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.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

2017 Mitty - Day 1: Coker Tire Tour

I first heard about the Coker Tire Tour during one of my trips to the Mitty a few years back.  I was very interested but wasn't able to pull the trigger on the event until this year.  Living in north Georgia, I already knew the potential merits of a long drive from southern Tennessee to Road Atlanta, where the 40th Classic Motorsports Mitty was taking place.  I haven't explored the entire region, but the parts that I have been able to see did nothing but impress me.  I'm always up for a run in the mountains, but to do it with a large group of fellow classic auto enthusiasts?  It all sounded too good to pass up.  I purchased tickets and took a half-day the afternoon before the event to wash the car and gather all my gear together.  Everything had to be ready the evening before the event because I had to be up at 4:30am to make sure I was on the road to Chattanooga before 6am.

After a smooth 2 hour journey, I turned onto the drive that runs along the Coker Tire plant's parking lot and dead ends next to the Museum.  I was a bit early so only the side of the road opposite the museum was lined with cars.  I drove all the way to the end of the street and parked across from a gorgeous 1958 Chevrolet Yeoman station wagon with a toboggan and a surfboard strapped to its roof rack.  They were clearly prepared for any occasion.  With most events such as these, it takes me a little while to warm up socially.  I have issues with social anxiety and in order to not be hindered by them, I force myself to do these types of things.  They typically turn out to be a great time, it's just getting over that initial 'I want to hide under a rock' hump is a challenge.  After I parked the car and started collecting my camera equipment, I hadn't even begun to get over that hump when a gentleman came up and started asking me about the CRX.  Aside from being forced out of my social shell, I was pleasantly surprised that the car was getting attention so quickly.  Even more surprising was the fact that the attention continued throughout the day.  When I finally got my gear together and walked up to the registration table that was situated just inside the entrance to the museum, the lady at the table asked for my name and started scanning her list of registered entrants.  "Oh you're the guy with the CRX I need to see!" she exclaimed.  I was so surprised by her comment, I really don't remember what I responded with, probably some incoherent babblings.

The attention didn't stop there.  After signing in, I took the bag of materials that I was given at the registration table back to the car and adhered the "TOUR" sticker to the windshield.  While I was at the car preparing things for the Tour, a nice lady came up to me and expressed interest in the car.  She was yet another Honda owner, specifically a CR-Z owner, who was nice enough to share her story with me.  You do meet the nicest people when you own a Honda.  Once I had finished chatting with the nice lady, I grabbed my camera and headed into the Coker Tire Museum to check out the catered breakfast.  As I walked in, I was shocked at what I saw.  It was one large, open room that looked like it used to be part of the factory.  It was dimly but sufficiently lit, with the early morning sun beaming through the large, high windows and skylights.  The red brick walls were covered in a plethora of vintage signage and advertising.  Floor to ceiling scaffolding supported a large collection of vintage motorcycles that disguised the south wall.    There were so many cars packed into the room that you barely had enough space to walk between them.  I made my way around the room feverishly taking pictures and drooling over all the patina.

After almost an hour of ogling, I noticed that the people that had been mingling around the museum began to congregate around a small podium.  It was already time for the drivers meeting, and I had totally forgot to eat breakfast.  I joined the group of folks around the podium where the lady who checked me in and her husband were beginning to discuss the Tour route.  Our hosts turned out to be Tim and Marjorie Suddard.  Tim is the primary publisher for both Classic Motorsports and Grassroots Motorsports magazines.  They were such great hosts, and happened to take quite an interest in the CRX.  Just as Tim was wrapping up the drivers meeting, he paused for a moment and said in a somewhat stern tone,

"Alright, who owns that red CRX out there?"

Not knowing where he was going with his inquiry, I sheepishly raised my hand and squeaked, "Me?"

He starred right at me with a deadpan expression and uttered, "That's a terrible car, and I'm going to need you to sell it too me right away!"

Tim and the rest of the group busted out laughing, yes at the joke he just made, but probably more so at my facial expression.  It took a moment for the shock and horror to leave my face and turn into a smile.  I then joined everyone with a laugh and Tim expressed his affection for the car.  I was so taken aback by the whole thing, it took me a while to realize what had happened.  As we all filed out of the building and headed towards our vehicles, there were several others that offered compliments about the car.  I had only been there a little more than an hour and I felt like I showed up in a rare Ferrari.  It was a lot to take in, but it was really nice to see that so many people appreciated the old Honda.

When I reached the car, I quickly fired it up and pulled into the line of cars heading out of the factory.  While mentally preparing for this event, I neglected to realize that I was going to have to navigate while driving a manual transmission car.  This meant that I had to follow the turn-by-turn directions laid out in the Tour guide book and drive at the same time.  The route wasn't the fastest way to get from Chattanooga to the Orchard, so my GPS wasn't going to help.  They even joked about it in the drivers meeting, wishing those who were driving solo luck with the guide book.  My solution to the problem would be to stick with another Tour participant and hope that we didn't get separated.  Thankfully there were a lot of cars, and they remained bunched up for the first half hour of the trip, which got us out of Chattanooga and into the Tennessee countryside.

Chattanooga is a beautiful city itself, but as we got off the main road heading out of town, rural Tennessee impressed me with it's stunning scenery.  The roads were perfect, unadulterated ribbons of asphalt winding through rolling hills like a swallow hunting insects.  The route took us northeast out of the city, along Chickamauga Lake, through Cleveland, TN, and then southeast through the Cohutta Wilderness area.  The road that we followed through the park was nothing short of incredible.  As we entered the park along U.S. 64, we drove along the north shore of Parksville Lake, and Lake Ocoee, and then continued south as it followed the Ocoee River into Georgia.  That section of road was simply one of the prettiest roads I've driven on.  The pristine lakes, parks, waterfalls, and rock formations made it difficult to stay focused on the road, let alone take pictures.  I tried to, but I wasn't able to capture enough images to do this road justice.

