Letting Go

Even the best laid plans don't promise success. Find out how I learned that the hard way.

SCCA March Majors - A Classic Honda Hoedown

Not only were classic Honda's well represented in this event, they finished well too! Check it out!

The GEN ONE CRX Build - Part 1: Humble Beginnings

This is part one of a series of posts highlighting how the GEN ONE CRX was saved from a rusty grave.

The Dreamy Dutch

This beautiful CRX is as amazing as it looks, and it didn't always look like this.

The First Track Day

Find out how I fulfilled another life-long dream at Atlanta Motorsports Park!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Magic Mile Road Rally

Nope.  This isn't the kind of 'rally' you were thinking of.  There is no mud involved, unless you really get lost.  It is held on public roads (while the public is using them), and you never go over the speed limit (well, you shouldn't anyway).  At this point you're probably questioning whether or not to continue reading... I mean, the title image of this post doesn't scream 'action packed' does it.  I would recommend, however, that you continue... and not for the enjoyment of my literary skills.

Most people have heard of rally (or stage rally), but not road rally (or Time-Speed-Distance - TSD rally), or they think they are the same thing.  That's because the word rally brings to mind images of Subaru's, Renault's and Audi's blasting along gravel roads at insane speeds.  Can you say Group B?  Although it was established by the same people who started stage rally, road rally is the complete opposite of stage rally.   Instead of relying on the team's ability to go as fast as possible without crashing, the success of a road rally hinges on the teams ability to follow instructions, observe the environment around them, and maintain average speeds, none of which exceed the posted speed limits, over marked sections of the course.  The other major difference between stage rally and road rally is that road rallies are held on open public roads, where stage rallying is held on closed circuits, or public roads that have been closed to the public during the event.  The goal in road rally is to finish with the least amount of points.  You start the rally with 0 points, but if you answer any of the route questions incorrectly, or you are unable to maintain the average speeds over the specified sections of the course, you are given points.  Not all road rallies are the same.  Some allow the use of GPS, others don't.  Some require the competitors to answer questions about the route, other's don't.  In our rally, we were not allowed to use GPS, and we were required to answer 50 questions along the route.

The 2017 Magic Mile Rally was the Atlanta SCCA regions' inaugural event after a 25 year drought, and to celebrate, and draw some attention, they combined the event with the Cars and Coffee gathering in Athens Georgia.  We rolled into the parking lot next to Jittery Joe's Roadster Tasting Room about ten minutes before the Cars and Coffee event was supposed to start.  I was in front, in the CRX (of course), and Nick, my navigator, friend and fellow Honda nut was behind me in his 1986 AE86 Corolla (Think Initial D).  As we pulled in, we were surprised to see only a handful of cars.  The Cars and Coffee type event that we are used to is the Caffeine and Octane gathering held outside of Atlanta which starts incredibly early, and no matter how early you show up, all the good spots are usually already taken.  So showing up only minutes before the show started, had us worried.  Thankfully, the Athens event is much more laid back than the intense and overly commercialized Caffeine and Octane.  We pulled our cars into a couple prime parking spots and walked over to the tasting room.  Jittery Joe's Tasting room is a really neat place.  The building is an old airplane hanger that has been converted into a storage room for the coffee shop chain.  It has a small lobby where you can order drinks and the interior is charming with its eclectic decorations.  After grabbing coffee, we spent the next hour or so looking at all the cars, meeting some very nice people, and hearing some wild car stories.  The people of Athens were very hospitable and we had a great time.  While walking up and down the rows of cars, Nick spotted a bright orange sign with a large black check mark on it, leaning up against a small table.  The rally crew had started to set up shop.

