Tag Archives: racing

My Top 5 motoring dreams

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

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Sunrise over the Stelvio pass. Photo credit: Colcorsa

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.

Going racing

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Valentino Rossi, aka -‘The Doctor’, hard at work. Photo credit: Movistar Yamaha MotoGP

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

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A 250 GT sits just outside Ferrari’s main entrance. Photo credit: Sports Car Digest

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

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There’s just too much perfection in this picture. Photo credit: Pebble Beach

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

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Be still, my heart. Photo credit: Ultracoolfl.com

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

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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 🙂

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‘Hitting the Apex’ is coming to NH!

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If you’re unfamiliar with Mark Neale’s work, you’ve been missing out. Neale has been making some of the finest MotoGP documentaries anywhere, and he has recently released a brand new film called ‘Hitting the Apex’. Narrated by Brad Pitt, HTA covers the 2013 into 2014 MotoGP season and follows six of the fastest riders at the peak of the sport: Valentino Rossi, Marco Simoncelli, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Marc Marquez, and Casey Stoner.

On Monday, January 25 at 7:30pm,  we are lucky enough to have a screening of HTA at the Cinemagic theatre in Hooksett, NH! Tickets are $12, and they must be reserved by Friday, January 15. We need to meet a ticket threshold in order to make the screening happen and we’re over halfway to our goal! Click on the link to get your tickets:

https://tugg.com/events/79846 

If you like motorcycles and racing, HTA is like getting a glimpse at Valhalla – it’s exciting, the cinematography is incredible, the tension on and off the track is palpable, and it pays beautiful tribute to one of the craziest sports on the planet and the gladiators who battle it out every Sunday. And, even if you don’t like motorcycles or racing, there is more than enough drama and excitement to keep you entertained. In short, everyone needs to see this film. Thank you for your support!

 

 

Cars in the Wild

It’s fascinating how automobiles can embody human emotions and ideas. For example, if you wanted to define “finesse” in the automotive realm, cars like the Lotus Elise or Mazda Miata would fit the bill perfectly. Both are lightweight, nimble, and give a sense of connection and fluidity like few others can. When describing the essence of those cars, Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s famous philosophy, “Simplify, then add lightness” couldn’t ring more true. The car featured in this edition of Cars in the Wild, the Dodge Viper R/T 10, is exactly none of those things.

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If the Elise is a scapel, the Viper is a rusty sledgehammer; if the Miata is a happy Terrier who’s eager to frolic and play, the Viper is an irritated pit viper who’s thinking about making a lunge at your face. The early Dodge Vipers contributed greatly to the stereotype that America’s supercars are really only good for going in straight line. Refined? An exquisite handler? A predictable gentleman’s racer? These things the Viper is not. But, IMG_2202what it may lack in traditional measurements of performance, it more than makes up for in character and excitement. I mean, just look at it – that hood! Those steamroller tires! The center exit exhaust! You get the impression that Dodge just kind of slid some money across the table to a group of wild eyed engineers and said, “Well, it needs to say Dodge on the car somewhere, and having it actually work would be great, but other than that, have fun.”

This particular car is a second generation model, produced between 1996 and 2002. Under that endless hood lies a colossal 8.0-liter V10, which can trace its roots back to the first-generation Viper’s Lamborghini-designed engine. Despite its monstrous size, the engine actually only develops 415 horsepower. Still, these second-gen Vipers were a marked improvement in every way over the original car. It’s faster and lighter, and while it looks similar, there were enough changes to warrant calling it a new generation model. The Viper mauls its way to 60 mph in about four seconds (which is properly quick, even by today’s standards), and runs onto a 185 mph top speed. And, while crisp handling dynamics are not this car’s forte, cornering and performance limits are high enough to make it worthy of the supercar mantle.

IMG_2201As the Viper has evolved, not only has it finally become more refined, but the performance threshold has continued to climb. Much of this is due to the car’s success in a variety of racing series. The current-generation Viper comes packing an even larger engine (8.4-liters!) and makes 640 horsepower and 600 lb-ft of torque. With the help of carbon fiber and aluminum, it is lighter and sharper than any versions before it, and with dollops of leather and plenty of Fiat money, it’s now more comfortable and upscale than any other Viper as well. While time and development have improved it’s maturity, it’s core DNA still reflects the original car’s recipe of intensity and brute force over delicacy and finesse.

There is no shortage of supercars that are superior to the Viper – some accelerate faster, others are better on a racetrack or have a more prestigious pedigree – with nearly all costing many times more. But, few can pull off the level of panache and intensity of this legendary all-American bruiser. The Dodge Viper, like the Chevrolet Corvette, brings a unique brand of performance to the table at a price that people other than oil tycoons and Crown Princes can afford. Flaws and all, the world would be a far duller place without the Viper, and that’s why we love it. *cue billowing American flags and fireworks*

Queen City Cars & Coffee III

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!

