance I’d never leave Italy again.
Attending the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance
What is there to say about the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance that hasn’t already been said? It’s crazy, insane. Every year when the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance rolls around (pun!), some of the most valuable cars on earth head to California for a celebration of the automobile which has no equal. You can bet your bottom dollar on seeing the richest of the rich and the rarest of the rare.
Literally situated on the 18th green of the famous Pebble Beach Golf Links with the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop, this event isn’t a mere “car show” (those are for plebeians, my dear). It’s a week-long exhibition whose atmosphere is more akin to The Great Gatsby than anything else, and showcases pristine examples of the automobile from every era and every pedigree. Has it always been your dream to see a 1953 Ferrari 250 MM Vignale Spyder? Pebble Beach has it. Or, what about the insanely rare 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic? This is where you’ll see it. In addition to the primary Concours, there are numerous other shows, historic races at nearby Laguna Seca raceway, and driving excursions along the California coast. In my fantasy, I’m walking around the Concours in a sun hat, Ray-Bans, a white linen suit, sipping a Mint Julep, and wondering if I’d rather take the multi-million dollar Ferrari home, or take the multi-million dollar Rolls Royce home. See how nice it is to dream?
Driving cross-country on a motorcycle
One of my greatest fears is becoming stagnant, not fully experiencing all that’s possible from life, so this entry on my list is a must. I can think of no more clear or potent example of the dream than taking a cross-country road trip on a motorcycle. I’ve always felt that driving across the country is almost our duty as Americans – to see and discover those purple mountains and amber waves of grain. And I’m not talking about a frantic sprint that has you constantly checking your watch because the office is beckoning. I mean one of those trips they write books and songs about – where time is fully yours to be savored and measured out in delicious, soulful moments, rather than by what a schedule demands.
Taking the trip in a car works, but a motorcycle brings things to an entirely different level. I won’t even bother explaining it (mainly because I haven’t done it yet), so instead, I’ll let the wildly talented bunch from Manchester, NH’s own Iron & Air do that for me. Like the roads themselves, the dreams you’ll be chasing on a trip like this would be continually moving and flowing, leading you down paths perhaps you didn’t expect and to destinations you never considered. Of all the dreams on this list, this is my most treasured.
Bonus! Visiting Monaco
Oh Monaco, you beautifully ridiculous stereotype, you. This tiny independent city-state on the Mediterranean Sea holds the title of having more millionaires and billionaires per capita than any other place on earth. Consequently, it’s also home to the most prestigious Formula 1 race in the world, more ships and yachts in its harbor than a full blown Navy yard, and enough supercars to make a Saudi prince weak in the knees. It’s the absolutely insane car-spotting that lands Monaco on this list. Roads here, especially in the ward of Monte Carlo, are cramped and usually bungled up with traffic. Clearly, that matters to no one. YouTube is rife with videos with headlines like, “Lamborghini Aventador brutal acceleration and sound!”. Odds are good the video is of a sunglassed, suntanned, sonofa… generic wealthy owner hammering the big Lambo through the tunnel under the famous Monte Carlo casino. Keep an eye out for my fanboy video from Monaco coming soon 🙂
Queen City Cars & Coffee is back! The past two years hosting this show have been absolute blast, and I’m stoked to be putting it on again this year. Last year, over 90 cars attended, about 30 more than the first year. For QC3 (just made that name up right now and I dig it) the goal is set at 125 cars. Let’s rally together and make it happen! Invite your friends, invite their friends, invite people that aren’t your friends, invite your grandma, your neighbor, the guy who cleans your septic tank, it doesn’t matter. Just invite them. I genuinely think we have the chance to create something epic and put the Manchester car scene on the map. This year’s show is on Saturday, September 13 from 8am to 12pm at the Arms Parking Lot in Manchester, NH. Be sure to follow @_DoranD_ and @TopDeadCenter on Twitter for updates. I’m beyond fired up for this, and I can’t wait to see everyone there!
Welcome to the brand new Top Dead Center series, Co-Driver. Here, fellow gear heads have an outlet for their automotive passions, whether it’s a exciting story to tell, photos to share, or the retelling of an epic adventure. Co-Driver’s inaugural entry comes from Shawn Pierce, a talented writer and photographer and friend of TDC, who had the chance to shoot a mint track-ready BMW e36 M3 and tell its owner’s unique story. Be sure to check out the Shawn Pierce Photography Facebook page for more of Shawn’s work.
You know the old saying: When life hands you lemons, make lemonade? Well, when life totals your Cadillac, what would be the equivalent of making lemonade? For BMWCCA driving instructor, Laura Fallis, it is made entirely of Bavarian lemons, clad in triple black, and wears an M badge.
On a slick, rain dampened highway in 2006, Laura was involved in an accident that sent her Cadillac ETC off to the scrap yard. While trying to avoid an oncoming car that had veered unexpectedly into her lane, she hit the brakes, swerved off the road, and wound up against a guardrail. “I hit the guardrail hard. I watched the on-coming traffic as the car was launched off its wheels,” recalled Laura. “Only one wheel rode the bottom side of the guardrail, the rest of the car was airborne. I remember the car jolting and I thought it was going to roll. As the car landed sideways in the fast lane, I’m looking at on-coming traffic again and I’m thinking: please stop.” Thankfully they did and Laura walked away from the accident with just bumps, bruises, and minor whiplash. The Cadillac, however, was a wreck and Laura was left with the task of finding a new daily driver.
It was just prior to all this that the track bug had bitten Laura hard. She completed the performance driving course at Skip Barber Racing School at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, and after that she was off to the races… literally. “I always wanted to race and I found myself with the opportunity to do so,” Laura explained.