Photo Courtesy of Athens Cars and Coffee

Registration for the rally had just begun, so we headed over to the table and signed in.  The starting times and team numbers were based on when you registered.  Thanks to Nick's eagle eye, we ended up being the second team to sign in, and since each team departed at two minute intervals, our start time was 12:04.  We had about an hour to kill before the rally started, so we headed back to our cars to relax and read over the rally instructions and navigation guide.  It didn't take long at all to go over the rally material so we decided to do another round in the parking lot to see if there were any new cars.  As we got up to leave, an older gentleman came up to us and complimented me on the CRX.  He then inquired about whether or not we had met another gentleman which of course we hadn't.  "Oh well I'll just have to introduce you!" he said.  Judging by his confident and insistent demeanor, I'm not sure we had a choice.  He led us over to a group of people next to a gorgeous red DeTomaso Pantera.  He pulled aside one of the men in the group and introduced us to him.  He turned out to be the owner of the Pantera, but not just that one, he had several.  After chatting for a bit about his substantial car collection, it turned out that he also owned two first generation CRX's.  It was neat to know that someone of considerable means and taste in cars would also have two 1Gs in his collection.

After getting a thorough tour of the Pantera, which included a peak at the massive ford v8 situated immediately behind the front seats, we headed back to the CRX and prepared to leave.  I set up the GoPro with it attached to the hatch glass, and Nick tried to decipher the first section of the route in the navigation guide.  The navigation guide consisted of several pages of numbered lines of text with additive mileage markers next to each line.  Each instruction was minimal, vague, and required close attention to syntax and character style.  The roads were specified by the way the name appeared in the instructions.  If a street name was in all caps, it meant that the road was a recognized through road, where as if it was in lower case it would be either a 'no outlet' road or it wasn't officially recognized.  So yeah, pretty anal, and I say that because we both skimmed over these little details when reading the instructions, and we ended up getting a lot of the questions wrong because of it.  In order to stay on course and not miss any of the turns, we had to pay close attention to our mileage and zero the odometer at every turn.  This meant that my old-school gear type odometer was going to play an important role in our success.  So was Nick's analog watch that he was using to monitor our timing.  This was no frills, tenting without a tent (or a shovel), swimming without a life vest.  It was retro, hairy-chested road rallying... at least that's what we told ourselves.

'How are we on time?' I asked as we waited with the car idling.  'It's noon now, so we have four minutes before we need to leave'.  The rally was a self start event.  No fancy start finish line with people waving flags and cheering.  You just left when you were supposed to, and as the clock struck 12:04 we pulled out of Jittery Joe's and headed toward the next turn.  Most of the direction changes or instructions came at a frequency of every 1-2 miles.  This did not allow much time for sight seeing, in fact, it was pretty intense.  Each segment started with me resetting the odometer, then Nick would read the next instruction line and point out the mileage to the next turn.  If there was a question associated with that particular segment, Nick would read it out and then we would both spend the duration of that segment scouring the countryside looking for a road name, or the colors of barn roofs, or whatever they would ask for.  When we came to a Magic Mile, which was the name for the timed segments, we had to stop at a particular land mark (usually a road sign) and wait for our specified start time.  If we arrived late, we had to record our 'time allowance' which would account for any lost time along to route that was acquired while getting lost.  When we began the segment I would accelerate to the specified average speed as fast as I could and then maintain that speed until the segment was over.

It took us about 15 minutes to start getting into a rhythm.  Nick didn't have to remind me every time to restart the odometer, and I didn't have to ask him as many times to repeat the route instructions or the mileage.  Everything was going smoothly and we were feeling good about our chances until I offered to help Nick with his navigating chores.  I offered to look for the next turn on one of the longer segments.  This didn't go well.  I totally missed the turn, but in my defense, we weren't the only team to miss it.  We went on a short detour that costs us almost 10 minutes.  I felt pretty horrible because it made Nick have to calculate our time allowance for each Magic Mile.  After that I left the navigating to him.  