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Co-Driver: Casey Coull and the art of going sideways

Co-Driver is back with another piece written and photographed by Shawn Pierce. Pay Shawn’s Facebook page a visit to check out all of his photography.

In recent years, the once relatively unknown sport of drifting has seen tremendous gains in popularity. National races and tournaments are a regular occurrence and even here at home, local groups like Drift Spot and Drift Faction routinely hold events at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway during the summer months, filling the air with enough smoke to make Cheech and Chong jealous. I caught up with one of the local drift scene’s rising stars, Casey Coull, and got him to dish a little about his car, the sport, and his plans for the future.

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When did you initially get into drifting?

I started drifting back in April of 2010, but was first introduced to drifting in 2005. At the time my family and I were living in Tacoma, Washington. My older sister’s boyfriend, Victor Moore, got me into watching Initial D and I was instantly hooked. At the time, Victor had a stock black Nissan S13 hatch with 5zigen FN01RC, and to this day I can still remember the first time he drifted with me. I wound up moving to New Hampshire with my family later that year. It took five years, but eventually I found Drift Spot and was able to start drifting.

What did you do in your time away from drifting?Coull_240_04 TDC

When I first moved to NH I was a little lost because the car scene seemed totally dead. While I was still in school, drifting was put to the side and I picked up a BMX bike. The group of friends I had at the time didn’t have licenses either so we kept on pedaling. My junior year of high school is when I finally got my license.

What are you currently running?

It’s a 1992 Nissan 240SX (S13) coupe equipped with a S13 SR20 engine. It is a super basic setup with roughly 270 horsepower. You don’t need much to drift and be able to keep up with high horsepower cars. In fact, I did four one-more-times with a car that had an extra 200 hp on me! Some future goals would be to replace the S13 SR20 with a 1JZ VVTI. A stock JZ motor holds the power I will need to compete reliably. Eventually, I’d like start on a fresh new chassis and take all the things I’ve learned over the years building this car and build a new, perfect car for myself.

While Coull’s car might have a basic setup, there is nothing simplistic about its extensive upgrades and modifications. Under the hood it benefits from a host of performance parts including an aftermarket intercooler, intake, turbocharger, injectors, and fuel pump to name a scant few. His dedicated drift weapon also features completely a completely revised suspension setup, a full rollcage, and an interior barren of anything that distracts from the art of sliding about in great, smoky arcs.

Coull_240_02 TDCWhat is it about drifting that attracted you to the sport?

What I love most about drifting has to be the people. Drifting is not a competitive sport in my mind. Everyone is out there to just have fun, help each other, and make new friends. Even though we all get a little stressed out from time to time, you bet we are having the time of our lives. It is what I look forward to everyday, spend my money on, and it’s what keeps me happy.

In general, racing is expensive, how do you keep it affordable?

Well, drifting can be cheap. That is if you keep it basic and try not to be too different. Being different will cost you more in the long run. Keeping things simple will keep you on the track.

Are you sponsored or backed by anyone?

I am currently with Universal Technical Institute. In 2013 they brought me to a majority of my events. I am super stoked to be working with them again this year. I would like to pick up some tire sponsors in the future, and it would be nice to land a race team, but I have to start from the bottom and work my way up.

What are your goals for 2014 and beyond?Coull_240_11 TDC

My main focus this season is to get out to Englishtown and Lime Rock as much as possible to get lots of media coverage and hopefully catch the attention of a few sponsors. So as far as 2014 is concerned, I’m shooting for Pro AM events.

Is there anyone you would like to thank?

My family, Shawn Paradis, Russell Barcomb, Evan Tuerck, Justin Tuerck, Ryan Tuerck, Ryan Lannan, Chris Williams, Matt Cochran, Brain Mitchell, Tyler Bacon, Mike Simmons, George Osminkin, Nate Haskins, Jordan Threlfall, Dan Popowich, Jay Cyr, Kyle Landers, Matt Lavalette, Matt Gleason, Joe Ascoli, Tommy Brownell, Ryan Fothergil, Victor Moore, Pat Payne, Will Petropoulos, Tom Jewel, Ryan Woodbury, and Joe Grencho.

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Many thanks and much respect to Casey Coull for his time and effort on this piece, as well as to Shawn Pierce for his talents behind the pen and camera. You can follow all of Coull’s exploits on his website, xmgnfcntx.blogspot.com. He can also be found on Instagram (@risensun). 