A while later, Laura found a 1997 BMW e36 M3 that would eventually fulfill both her daily driver needs and track day desires. “I happened to drive by this BMW with a for sale sign on it,” said Laura. “For some reason it captured my eye, so I turned around, never suspecting this might be the one. But it was love at first sight. I took it for a test drive and the next thing I know, I have the title in hand and I’m off to get plates to pick her up.”
Laura quickly set about making her new M3 track worthy by asking one of the Northeast’s premier BMW tuners, Turner Motorsports (TMS), to work their magic. Kevin Holmes of TMS gave the car a thorough inspection. He found that overall the car was in good shape (it had been in a minor collision at some point but repairing it was simple), and he set to work on the upgrades to make the M3 the track rat Laura wanted. The car had already been equipped with an AFE cold air intake system, so Laura decided to focus on the suspension. She installed H&R sport springs and a Bilstein sport shock and strut set. She upgraded the front and rear sway bars and added reinforcements all around. They also added a BMW shark injector engine software upgrade which provides an increase in horsepower and torque, quickens throttle response, increases the rev-limits, and removes the top speed limiter. All things you want when pushing the limits on a race track.
After purchasing the M3 she became a member of the BMW Car Club of America (BMWCCA) and began attending numerous track day events with the club. Eventually, her driving prowess got her noticed and she was asked to be an instructor for the club. “I think they felt it an asset I am female,” said Laura. “I could make students comfortable and also give them that sense of instruction that none of the other instructors could.”
Laura has owned her M3 since 2006 and has driven it nearly every single day since. It now has more than 169,000 miles on the odometer, 109,000 of which Laura put on herself. Over the years she has made upgrades to nearly every major system in the car including further upgrades to the suspension, a new cooling system, a Borla cat back exhaust, and an upgraded transmission with a short shifter out of a BMW Z3. She estimates three to five percent of those miles were put on during track days.
When asked about her unique vanity plate (VIXEN) Laura said, “A number of years ago at a track event there were a number ice racers there. There were a couple of vehicles that had Santa’s reindeer’s names on their plates. I thought… too cool! What better plate for a chick’s M3?”
– Many thanks and much respect to Shawn Pierce for his time and effort in creating this piece.
The first time I ever saw a Ferrari was on a family vacation in Lake George, New York when I was about 17 years old. It is indelibly burned into my memory: A red Testarossa growling through downtown Lake George on a warm summer night, downshifting for a red light, me running into the middle of the street to stand behind it with my mouth agape.
Since they started making roadcars, Ferrari’s bread and butter has been cars like the Testarossa—low, wide, mid-engined, two seat sports cars. That is, until now. Welcome to the most unorthodox Ferrari ever made, the FF.
Released in 2011, the FF (which stands for “Ferrari Four”, as in four seats and four-wheel drive) is about as unconventional for the most revered name in motoring as you can get. It is the very first all-wheel drive Ferrari, and instead of a svelte two seat configuration, a slightly ungainly hatchback designed body was penned instead. As you can imagine, when Ferrari first revealed the FF, the purists went nuts. They cried, “Whaaaat?!? Ferrari is making a car that ISN’T a dedicated asphalt shredding track weapon? Blasphemy!” This car is Ferrari’s response to an ever changing and evolving marketplace. With the FF, the company is now able to reach into previously untapped markets to scoop up customers who may have never purchased a Ferrari because of the cars’ inherent practical limitations.
And the result? Epic. The FF may look more pedestrian than the 458, F12, or the Enzo, but don’t be fooled. Along with its ability to fit, like, stuff and people inside, it arrives packing a 6.3-liter V12 engine, the largest capacity engine Ferrari has ever created, 651 horsepower, and crushing on road performance. It even passed one of the toughest crucibles of them all—the withering yet hilarious opinions of TV’s most famous trio on Top Gear, and it went onto win the show’s “2011 Estate Car of the Year” award. (‘Estate’ translating into ‘station wagon’ for us ‘Muricans).
And it isn’t just Top Gear that is singing the FF’s praises—Harry Metcalfe of EVO magazine fame took loan of an FF for a week, putting 2000 miles on it and driving through nearly every situation possible—hustling down motorways, tearing up backroads, long road trips, even taking it for a spin around his farm. The car’s innovative four-wheel drive system allowed Harry to literally take the FF offroading. Blimey, Ferrari seems to have pulled it off. Check out the excellent video HERE.
The FF is by no means the most lustworthy or visually appealing Ferrari ever made, but it is an immensely capable machine and a total game changer for the Prancing Horse. Bravo!
I understand if you don’t know what car this is. This is undoubtedly the rarest and most interesting car yet featured on Cars in the Wild. Some cars are so transcendent that you don’t have to know a single thing about them but the minute you see one, you know it is something special. When a Rolls-Royce or a Lamborghini drives by, people without a shred of car geek in them turn to gaze longingly then quickly text their car obsessed buddies. And, there are some cars that being seen driving in them is one of their primary purposes (I’m looking at you Rolls and Lambo). This is not one of those cars. Yes, the giant wing will cause deep boy-racer envy and every cop on the road will do a double-take when the see the flashy red paint, but the Noble M400 is about as far from a poser performance car as you can get.
Google ‘Noble’ and you have to scroll for several pages before you reach the company’s homepage at NobleCars.com. Based in Leicester, England, Noble has been producing cars in small batches since 1999 with only a handful of different models since its inception. The M400—the track oriented version of the Noble M12—features a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 that puts out 425 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. What’s most significant about this car, and rings true of Noble’s in general, is the staggering level of performance it delivers for a comparatively small fee. Brand new during its production run from 2004 to 2007, the M400 would run you about $70,000. It may not have the swagger of an Italian exotic, but in return for your hard earned money it will obliterate the run to 60 miles per hour in 3.3 seconds (as fast as a Ferrari Enzo), and pull well over 1.0G on the skidpad. Check out a fun Fifth Gear comparison test with the M400 HERE, and a 2007 review from Car & Driver HERE.