Once we settled in to a groove, it gave us some time to enjoy the beautiful scenery.  The rally led us on a winding route through the farmlands just north and east of Athens Georgia.  Neither of us had been there before and it was a real treat.  The rolling hills were littered with tidy little farms, most of which had livestock scattered across their green pastures.  It was like driving through a postcard.  As the hours passed the rally became an afterthought of sorts.  We got a little caught up in our enjoyment of the drive and it caused us to miss quite a few turns and answers to the route questions.  It was OK though, we were having a great time.  As the countryside started to be replaced with more buildings we knew the rally was coming to a close.  The final stop on the course was a restaurant in Athens called Loco's Grill and Pub.  How far behind we were in the rally became abundantly clear when we pulled into the parking lot and saw almost a dozen cars that were participating in the rally.  If we had arrived on time, we would have been only the second car to arrive.  But neither of us were really phased by this because the only thing on our minds at that point was where the bathrooms were.

After using the facilities, we headed into a large room just to the right of the main dinning area.  The rally had reserved a separate dinning area for the occasion.  We turned our time sheet and answers to the route questions in to the rally organizers and found a seat.  As our dinner was being served, the rallymaster, UGA professor Mark Johnson, stepped up to the platform that was positioned next to the projector screen.  Results time.  At this point we were both hopeful for a good placement, but as Mark started to go over the answers to the route questions, our confidence dwindled.  Only then did we realize just how anal they were when it came to the questions.  Wow.  We got lucky on a couple, but things weren't looking good.  By the time he started announcing which teams placed where, we were just hoping we didn't get the Dead Last but Finished Trophy, which instead went to go a guy at our table.  Bullet dodged.  We ended up placing 26th out of 31 cars.  Not exactly what we expected, but it wasn't a big deal.  We had a great time bombing around the countryside in the CRX.  There aren't many better ways to spend an afternoon.

Photos by Stephen Dettman

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Letting Go

This last weekend was an important weekend for me, and not for the reasons that I expected it to be.  What was supposed to be the culmination of weeks of methodical preparation ending in the attendance of the CRX's first legitimate car show, turned out to be something quite different.   The last month went from being an exciting opportunity to a lesson in letting things go and learning how to properly appreciate hard work.

Four weeks ago, I was informed that the annual spring Import Alliance show was featuring cars 1987 and older in their Spotlight area.  The show had been on my radar for the past few years, but it usually got trumped by other events due to the fact that I don't blend well with the usual crowd of people that attend.  I'm not a fan of camber, stance, or offset unless it's used to improve the functionality of your car, in the pursuit of speed.  However this year, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to represent old school Honda's in the Spotlight portion of the show.  I filled out the application to be in the Spotlight, and was surprised to get an acceptance email just hours later.

With a fresh injection of confidence, and what I thought was plenty of time before the show, I decided to take the opportunity to fix everything that was left on my to-do list for the car.  This was a big mistake, especially in my case... being an intense perfectionist.  My list was long, but after I had sorted everything in order of completion, I felt success was attainable.  The list I created was made up of all the little tasks that pile during use, that you regularly tell yourself, 'I'm going to fix that eventually...when I get some free time'.  It included things like body panel repair, dent removal, a serious cleaning, a good waxing, replacing worn bits, changing gaskets and oil, and painting... lots of painting.

The one task that had me worried was the one I didn't have control over.  The body work.  The rocker panels had been deeply gouged by the door skins when they expanded in the heat of summer.  Since the SI rocker panels have their own 'door sill' that regularly collects dirt and dust, by the time I realized what was happening, the damage had been done.  I didn't have the time to do the body work myself, so I knew I had to take it to a shop.  The uneasy feeling that came from that idea originated from my checkered history with body shops.  I've never had a good experience, and the last trip to the body shop was the worst experience ever.  What was supposed to take 2-3 weeks ended up taking 3 months.