As the road wound out of the mountains and we crossed over into Georgia, it was only a short drive from there before we reached the Orchard.  I pulled into the parking lot where all the cars on the Tour had parked in a long line.  I got out and was immediately greeted by folks asking about the CRX, including Tim Suddard who was taking pictures.  After the impromptu meet and greet, we headed towards the orchards's main building for lunch.  Mercier Orchard is a large apple orchard nestled in the rolling hills of north Georgia, just west of Blue Ridge.  It's a very picturesque location with a huge gift shop that has every apple-related nick-knack imaginable, and a large outdoor patio where we gathered for lunch.  We were provided a box lunch that was very tasty and more than sufficient enough to satisfy our hunger, even for me who forgot to eat breakfast.  I sat down with the nice lady with the CR-Z, and another Honda owner who I had met moments earlier joined us too.  Honda owners seem to gravitate towards one another, and it usually turns into some good conversation.  This time was no exception.  After finishing our lunch and waiting out a passing shower, we all piled back into our cars and hit the road.

The second half of the Tour was an hour longer than the first, and more complicated in regards to navigation, so I needed to make sure I could stay with the group.  When I left the orchard, I was following two other cars through downtown Blue Ridge, when I took a wrong turn.  At first I was worried about loosing the group, but after backtracking towards where I had made my mistake, I came across a large group of Tour vehicles and joined them.  As we headed out of Blue Ridge and entered the Chattahoochee National Forest, things started to get twisty.  I was excited about this section of the Tour because I was familiar with most of the roads along the route and I knew how fun they were.  Route 60 is an extremely popular road for locals to shred rubber on, and I don't mean burnouts.  As the group approached the foot of Ramrock Mountain, I was behind a 1970 Chevrolet C10 long-bed pickup that looked like it was set up for touring, and behind me was Tim and Marjorie in their rented v6 Dodge Challenger (They had mechanical issues with the Shelby they had planned to take on the tour).  The portion of route 60 that goes over Ramrock Mountain is a personal stomping ground of mine and I was prepared to push pretty hard.  Thankfully the guy in the C10 was ready too.  The accent to the top of the mountain coming from the north is short, and there were a few cars ahead of us that were moving slowly, so we moved along calmly until they turned off at the observation area.  From there, it was go time.  I stayed with C10 fairly easily, and I was surprised how well he handled the truck down the mountain.  We were moving fast, and the Suddards were struggling to keep up.  It was a royal hoot, and when we reached the bottom of the mountain we stopped at a gas station to refuel, get drinks and chat.  It was nice to talk with more people from the group and share some mountain road stories.  After our brief pit stop, we hit the road again.  The rest of the route took us through the town of Dahlonega, around the north end of Lake Lanier, and through the peaceful farmlands of Hall county.

It was around 4:30pm when we finally arrived at Road Atlanta.  We were directed to a large parking area that was set aside for Tour participants.  When we pulled in and parked I was surprised at the number of vehicles that were already there.  It was only later that I learned that there was an additional Tour organized by the Porsche Club of America, that had come up from Atlanta to join our group at the track.  The parking area was right behind the Classic Motorsports tent that was situated along Vendor Row, so we didn't have to walk far to grab some food or check out all the neat stuff being sold there.  However, the first thing on my list of priorities for the day was to watch some racing, so I headed over to my favorite spot on the track and setup my chair.

The racing was superb, as expected with the Mitty.  There is such a large variety of classic race cars at the Mitty that you barely have enough time to put your camera down, let alone hit the bathrooms.  The view above turn 5 is fantastic and hearing each car hammer the gas pedal as they roar out of the esses and up the hill towards turn 6, is enough to make any gearhead swoon like a school girl at a One Direction concert.  As the final race of the day started to reach its final laps, I headed back to the car for the next event on the Tour schedule.

The last Tour event, prior to dinner, was a track tour.  I've been on a couple track tours before at Road Atlanta and although they were fun, the cars were never able to get up to speed.  I was expecting a couple casual laps around the track, however, I couldn't have been more wrong.  After a long wait in the staging area as the last race wrapped up (It took longer than expected because of an accident), we were lead out onto the track.  I was behind one of the guys from the Porsche club, in his red Speedster.  It didn't take long before I realized that this wasn't a typical track tour.  As we crested the hill and grazed the apex in turn three, I could see the cars ahead of us that were going through the esses and they were already flying.  Before I could even express my excitement, the Speedster barked to life as it took off down the hill into the esses.  I followed suit and mashed the gas pedal.  Although the lead car was still pacing the field of cars to avoid lapping the cars at the back, I was still able to run at full speed for most of the 5 laps we did.  It was an absolute blast.

[ Above photo courtesy of Ed Higginbotham, associate editor at Grassroots Motorsports ]

In-car videos of the track tour:

After the track tour was over, the group of cars were led back to the parking area behind the Classic Motorsports tent were our dinner was being prepared.  I chose not to participate in the dinner and instead took the time to wonder around the track taking pictures of the cars and the sun as it set over turn 11.  It had been a perfect day.  If this is the first you're hearing of this event, or have been thinking about going, you need to do it.  It's a well organized event that provides you with warm hospitality, great company, good food, fantastic driving, and admission to one of the best vintage auto racing events held in the US, The Mitty.  What more could you ask for?  See you next year!

Pictures taken by Stephen Dettman