The thing I like most about the M400, however, is that you have to know what this car is in order to buy one. This is not a car you cruise around in to pick up chicks or flaunt your wealth in—although the ride is reportedly very good, which should bode well for delicate female bottoms. Whoever owns this car must understand cars on a different level than someone who buys, say, a Lamborghini Gallardo. While the Lambo is a ridiculously capable performance car, there is a certain brain wave pattern a person must exhibit to purchase one that I don’t think exists for the M400—call it a mix of vanity/bravado/macho. I’d like to assume that the owner of this car (I must meet them!) enjoys track days, knows the Formula 1 champions for the past decade, relishes replacing the M400’s clutch and sipping aged classic Scotch. If I see this car on the road, you can bet I’m going to do everything I can to get them to pull over so I can find out if my assumptions are correct. Is that sketchy? Whatev.
If you’ve spent any time around me at all for the past few months, you’ve heard me talk (with great vigor) about the Yuppie Rally. Put together by the great team over at Yuppie Racing, the 2012 Yuppie Rally ran from the Aston Martin of New England dealership in Waltham, Massachusetts, down to The Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee, up to Atlantic City and back, all the while raising money to support Guardian Angel Motorsports and the Franciscan Hospital for Children in Brighton, MA. Be sure to check out Yuppie Racing’s website HERE, and the TDC Facebook page for more photos and video from the Rally.
Day 1 – So It Begins: Sometimes in life you’re presented with moments and opportunities that cause you to stop abruptly, take a wide-eyed look around, and say to yourself, “How the heck did I end up here?” I had one of those moments earlier this month as I slid into the passenger seat of a new cherry red Audi R8 V10, getting ready to embark on the five day, 2500 mile Yuppie Rally. As I closed the bank vault-like door and listened to the R8’s Lamborghini-derived V10 engine snarled to life, I still couldn’t figure out what divine intervention landed me here. Those thoughts, along with the rest of my brain, were reduced to the consistency of scrambled eggs as I experienced the full fury of the R8 for the first time. It was going to be a good week.
I met Pete Ladas and Chris Benvie, the masterminds behind Yuppie Racing, through Steve Oldford and Guardian Angel Motorsports. After several months of figuring out sponsorship parameters, what I could bring to the table, and finalizing the details, I found myself the recipient of a seat on the Yuppie Rally with only food and gas bills ahead of me. For what felt like years I had imagined being on the Rally and carving up smooth Southern roads behind the wheel of some exotic machine, partying in Atlantic City, and spending a week with card carrying gearheads. Scott Marberblatt, the owner of the R8, was gracious enough to offer me his passenger seat and for that I am eternally grateful. A huge shout out to the Team O’Neil Rally School for donating a multi-day Rally School to the Rally—they were primary reason I was able to attend this year! Be sure to visit their website HERE, and read the ‘Chasing Racing Dreams’ feature I previously wrote on the school HERE.
Just after five pm, all 18 cars rolled out of Aston Martin with our first destination being a hotel right outside Philadelphia, PA. The two hours before we departed were spent mingling, swapping stories about previous rallies, and getting the pre-rally briefing from Chris and Pete on the days that lay ahead. To the untrained eye, a Rally may appear to simply be an excuse for people to get together and drive like lunatics. Watching videos on YouTube of the infamous Gumball or Bullrun rallies can create a skewed perception of what an event like this is. To some degree, yes, it is about having a blast on the road with your buddies, but it’s also about raising money for a great cause and being a brand ambassador for what the Yuppie Rally is all about. And having epic adventures.
The trip from Mass to our hotel in Philly was relatively uneventful (if you can call an exotic car rally uneventful) and we somehow managed to squeak across the George Washington Bridge outside New York City with essentially no traffic. We arrived at the first hotel around 10pm. My original plan was to put a post up on TDC each day of the Rally, but as soon as I caught sight of the hotel bed’s deep pillows and crisp sheets, I knew that idea was a goner. Day 1 Highlight: Hitting the first of many tunnels we would see in the R8 (Did I mention it had a Tubi aftermarket exhaust? It sounded like… God). A car like the R8 turns average driving experiences into sheer bliss.
Day 2 – Perceptions Redefined: Day two dawned bright and gorgeous. Walking around back of the hotel and seeing all our cars lined up in private parking spots, gently sprinkled with morning mist, was an excellent way to start the day. So was seeing the looks of disbelief on all the faces of the hotel staff. (Sidenote: two of my favorite parts about hotels are 1.) Not having to clean anything, and 2.) Free continental breakfast. Pretty sure endless free breakfast is actually heaven).
We headed out of the hotel and pointed our caravan south towards Virginia, the location of our next checkpoint. After several exciting hours, we pulled into a rest area for the requisite stretch/bathroom break/gas fill up. As we got ready to hit the road again, Scott asked me if I wanted to drive and handed me the keys. I’m pretty sure that had I looked up, I would have seen a soft celestial light caressing my brow.
Climbing into the driver’s seat of the R8 for the first time was strangely serene—I had expected to feel overwhelming excitement, verging on delirium, at the prospect of driving the car, but that wasn’t what I felt at all. Pulling the door closed with a satisfying thunk, sliding the key into the ignition and starting the breathlessly rampant V10 behind me simply felt natural, correct. Instead of a blinding excitement, I felt a sense of calm definiteness that this was where I needed to be.