With that in mind, I found a seemingly reputable body shop in the area and dropped the rocker panels off to be repaired and painted.  He told me it would be done in three days, and I laughed.  Probably not the nicest reaction, but in my mind, nothing could happen that quickly at even the best body shop.  He was adamant that it would be done in that time frame, so while not holding my breath, I thanked him and went on my way.  Sure enough, three days later, I get a call, 'Your parts are ready for you to pick up!'  It was very difficult to disguise my elation when I thanked him and told him I'd be there as quick as I could.  'Could this be true?!  They must have done a terrible job.'  They didn't.  They were perfect.  I tossed them in the back of the Land Rover and went home with a huge grin on my face.  However, when I got home and carried them into the garage, my grin melted like an ice cream cone under a desert sun.  It only took a glance to realize that they weren't the right gray.  It wasn't even close!  I couldn't have been more dejected.  What was really depressing about this was not the fact that the body shop had painted the rockers in the wrong color, because they hadn't.  I had given them the factory paint codes, just like I had done when I had the entire car painted.  I knew right away that the body shop that painted the whole car originally (the one I had such an awful experience with) had used the wrong color gray.  To think that they were still causing my grief, years later, had me in a rage.

So with only two weeks before the show, I returned the parts to the body shop.  'Here we go again', I thought.  I explained the reasons why the paint didn't match and provided him with one of the door skins for him to match.  He balked a little and said that it would be easier to just paint all of the gray parts on the car instead of trying to match a couple panels.  There was no time for repainting half the car, so I just asked him to get it as close as possible.

As the days went on, I continued to spend my evenings and weekends in the garage.  My list was being whittled down, but not fast enough.  It seemed that even the simplest of tasks were taking forever and causing me issues.  Not only were things taking much longer to complete, but the guy at the body shop never told me when he'd have the parts completed.  He just said, 'They'll be done before your show for sure!'  This didn't sit well with me and after three days had passed without a word from them, I started calling.  'Just give me a couple more days.  They're having trouble getting the color to match' was what I was told after the first call.  After the third call, which was days later, he was still asking for more time.  I was starting to get a bad feeling about all of it.

With only three days before the show, I was reaching the panic stage.  My list was still way too long, and the car was still in pieces.  I had to start purging my list of things to do.  Even after scratching off a number of tasks, the list still felt long, but I couldn't comprise on anything else (so I thought).  It was now time to call the body shop again and get another status update.  'They're almost ready to paint' he said, 'They have it really close.  It'll be done on Friday for sure.'  Friday?!  Friday is the day before the show.  How am I going to put the car back together, and then wash, wax, and paint the trim pieces (among many other things) in less than 24 hours?!  I insisted that I needed them done by Thursday at the latest.  His response of 'We'll see what we can do' was hardly convincing.  To make an already long story a little bit shorter...  I was finally asked to come down to the shop to approve the color that they had decided was close enough.  This was Friday morning mind you.  By that time I had convinced myself that this wasn't going to happen.  My only hope was that I could at least make it to the show on Sunday.  The color was fine and I told them to move forward.  By 1pm the parts were completed and in my possession.  They did end up getting the color very close, but ended up having to blend the paint on the door skins to avoid any obvious differences.  I was about 24 hours late based on the schedule in my head, but I was pretty sure I could be done by Saturday night.

Amazingly, as the clock struck 12:30am Sunday morning, I stepped back from the car and realized I had done it.  Well, sort of.  My list had received yet another purging, so in the end I had only completed two thirds of the original task list, but at that point I was just happy to have the car back together and looking half-way decent.  Sadly though, the drama didn't end there.  Before I went to bed I decided to go over the car and make sure I hadn't forgot anything.  As I was wrenching down on one of the front wheel's lug nuts, I heard a weird popping sound come from the engine bay.  When I looked up there was smoke coming out from under the hood.  I stood there for a moment just staring at the smoke as it rose from the car and disappeared into the night sky.  'SERIOUSLY!?'  I lifted the hood to find my suspicions of a blown fuse to be correct.  Of course it was the main 55amp fuse, the one I didn't have spares to.  Finally I knew that this show wasn't going to happen.  It was time to let it go.  I calmly shut the hood, rolled the car back into the garage and went to bed.

