Feature Story

PARTICIPATION AUTO SPORTS

by Bob Hagin

August 2, 1996

For most motorists, driving is just a routine to get from one place to another. These are the drivers who consider their autos simply a mobile household appliance.

But many of us have found another use for the ubiquitous automobile. It becomes a friend, a companion, an extension of ourselves. We have found that there are automotive events that we can get into with relatively little experience or training and, in some cases, very small expense. I've come up with more than half a dozen of them and while some require ownership of a somewhat special vehicle, all of the activities can be done with strictly street-legal machines that are suitable for everyday transportation.

SOCIALIZING - Each month or so I get a newsletter from our local kit car club, an organization made up of owners of specially constructed sports cars. In it are listed all the events that are coming up for members as well as the location of the next club meeting. The main concept of the club is to promote home-built sportsters but the main activity is the social side of owning an automobile. But the kit car club isn't an exception. Lots of other "conventional" makes and models like Volvo and Oldsmobile are the focal points for social clubs that offer family-style socializing and friendship.

PARADING - I recently watched our local Fourth of July Day parade through the eye of an auto enthusiast. The local dignitaries were driven past in a fleet of open cars that ranged from street rods to late model convertibles and none were owned by the politicians who were in them and waving to the crowd. Most of the parade car drivers were also members of the above mention social-type clubs but others were simply locals who wanted to show off their special vehicles. A nicely restored '65 Mustang convertible rolled by with a gaggle of kids from the driver's neighborhood in the back seat enjoying the cheers of the spectators.

CRUISING - Cruising is a no-no for most police and is illegal in some towns but Friday Night Cruising has changed in many places. In my own area, several drive-in restaurants offer Cruise Night once a month on a rotational basis. Most of the participants in these impromptu events are older guys in restored cars of the '50s or '60s who congregate to talk over the old days and show off their "rides." The atmosphere is relaxed and mellow and the age group ranges from grandfathers who still have the '32 Highboys they had in high school to post- teenagers who long to be part of the Good Old Days.

DRAG RACING - Most of you have seen professional drag racing on television. It's high-tech, very professional and extremely expensive but it's a far cry from what usually happens at the same strip during the week. Around here its called Wednesday Night Grudge Racing: ordinary drivers in more-or-less ordinary cars squaring off against each other in quarter mile races. The entry fee is low, the competition is keen and everyone goes away happy. Lots of family cars compete and they are not always driven just by a teen-aged member of that family.

AUTOCROSSING - Autocrossing is like downhill skiing - but on a big, dry parking lot with no snow. The competitors drive around a half-mile serpentine course laid out around rubber cones and delineated by a lime-dust line marker. Car make two or three runs as fast as possible around the markers to try for a personal best as well as to establish a fast-time for their class. These events go on in parking lots all over the country every weekend and while some of the cars are built just for competition, many more compete in stock classes that are set up around a common performance potential for similar cars: a Honda Prelude competes against VW Jettas and the Ford Escorts and the winner is usually the driver with the most skill rather than with the most power.

RALLYING - Rallying is an event that tests driver skill and restraint. A two to three hour course is laid out on city streets and/or country roads and the winner is that driver who traverses various sections of the course in the exact amount of time and at exactly the road speeds that the organizers have prescribed on the instruction sheet. Too much speed counts against the contestant but so does too little. The winner may be the car that contains the most accurate speedometer and is driven by the most methodical driver.

AUTO SHOWS - "Showing" a car is detailing taken to a fine art and while custom-built and rare cars get top billing and glory, the lesser vehicles compete for their own trophies. Most participants know that they won't win first place but it's a good excuse to get our in the sun for a picnic, meet automobile kindred spirits and have spectators admire your handiwork.

Most newspapers that carry an auto section have a weekly calender that lists these kinds of events in your own area. But be warned: it's very easy to get hooked into being a certified car buff. And once you're hooked, it's a hard habit to shake.

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