When people ask me what driving the R8 was like I tell them this—it’s exactly as good as you think it is. Comfortable, spacious, and a bit like driving a 520 horsepower slab of granite. Regardless of the speed you’re traveling at, the R8 tracks exactly where you point it and is easy enough to drive at speed as your mom’s Corolla. Fortunately, Scott ordered his car with the gated manual transmission which only added to the drama and excitement of the experience. Direct, communicative steering, confidence inspiring brakes, and enough power to whip your head back and exploit positively any gap in traffic with ease. The Tubi exhaust elevated the R8’s soundtrack from Heavenly Exhaust Note to Shattering Sonic Eargasm. And just below the surface of the R8’s crisp Germanic perfection, is a frantic sense of barely contained rage. The car felt gritty and raw, and it wasn’t hard to imagine the joy you would receive from caning it around a track. Check out this video I recorded from the R8 while we stormed through a tunnel on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge HERE. Bottom line: I love this car.
Several hours later we made it to Virginia, one of my favorite places in the world. Beautiful farmlands, incredible weather, rich history, “southern” enough to be interesting, and “northern” enough to not make one start whistling the theme from “Deliverance”. We cruised through lush rolling hills, past dozens of Civil War monuments, surrounded by the sweet late spring air on our way to Blenheim Vineyards, a gorgeous vineyard owned by THE Dave Mathews. As it turned out, the roads around Blenheim were absolutely incredible and we, ahem, enjoyed them to the fullest. We arrived at Blenheim and were treated to a wine tasting and a short tour of the winery. Afterwards, we were anxious to get back on the road and onto the night’s hotel located in Knoxville, TN, so we jumped back in and headed out. Day 2 Highlight: Driving the R8. Duh.
Day 3 – Dragon Slayer: For me, one of the best parts of the Rally was seeing the looks on people’s faces when our entire convoy would roll through their neighborhood—a hilarious concoction of disbelief, followed by awe, topped off with either confusion or uncontrollable excitement, generally depending on the person’s age. It was also hugely entertaining to talk to the people who approached us whenever we stopped. Walking down to hotel parking garage on Wednesday morning, we met the manager who secured all the private parking spaces we were occupying. This normally reserved older woman babbled excitedly about how much she loved Chris’s Shelby GT500, the fun we must all be having and how great it was we were raising money for charity. I thought she was going to keel over when all the cars started up and revved their engines. As we rolled out of the garage into the morning sun, we were all thinking about only one thing: The Tail of the Dragon.
If you’re into cars or motorcycles, you’re bound to hear about the infamous Tail of the Dragon sooner or later. If you haven’t, allow me to be the first to welcome you to Higher Knowledge. The Dragon is a slithering ribbon of tarmac that boasts 318 curves in 11 miles—technically called US Route 129—that crosses the Tennessee/North Carolina border on the southern edge of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The drive to the Dragon is pretty tame and unassuming, but the excitement in our group was absolutely palpable as we closed in on what’s generally regarded as the best driving road in the country. It was mid-morning when we arrived at the start of the Dragon on the Tennessee side and we pulled over for a quick photo shoot against the backdrop of beautiful Chilhowee Lake.
From the Tennessee side, the Dragon begins as flowing and graceful as it follow Chilhowee Lake and weaves around the bottoms of thickly wooded hills. When the road departs from the lake and deep banks of trees fill the edges of the windshield, the Dragon surges uphill and begins its savagely winding path. There was an ear-to-ear grin permanently plastered on my face as Scott and I enjoyed what was very likely the best road either of us had been on. (Accelerate, hard on the brakes, navigate the hairpin, feel the banking of the turn push you down into the seat, back on the power, hard on the brakes, around the next hairpin, on the power again). Sitting in the passenger seat of the R8, it felt like I should be wearing a helmet and reading course notes to Travis Pastrana.
The main thing that struck me about the Dragon is that nothing can really prepare you for how technical it is. Pull up videos on YouTube or listen to someone try and explain how the off camber banked corners come at you mile after mile, and you’ll still have your mind blown the first time you drive it. You just can’t believe how severe the turns are and how demanding it is to drive it quickly. In the words of the eternal Jeremy Clarkson, “You need to be awake to drive this fast!” It was undoubtedly one of the best driving experiences I’ve ever had.
The day we were there, several car clubs and hordes of motorcycles were running on the Dragon. The Dragon is perhaps more a motorcycling mecca than anything else. It’s ideally suited for hard riding on a motorcycle, though having so many bikes on the road makes driving with caution and awareness even more important. If you’re going to make the pilgrimage to the Dragon, read up on it as much as possible first and treat it with the respect it deserves.
After we had our faces melted off on the Dragon, we headed to the Cherohola Skyway, another incredible piece of mountain road and the sister road to the Dragon. A driving mecca in-and-of itself, the Skyway’s sweeping turns and scenic vistas were the perfect way to wrap up what had been an incredible day. Our convoy lined up and headed Northeast towards the night’s hotel in Johnson City, TN. Day 3 Highlight: Taming the Dragon and running the gorgeous Cherohola Skyway.
Day 4 – Disturbing The Peace: A convoy of 18 exotic sports cars charging through sleepy rural Appalachian towns gives new meaning to the phrase disturbing the peace. It’s likely that not one of the people we passed on our way out of Johnson City or the other tiny towns we drove through had ever seen anything quite like it. I have a snapshot memory of a young boy standing on a dilapidated porch holding a dirty comforter (why?), eyes wide and mouth open as we passed by. Probably what I would look like if I was 10 and saw us, though hopefully minus the comforter. We left that part of the South seeing things quite unlike we’d seen before as well. Example—in the outskirts of some small town near Johnson City, we passed a low concrete block building that featured French maid outfits and fishnet stockings in their front window under a sign that read “The Fuzzy Hole stripclub”. While Drake and Lil’ Wayne have indeed given us the moto (YOLO!), that’s one experience I’m totally okay with never having.
