Classic Hondas on the Dragon III - No Honda Left Behind

The kindness of those who attend this event was really the highlight this year!

Classic Hondas on the Dragon II

A large group of classic Hondas driving together is truly something special to behold!

2017 Mitty - Day 1: Coker Tire Tour

An incredible drive through southeast Tennessee and northwest Georgia, capped off with the best vintage racing out there.

Honda Dreams Do Come True

I bet you didn't realize that your first gen dream car was in Austria all this time!

Letting Go

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

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