Co-Driver: Track Day Lemonade

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.

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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 Fallis_M3_08 small TDCwalked 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.”

Fallis_M3_25 smallLaura 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, Fallis_M3_11 small TDC109,000 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?”

Maybe LMNADE?

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– Many thanks and much respect to Shawn Pierce for his time and effort in creating this piece.

The Torque Tube: Synaptic3 Performance

Synaptic3 Performance is a prime example of what this website was started for. Located in an out-of-the-way, unassuming business park in the fully unassuming town of Candia, NH, brothers Ron and Dana Salb have created a world-class performance shop that is turning out some of the most complete builds to be found on either road or track. Simply pulling into the shop’s parking lot is proof enough that Ron and Dana are for real. A handful of Synaptic3 tuned and customized Mazda RX-7s, RX-8s, and Subaru STIs effortlessly shatter the cloudy, dull gray that permeates this late fall day—deep paint hues, pearlescent carbon fiber hoods, and lithe, aggressive stances make for a striking welcome party.

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The seeds of Synaptic3 Performance have been taking root for years. Ron and Dana starting tinkering with friends’ cars as well as their own, using their parent’s garage as an impromptu shop. Both Ron and Dana have kept their lives and careers woven around the automotive industry and have continued to build Synaptic3 even while pursuing school or other interests. The brother’s diverse skill sets, along with their infectious enthusiasm, is the driving force behind Synaptic3 and its growing success.

The Synaptic3 that exists today began in large part because of the rally scene. The ability of Ron and Dana to fabricate FIA-spec IFrollcages really helped jumpstart the company. The result has been Synaptic3 tuned cars that have not only competed in Rally America, but have won rally championships as well.

“While we have a fair amount of exposure in Rally, it’s actually a pretty small sport and community,” said Dana in an email interview. “We’ve worked on a half a dozen full blown rally cars. Some started out as virgin chassis, other were revamps of previous rally cars that were gutted and rebuilt to bring up to current class specs. We’ve covered everything from building FIA spec roll cages and chassis preparation… to doing motors builds, setting up suspensions, building wiring harnesses, fuel systems, and safety systems, etc.”

Two things are readily apparent immediately after stepping into Synaptic3’s crowded, but clean, shop. #1, the market for customization is as unique diverse and the people who enjoy it—a customer’s race-prepped Porsche awaits its turn on the lift, several Mazda RX-7s sit in various stages of completion and manage to look fast even while motionless, and a Nissan Sentra Spec-V is getting finishing touches on its crazy custom turbocharger setup. And #2, the guys here are really good at what they do.

“We’re currently working on a forced induction application for a brand new Nissan Sentra Spec-V. The customer is very contentious about the details. It’s going to be quite the sleeper. We have a number of big turbo Subaru’s being built and a host of third generation RX-7s for street, track, and show all leading into the winter.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the things that makes this shop so special is the level of engineering and attention to detail that even the smallest parts receive. Case in point—Ron and Dana stick their heads under the hood of the turbo Spec-V to explain in detail all the time and effort that went into designing a single bracket used to move a part out of the way of the new turbo piping. Beautifully fabricated and covered in crackle finish, it’s a small but perfect example of their work.

“We can build you a tube chassis frame, an award winning stereo system, install and dial-in your track suspension, or turbocharge and tune your daily driver,” said Dana. “Two members of our staff have Bachelor’s degrees in Industrial Design (product design), so we can come up with solutions and execute them in a unique and effective manner.

A range of cars find their way under the wrenches at Synaptic3, but Ron and Dana’s specialty is tuning Japanese cars. They have found that Japanese cars are a preferable platform to work from because they begin life at the factory with a superior level of quality and allow for higher levels of tuning and customization.  This mirrors their own quasi-obsessive standards.

“We adhere to our own best practices that we’ve developed over the years. We sweat the details, and will not cut corners to get a job done quickly. Many customers have told us it is that reputation that has brought them to us. We take the time to make sure aftermarket components not only fit but allow for service in the field should it be necessary.”

IFWhen a car comes into the shop, Ron and Dana’s first mission is to figure out what exactly a customer is looking for. Instead of getting right to work, they start with questions—Do you know what you’re looking for? Are you going racing with the car? What kind of racing? What is the purpose for upgrading? A concerted effort  is made to clearly define what the customer is looking for, and then working to build a solution that meets or exceeds the customer’s end goals.

One of the significant customer service elements that Ron and Dana employ is to take meticulously detailed photos the car in its various build stages. Synaptic3’s website has literally thousands of such photos and they provide a unique glimpse into the kind of work Ron and Dana are capable of.