Our journey was not without peril, however. Both Porsche 911 Turbos on the trip had their share of mechanical troubles—the “Team Bath Salts” Porsche driven by Sam Laurie and Alex Jarvie experienced major steering pump issues and had to be driven to a shop for repairs, and Fedele Cacia and his wife Ivana in the yellow Porsche had such severe transmission problems, the car ended up on a U-Haul trailer for the final leg of the trip. Considering we drove a combined 45,000 miles over the course of six days, it’s amazing there wasn’t more mechanical fallout. Both Porsche’s ended far behind the rest of the group and made it to the hotel well after the rest of us had dug into our delicious buffet dinner.
Our next hotel was in the historic and beautiful Williamsburg, VA. The drive there flowed by in a blur of sunshine, beef jerky, prodigious horsepower, and hilarious two-way radio banter (each of the cars was given a two-way at the start of the trip). I was especially excited to be staying in Williamsburg. As a kid, my sister and I would spend several weeks in the summer visiting grandparents who live in Newport News. We often went to Williamsburg and the neighboring Busch Gardens theme park, so it definitely holds a special place in my heart. As the sun began to set behind the hotel and bathe our bug splattered convoy in soft evening light, the only sound was the soft tickticktick of gently cooling Porsches. Day 4 Highlight: Blowing minds in rural Tennessee with our awesomeness.
Day 5 – YR Invades AC: Saturday morning followed the tradition of the previous mornings on our trip by dawning sunny and glorious. Fortunately, we were able to cash in on some extra sleep as we were leaving out a little later than usual. Several of the guys used the extra time to make use of a nearby car wash. I jumped in the Lotus of “Team Elise” with its owner, Mat, and we were followed there by Tom in the electric blue Lotus Exige 240 S. Mat and I pulled up at the car wash and were immediately greeted by what may have been the most stereotypical redneck ever. He leaned way down (keep in mind a Lotus Elise is really small—we’re sitting about six inches off the ground), stuck his head in the window, and asked us if the doors on the car went up like on a Lamborghini. Mat looked up from his vantage point about eye level with the guy’s sagging pant line, in a car that weighs as much as a shoe, and said, “No. They don’t go up.”
Back at the hotel, we tuned our navigation systems for Atlantic City, NJ and headed out. I jumped back into the R8 with Scott for the run to Atlantic City (did I mention how much I love this car?) Our first checkpoint was a restaurant just over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Virginia. If you’ve never been across this bridge, find some excuse to get down there and drive it because it is awesome. Seemingly endless stretches of bridge spear through unbroken miles of shimmering water. The bridge is interrupted by tunnels that dive beneath the Bay, while off in the distance, aircraft carriers and warships dock at a nearby naval base. The restaurant we stopped at was right on the beach and we ate and chilled under a perfect late spring day and watched the waves roll in.
Aside from our entire convoy uncorking their respective throttles in the tunnels and reveling in the full glory of performance exhaust notes in an enclosed space, it was a long and relatively boring drive from Virginia to Atlantic City. At least we had the anticipation of partying it up on the Jersey Shore like Snooki to console the boredom. Arriving at the hotel, however, threw those plans for a bit of a loop. We were supposed to get to the hotel and park our cars right in the valet lot, simple and easy. However, a misunderstanding somewhere in hotel management resulted in all the cars being stuck out front of the hotel for hours and several of the guys having to stay with them until the problem was solved. Not a great way to kick off the final night of the Rally, but the suitably epic amount of mayhem that took place that evening was enough to make up for it. Day 5 Highlight: Pinning the throttle in the R8… under water.
Day 6 – Homeward Bound: Part of me was sad to see the last day of the Rally. The previous five days had convinced me that I could very likely drive the Audi R8 everyday for the rest of time. The other part of me, however, was definitely looking forward to getting back home. For the final leg of the trip, I jumped in “Team Re-Pete’s” Audi S4 with Pete Ladas and Pete Gochis (yes, two Pete’s in the same car). Several of the guys had already headed out so the remaining cars made for the highway together and headed north. At a fuel stop somewhere (forgive me for not remembering where we were, all the fuel stops started to blend together), we spotted a wildly modified Suzuki GSX-R 1000 with potentially the longest swingarm in history and an enormous bottle of nitrous strapped to the back. The owner, who had to be more no more than 23, said even without the nitrous he could lift the front wheel of the bike off the ground, and that he hadn’t fully used the nitrous because he was afraid to. Good times.
We landed at the Blue Colony Diner in Newtown, CT for one final load of carbs, salt and sugar (thank you french fries, fried chicken and milkshakes) before we split up and headed our separate ways. One by one, the cars peeled off and headed for home, but not before throwing a final fist pump out the window, or making promises to connect up again for the next Yuppie Racing event. The Petes and I pulled into Aston Martin of New England tired, but excited to be so close to home. While I was happy to be back and sincerely looking forward to not driving and/or moving for as long as possible, even now it’s still hard to forget the unearthly howl of the Audi R8, the chilling supercharger whine from the Lotus Exige, and remembering that the only thing I needed to do each day was love every moment of driving. I can’t wait for my next rally.
Many thanks and much respect to all the guys on this year’s Yuppie Rally. Special thanks to Chris Benvie and Pete Ladas from Yuppie Racing, Matt Nolan and Steve Oldford at Aston Martin of New England, the Team O’Neil Rally School for their incredibly generous donation, and to Scott Marberblatt for letting me drive his spectacular car.
There is nothing like a Porsche. There are plenty of manufacturers in the same market, other cars in the same category, but no one does it like the boys from Stuttgart. Some of its competitors are better, while many others get their doors blown off, but the people who own Porsches and drive them and race them are Porsche to the core. The purest iteration of the Porsche language is embodied in the 911, the iconic sports car the company has been making since 1963. And of the innumerable variants of the glorious 911 stands the GT3 – the pure, track focused version of Porsche’s purest automobile.