The next morning, as I sat glumly on the couch starring out the window at a beautiful spring day, it dawned on me that I still had the nice camera gear that I had rented for the show.  I knew nothing positive would come out of me moping around the house, and I wasn't about to let that camera equipment go to waste.  The only thing standing in my way was a dead car.  So I put my big boy pants back on and went to work.  6 fuses, getting stranded in the left turn lane of a busy intersection, and several trips to the parts store later, and she was back in action.  To add insult to injury, the cause of the problem was of my own doing.  I had loosened the alternator harness connector while washing the engine bay, just enough to cause it to short.  Lovely.

Once the car was running again, I packed my gear into the car and headed into the mountains.  It didn't take long to find an impressive scenic byway just north of Helen, GA.  It led me to two fantastic lookouts that offered impressive views of Yonah Mountain and the Chattahoochee National Forest beyond.  After spending a few hours driving on beautiful mountain roads, taking pictures, and just soaking up nature, I realized that this was so much better than being crammed in a parking lot with thousands of other cars and people, getting sun burnt and covered in tire smoke.  This is what I should've been planning to do the whole time.  To truly enjoy your car is not to have other folks look at it while it sits in a parking lot, it's to care for it, drive it, and take the time to step back and appreciate what you can accomplish with a lot of hard work.  That is what is so special about motoring.

Photos by Stephen Dettman

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

SCCA March Majors - A Classic Honda Hoedown

As I stepped out of my car and onto the gravel parking lot, just above turns 11 and 12, I was hit in the face with a blast of frigid air.  'Wow, it's cold!' I said to myself as I grabbed my camera and headed toward the fence line.  Not 24 hours earlier, north Georgia was hit by an unseasonable cold front that left the mountains covered in snow, and Road Atlanta covered in frozen SCCA members.  It only took about five minutes in the stiff wind for me to become one of those frozen SCCA members.  I had arrived only a minutes before the Group 3 race, which was the race I had come to see.  The Formula open wheel race was just wrapping up so I had a few moments to shoot some test shots.  Aside from it being cold, I was ready to go and excited to see the two 3G Civic Hatches and 1G CRX that were competing in the race.  The SCCA March Majors event had been on my schedule of events to attend since the beginning of the year.  There are two Majors events held during the year at Road Atlanta, and they brings folks from all over the region to compete.  I knew it would my best opportunity to see some of the classic Honda's that compete in SCCA.  Russ, a blog fan who was flagging the event, had tipped me off days before to the presence of the two Civic's and the CRX.  Anticipation had been building all weekend, and in a few moments, they would come over the hill, under the bridge and down the hill, right below me.  I was more than ready.

I have shot several events at Road Atlanta, and I wanted to target turn's 10-12 because they are usually where all the passing happens.  Not only was this section of the track action packed, but there was hardly anyone there, allowing me to finally access all the fence line in all three turns.  The SCCA event's don't draw a lot of spectators like some of the larger events at Road Atlanta, but when you add wind and temperatures in the 30's, you've got an almost empty track.  With camera in hand, and positioned in my first ideal shooting location, I waited as the rumble of engines started to get louder.  The first car to crest the hill was the pace car, followed by a large group of cars that made up the Production and Grand Touring classes.  The first race car to catch my eye was the beautiful, wide-body 1986 Honda Civic Hatch, run by Ken Blackburn of Blackburn Motorsports, that was starting in the second row.  I had heard about the car from Russ, who I mentioned earlier.  He had seen the car at an event at Barber Motorsports Park.  The images he had sent me hadn't done it justice, because the car was awesome in person.  The next car to catch my eye was the red and white 1984 Honda CRX run by Darryl Saylor.  Watching it roll by on classic 13 inch CF-48 wheels made me feel like I was back in the mid 80's when these cars were tearing up Road Atlanta, taking class victories left and right.  Then the last car that I was excited to see was the navy blue 1984 Honda Civic run by John Fine.  It was largely unmodified and looked great on the matching blue mesh rims and fat Hoosier tires.