Next to Synaptic3’s main building is an unassuming steel shed that serves as the company’s dedicated dynamometer room. Inside it has to  2010-09-17_00001be one of the most thorough dyno setups ever put together. Instead of being installed into the floor, the all-wheel-drive Mustang 500SE unit sits above the floor, allowing for easier access to  car’s underside and the dyno’s moving parts. Built directly into the wall facing the dyno are four giant fans capable of pushing 40,000 cfm through the room, while a dedicated exhaust fan sucks fumes out from the back of the building. Like anything Ron and Dana do, this facility was heavily researched and designed to meet their exacting standards, and it’s clear the guys are proud of the setup.

When asked if he could describe what Synaptic3 was all about in one word, Dana paused, let out a deep breath, and thought for a moment. He then looked up and said, “Dedication.” And, after seeing the inner workings of the shop and spending several hours with Ron and Dana, there couldn’t be a better word to describe Synaptic3. To learn more about the company and how they can help you on your next project, be sure to visit the Synaptic3 website at www.Synaptic3.com, and ‘Like’ the Facebook page.

Welcome, Synaptic3 Performance, to The Torque Tube.

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Many thanks and much respect to Dana and Ron for their time and energy for this piece, and for allowing me to poke around their shop.

Cars in the Wild

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.

Cars in the Wild

In my feeble brain, the general rule of thumb has always been that the more expensive and powerful a car is, the more I want it. Doesn’t matter if it’s new age or old school, if it makes a ton of power, looks the business, and causes my wallet to wilt in fear, that’s the car I have to own. Take Ferraris for example. Sure, you can tune your GT-R or Audi or Evo to make more power than, say, the Ferrari 458 – there will always be people with a faster car than you, no matter what you drive – but there is something about that emblem, that power, that noise, and that name that makes me want to mash the loud pedal to the floor and ride its sonic waves all the way to Valhalla. Its a strange thing then, that there is a small, inexpensive, and comparatively slow car being featured on this edition of Cars in the Wild. Welcome, everyone, to the car that defies my own status quo – the Subaru BRZ.

Here’s the deal – The BRZ makes 200 horsepower, does the 0-60 mph shuffle in a shade over six seconds, and costs around $26,000. Those figures don’t exactly make me tingly all over, if I’m honest. So if that’s the case, why is this car being featured in the most honorable segment of the most prestigious automotive website in all the land? Because the BRZ does something many high-end sports cars and the great majority of inexpensive cars don’t – it drives. The BRZ was never meant to compete with Chevrolet Corvettes or BMW M3s or Porsche 911s. The premise on which it was built is the same as the one that underpins the legendary Mazda MX-5 (Miata) and the nimble offerings from Lotus – low weight, sublime handling, and the tactile driving experience over bloated belt lines and prodigious horsepower.

200 horsepower may not seem like much (and it isn’t), but when it’s responsible for motivating a relatively svelte 2600 pounds and the whole package has a balanced and progressive chassis, you’re left with a controllable and enjoyable driving experience that focuses on mastering the craft of driving. The BRZ was born from a most unlikely corporate marriage between Subaru and Toyota which actually resulted in the creation of two sister cars to the BRZ – the Scion FR-S and the Toyota GT-86. Here in the US, we only receive the Scion and Subaru versions, while the Toyota badged model is relegated to the European market. The Subaru-sourced 2.0-liter four-cylinder boxer engine sits deep in the BRZ, giving it a terrifically low center of gravity. The fastidious attention paid to balance, weight, and handling by the car’s engineers makes the BRZ a unique and compelling rival to cars like the the Nissan 370Z, Ford Mustang, and the V-6 Chevrolet Camaro. Need proof? Check out this fantastic comparison from Drive on the BRZ and the Mustang HERE.

When perusing the interwebs in search of car reviews and videos (which happens probably more than it should), I naturally default to Googling stuff like “Lamborghini” or “drag racing” or “epic burnouts”. It’s a rare day that I take the time to read or watch something about a car that costs less than several houses and makes fewer than a whole kingdom’s worth of horse-power. That changed, however, with the BRZ. I appreciate it in a different way than I appreciate cars like the Ferrari 458 – it’s a compelling, exciting and inexpensive sports car born out of an inspiration rather than from a marketing team or a budget committee. Thank you, Subaru/Toyota/Scion for making this car. I. Must. Own. It.

Kicking The Bucket List: Yuppie Rally 2012 and driving the Tail of the Dragon

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.

You think your trunk is small?

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.

This is the way other cars look in an R8.

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 Tree of Shame at Deal’s Gap, NC

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.