The GT3 follows a pretty genius marketing plan – charge more and give customers less. Sounds sheisty, but it isn’t. The only things you get less of are weight, distraction, and time spent on each lap of your favorite race track. This particular example (doesn’t it look epic in black?) was spotted at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway two weekends ago during the 24 Hours of LeMons race. Mounted at the back of the GT3 in quintessential 911 fashion, is a 3.6-liter flat-six engine that develops 415 horsepower and manhandles the ever important dash to 60 miles per hour benchmark in 4.1 seconds. Interestingly, Road & Track Magazine recorded a 60 mph run in 3.8 seconds. Competitors and posers will be admiring the size of the GT3’s diesel rear wing all the way up to the car’s top speed of 193 mph.
But, this car isn’t focused only on outright speed – world class handling and neatly slicing a race track to ribbons are the GT3’s true calling. There are very few cars with the balanced nature, communicative feedback, and pure tenacity of a GT3 on full attack. For as much as Top Gear is the outlet TDC turns to for videos and commentary, auto-geek Chris Harris (@harrismonkey) composes some of the most insightful car reviews you can find anywhere. Check out his breakdown of the GT3 by clicking HERE.
Another great thing about Porsche is they are always creating newer and faster variants of their already bonkers cars. Recently they created the GT3 RS 4.0, a car that makes pretty much everything else a few classes up and down the social ladder wilt with terror. A colossal 4.0-liter flat-six that makes 500 horsepower has been shoehorned into the back of the 4.0, resulting in low-3 second sprints to 60 mph. The 4.0 also inherits a range of parts and technology from Porsche’s racing program which make it a barely street legal racecar. Check out another excellent Chris Harris on the GT3 RS 4.0 video HERE.
Thank you, Porsche, for making cars like the GT3 – they are the stuff of dreams!
Good writing can come from anywhere – a particularly articulate essay for school, a legendary novel, a satisfyingly succinct news article, or a exceptionally poetic piece of poetry. As a writer and an avid reader, I can appreciate and enjoy all of these instances of excellent writing. However, there is one area of writing that for me simply overshadows all the rest – automotive journalism. I literally can only think of about three other things I love more than finding a piece of auto writing that simply explodes off the page like a piston detonating in a cylinder. You know you’ve found it when the chills down your spine, the description of the engine note actually reverberates in your ears, and your palms sweat as the author describes the car’s incredible turn of speed. Oh yes, how I love it.
For this TDC entry, I wanted to put forth these five pieces of what I consider to be truly exceptional examples of what I’m on about. Each author makes a compelling case for why cars are not simply modes of transportation, but a reason for life. Read them, digest and absorb their beautiful prose and flowing language, and then let me know what you think about them and which one is your favorite. Without any further ado, I present these exquisite articles for your consumption. Enjoy!
Written by Autoblog’s Jonathon Ramsey way back in August 2010, this piece caught my heart because of it’s glorious detail and the way it manages to be an exciting review of what is without doubt one of Audi’s finest automobiles ever, and at the same time an insightful look into the way the car changes fundamental elements of driving. Need an example? Check it. “The Audi R8 has made canyon running so easy, and the Audi R8 V10 Spyder has made it look and feel so good, that it’s pornographically indecent.” Stop reading this, and go read that.
There are a lot of automotive websites out there, but there are none that can touch Jalopnik on its unique brand of humor, crudeness, or hilarious insights. Case in point, this piece by Sam Smith from July 2010 on one of my favorite cars of all time, the Bentley Mulsanne. The thing I particularly love about this piece is that because the Mulsanne is so expensive and so over the top, it’s easy to exploit that insanity into a brilliantly entertaining review, and Smith absolutely nails it. “The glovebox hinges are heavy chrome bastards you could hang a lifeboat from. Every control has weight, every switch or instrument is heavily damped, and the door handles contain more mass than the entire door in the average Honda. A Mercedes-Benz does not feel like this. Neither does a Bentley Continental. Even most Rolls-Royces fall a bit short.”
Sam Smith from Jalopnik was on a roll back in July 2010. Both this post and the Bentley Mulsanne first drive are straight epic. I primarily love this piece for two reasons: 1.) The Cadillac CTS-V is one of the best cars on the road today, period. 2.) In classic Jalopnik fashion, Smith reviews the car but does it while on a wacky adventure and draws the reader into his hilarious affair with Caddy’s outrageous supercharged coupe. “A brief word about the CTS-V coupe’s supercharged, 556-hp, 551-lb-ft, 6.2-liter V-8: It is the kind of unholy device you do not screw with. It leaps toward the rev limiter with such fury that, were you the type of person to have a pile of donuts in your lap while driving, most of those donuts would end up on your shirt. It is quiet; from the cabin, all you hear is a subdued growl and no supercharger whine whatsoever. Then the earth opens up, swallows you, and spits you back out. When you wake up, you are on the other side of the planet.” That’s what I’m talking about.
This Autoblog review, written by Jonathon Ramsey, was a primary catalyst for me wanting to write about cars. No joke, every time I read this piece, it still makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck and tears to well up in my eyes. That may sound strange, but follow the link and read it for yourself and I challenge you to not feel the same way. It’s something about the way Ramsey builds such gorgeous analogies and puts the reader right in the driver’s seat that so startlingly takes your breath away. “As long as you’re not on some spit of asphalt custom made for a Lotus Elise, the LP640 is limited only by your knowledge of the road and your knowledge of how to drive it. The car isn’t glued to the road — it is the road, a single amplitude of tarmac flowing between the shoulders. Go with it, and you will go far, my son…”
I’ve read a lot of car reviews in my time, but NEVER have I read anything like this. Long time C&D editor Aaron Robinson writes one of the most captivating road test pieces I have ever come across. Robinson demonstrates with every line what the difference is between people who write for low-budget car blogs (ahem), and the people who pen lines for one of the best magazines in the biz. Not only is the Aventador the stuff of dreams, but Robinson’s descriptions of Lambo’s finest offering make me want to be a better man. “If you have the Aventador’s stability control set to “corsa” (or, indeed, turned off) and are an Apache with the throttle, it’ll reward with a sturdy push from the back to rotate you toward the path of righteousness. It can thus achieve truly terrifying speeds without feeling stressed . . . and truly terrifying noises. The 8500-rpm redline and furious spin-up of torque, especially from 5000 on when the ears flatten against the deep percussive energy emanating from the back, remind you of why the major Italian boutiques eschew turbos.”