As the pace car headed down the pit lane entrance, the rest of the field coasted down the hill into turn 12 as they waited for the green flag.  Moments later, a momentous roar came out of the valley as the drivers all mashed their gas pedals in unison.  Sure, most of the engines had only four cylinders, but when you have a large group of them, the majority of them with straight exhaust systems, wailing at the same time, it sounds fantastic.  The race had begun.  I watched them race down the front straight until I lost sight of them heading into turn one.  For roughly a minute, all I could do was wait as I followed the sounds of strung-out engines echoing off the surrounding hills.  Finally, they reappeared coming around the last bend on the back straight and down the into turn 10.  From where I was standing, I briefly lost sight of them again as they went through 10A and 10B.  The minute they went out of sight, I positioned the camera and waited for them to come over the hill.  By the time the group of cars had reach me, they had already begun to separate a little, but the effect of them careening down the hill and onto the front stretch at full speed, was in no way diminished.  I was grinning from ear to ear as I held the camera up to my face, snapping furiously.

When the field came through again at the end of lap two, I happened to catch a familiar name being mentioned over the loud speaker.  It was Ken Blackburn.  He had spun in turn one!  Russ quickly messaged me confirming that he had spun going into turn one, after hitting the rumble strips.  Thankfully he was able to continue, but I was discouraged to hear of the incident.  He had been running first in the GT-Lite class.

As the race continued, I moved around to different areas of turns 10-12.  The ground was soft and muddy from the rain the day before, but I was not to be denied the ideal shooting location.  Mud wasn't my main problem though, it was the cold that was giving me fits.  I didn't have gloves and in order to ensure that I didn't miss a photographic opportunity, I had to keep the camera in both hands the whole time.  By the time the race reached the half-way point, my fingers were numb, and I was having difficulty using the buttons on the camera.  The cold wasn't just effecting me, it was effecting the camera.  The old battery was feeling the effects of the cold, and was losing power quickly.  I kept on shooting and moving around the track.  Having the bridge at my disposal allowed me to switch sides of the track easily.  It turned out to be great place to shoot the race.

With three laps left to go in the race, I made my way back to the top of the hill overlooking 11 and 12 to watch the cars cross the start/finish line.  As the checkered flag waved and the last few cars crossed the finished line, I heard a familiar name on the PA again.  It was Ken Blackburn.  He had come back from his spin in turn one and took the victory in his class!  I was so excited to hear that.  Then it suddenly occurred to me that this was the end of the last race of the weekend, and since Ken's team was from North Carolina, I needed to catch them before they left.  I bolted down the hill and around the outside of turn twelve, passing the Track Grill.  I continued towards the inspection area where I assumed the cars would be this soon after the race.  My assumptions were correct.  The whole field was parked nose to tail in three rows in front of the inspection hut.  It gave me a great opportunity to shoot them in a group.  After the inspection was over, I met up with Ken and his team as they packed up their things and loaded the Civic onto their trailer.  Ken had driven from Winston Salem North Carolina to participate in the event, and lucky for me, it was his last event at Road Atlanta for 2017.  We chatted about his car and it's history, exchanged information, and then went our separate ways.  Don't worry, you will be hearing more about Ken and his car in the future.  It was fun to talk to the winner of the race, especially since he won it in a classic Honda!

It was really special to see three old Honda's rippin' up Road Atlanta.  Compared to most of the events that I attend, of this nature, that typically lack in Honda's altogether, it was a regular classic Honda hoedown!  It's great to know that guys are still running these cars and they are still competitive.  Seeing these cars on the track continues to increase my appreciation for them, and I hope it does the same for those in the classic Honda community.

Photos by Stephen Dettman