Read an interesting fact about the Mercedes-Benz CL recently – Mercedes-Benz will sell as many of these coupes in a year as Ford will sell of the F150 in a single day. In a single day. Not only is that difference so enormously vast it’s actually hard to comprehend, it also speaks volumes about the exclusivity of the CL, and the ubiquity of the F150. Out of all the cars offered in MB’s diverse portfolio, every model except for the G-Class SUV and the SLS AMG supercar sell fewer models than the CL, giving it a rarity that few other cars enjoy.
This particular model, the CL550 4Matic, isn’t barnstormingly fast, it doesn’t hold the fastest lap time at the Nurburgring, and it can’t outgun rivals like the Ferrari 612 in pure power. It’s 5.5-liter V-8 makes 382 horsepower which is enough to motivate the big coupe to 60 miles per hour in about 5.5 seconds, so world dominating power is not its game. What the CL550 does have, however, is class. And it has it in spades. The flared wheels arches, acres of creased hood, and the tight belt line that streaks from front to back, all give the CL550 a distinct and powerful presence on the road. And while there certainly aren’t any ugly cars in the MB’s stable, the CL’s design definitely makes it one of the most attractive. Inside, its standard MB stuff—vast stretches of leather blended together with wood and other high quality materials to create a cosseting and comfortable place from which to command the road.
“That’s all well and good,” you might say, “but a car of this caliber (and pricetag) needs to light my hair on fire and mash my face like Play-Doh when I step on the gas.” Fear not, because you can have your CL with heaping, prodigious piles of righteous horsepower courtesy of MB’s tuning division, AMG. Step up to the CL 63 AMG, and the comparatively piddling 5.5-liter V-8 is replaced with a 6.2-liter V-8 which makes a properly massive 518 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque. And if that still isn’t enough, you can dig deep into your wallet and have the CL 65 AMG which dumps the V-8 engine all together, and instead uses a 6.0-liter twin turbo V-12 to bludgeon poorer motorists into submission. The 65’s volcano of an engine churns out 604 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque. Yeah, that’s a lot.
The price for this handsome coupe—which is based on the venerable S-Class luxury sedan—is about $80,000 in CL550 trim, and over $130,000 for the CL 65 AMG. That’s also a lot. There will soon be a newer version of the CL-Class hitting the streets when MB launches its refreshed S-Class sometime later this year. Let’s hope the power and class of the current generation continues into the new model. With an emphasis on power. Yeah, lots of power.
This edition of ‘The Torque Tube’ features Bruce Ledoux and his wife Linda from Guardian Angel Motorsports (GAM), a team of racing drivers who are racing for a higher purpose besides podium finishes and racing fuel. Moved by personal experience and inspiration, Bruce and Linda are using GAM to improve the lives of children with disabilities and illnesses by donating money to charities and causes that support them. Be sure to visit the Guardian Angel Motorsports website HERE.
It’s mid-November 2011, and I’m still slightly starstruck as I walk through the paddock at the wildly exclusive Monticello Motor Club (MMC) in Monticello, New York, wondering what supreme stroke of luck landed me at this incredible place. Parked in one of MMC’s garages is an immaculate Ford GT, and lining the pit wall are veritable acres of Cadillac CTS-Vs in coupe, sedan and wagon form, a pair of stunning Ferrari 458s, a Corvette ZR1, and more Porsche Caymans and Lotuses than an average person will see in a lifetime. As I pinch myself I realize two things: 1.) It’s going to be a ridiculous day, and 2.) I didn’t think it was possible to love cars as much as I do right now.
What got me here was more than luck. I’m spending the day at MMC on an invitation from Bruce and Linda Ledoux, the founders of Guardian Angel Motorsports. They brought their race-prepped Lotus Exige Cup to the track to race in the final member race day of the season and were kind enough to invite me along. As you can well imagine I jumped, nay, lept, at the chance. As I wander through pit lane ogling the machinery, I think about the significance of what Bruce and Linda are doing with GAM, and what an incredible impact it can have.
As the latter part of the name implies, Guardian Angel Motorsports is a team of racing drivers that compete in a range of different races, classes, and events throughout the country. As for the first part of the name, Bruce and Linda were inspired by their son Colin, who was born with a chromosome defect that causes global learning delays amongst other challenges, to create a charitable organization that brings awareness and assistance to kids like Colin; to be a child’s “guardian angel.” Since its inception in 2009, GAM has donated over $160,000 to nine different charities, all the while competing in major races like the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Bruce was gracious enough to spend some time talking with me about how GAM started, what it means to him, and what his vision for the future is for this organization.
What is the inspiration behind Guardian Angel Motorsports? How did it start?
“It came around because of the experience that Colin has brought to Linda and I… Professional racing is a passionate undertaking of mine, but I struggle with the time investment and the dollars required when I have a child that is affected the way that Colin is. What I was looking to do was also payback the system or ‘pay it forward’ if you will because we got so many great things from the social services that we consumed as we have been progressing with Colin. It occurred to me that if Colin didn’t have the advocate that Linda represents for him, he would be a complete victim of the system.
One of things we learned in the process is that you can see an injustice or a problem in the system and you can point it out and talk to people about it, but nobody really wants to change it or fix it or do anything about it… Implementing that change is incredibly powerful. So, you show up with a checkbook. Then you can make change, significant change, as quickly as it takes you to write out a check. So… If you want to get something done, you need to do your thing and get it done.”
It was from that desire to enact significant change that GAM was born. Through their organization, Bruce and Linda have married their passion for racing and donating resources to challenged kids, and the opportunity for impact on children’s lives with GAM is enormous. Another fundamental inspiration for GAM were “pledge-per-mile” or “pledge-per-lap” events like the Pan-Mass Challenge. The Challenge, a bicycling event founded by Billy Starr, brings in over 4,500 participates and donates tens of millions of dollars to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
“I thought, ‘Why can’t we do a pledge-per-lap race?’… There are 76 million NASCAR and motorsports fans, if I could get half to give a dollar every year, now we have something. We have something with some major range to it.” After learning about the Pan-Mass Challenge, Bruce decided to apply that kind of fundraising concept to GAM. “And I thought, ‘Well, if [Starr] can do this on a bike ride and we use all the TV and media and high profile things that come with [racing], we ought to be able to do that.'”
Where did the name Guardian Angel Motorsports come from?
“The name came about because of frustration we felt when we brought Colin to preschool.” Bruce and Linda experienced significant shortcomings in the school’s ability to cope and adapt to Colin’s needs. “I said to Linda, ‘Damn, you know Colin needs a guardian angel just to go to lunch.’ Then about two days later I was staring at the ceiling and it hit me. It all kinda came together and I was like, ‘Wait a minute, why don’t we do a pledge-per-lap thing and why don’t we call our team Guardian Angel Motorsports?’ We’ll build in it a way that can be franchised much like breast cancer walk is. We’re going to create the package and the formula and then we’re going to franchise that out across as many motorsports participants as are willing to take it.”
Do you and Linda have separate roles in running in GAM?
“We definitely have distinct roles. She has some great strengths in terms of organization and planning and details, I guess I’m more the ‘deal’ guy. I have more relationships and seem to have an intrinsic skill to connect dots. So we try to divide and conquer that way so that one plus one is more than two.”
Are there particular charities that GAM tends to support or do you support any charity?
“I want to immediately relieve some of the pressures [that kids like Colin] are feeling and give them a chance.” Bruce and Linda’s focus with GAM is to create immediate impact and immediate change. This approach leads them to support groups like the Starlight Foundation, the Massachusetts Downs Syndrome Congress, and Friends of Bella, all organizations focused on improving the lifestyles of children in need.
“It’s not important that [Colin] wins, it’s important that he has the same opportunity that you and I have… If we could use people’s passionate interest and the huge public awareness that motorsports represents… then I think we left our own dent in the universe.”
How many drivers are racing with GAM?
“We have TransAm entry, a Rolex entry, two Continental Challenge entries, we have a World Challenge entry, I’m trying to cut deals right now for an ALMS entry, and I have three people that have stepped forward… [to compete in] SCCA, and the Playboy Cup.”
With the franchising model in mind, Bruce and Linda are out to create a vehicle that will allow people to pursue their passion and contribute to charity at the same time. From the GAM website: “Fast lap times feel good. Racing for a little boy or girl that needs your help—feels incredible. Join the GAM driver team and spread your wings for children’s charities. It doesn’t matter what car you drive, or what league you’re in. All are welcome. If you have a children’s charity that you’d like to raise money and awareness for, bring your charity with you. We’ll give you real estate on our site, we’ll help you advertise, do PR releases, get the word out with social media—we’ll support you with our fundraising engine.”
What’s in store for 2012?
“Our big fundraising campaign for 2012 is that we’re going to race 3,000 laps. So what we’re trying to drive awareness to and drive fundraising around is pledge-per-lap. We would like to get 30,000 people to pledge $.10 per lap, that would give us $9,000,000. Our big hurdle is awareness, keeping people engaged and excited about it… We need to get out and have people hear about us and understand what’s going on and start to follow the story and see the impact of our efforts for individuals.”
What is the most significant and impacting thing you’ve personally experienced through GAM?
In 2009, GAM was at a race in Florida where they ended up qualifying dead last. A reporter from a local newspaper pulled into the pits and told Bruce he was going to do a story on the car most likely to finish last and he wanted to write it about them. Clearly, not an exciting prospect for Bruce who had just finished driving the car, nor an intelligent thing for the reporter to say. Instead, Bruce told him about GAM.
“We talk for ten minutes and he clicks a picture and disappears. The next day, I’m in the meal tent and everyone’s coming over and whacking me on the back saying ‘nice job’ and I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ They said, ‘You got the cover of the sports section for the local news.'”
A couple of hours later, Bruce is down in the garage for the meet-and-greet, an opportunity for fans to meet the drivers and get autographs. “So… this guy comes over to me with his baby who had some sort of genetic issue… and the 18 month old hands a check to me and it was a $10 donation for our effort. And I was like, ‘Oh man, we’re getting somewhere with this, we’re connecting with people.’ I have a picture of me accepting the check from the little guy… So, it was a little thing, but it hit me between the eyes that we’re up to something that has greater meaning and value.”
Welcome, Bruce and Linda, to The Torque Tube.
– Many thanks to Bruce for his time for this interview, and thanks to both Linda and Bruce for inviting me out to MMC to hang out for the day.Interested in supporting Guardian Angel Motorsports? Be sure to check out the website HERE. For supporters and donors, there are opportunities to attend one of GAM’s races and even help the fueling crew down in the pits, man safety equipment, work with the crew chief, or a number of other fantastic opportunities.