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Behind The Wheel


by Bob Hagin

It's still raining in our neck of the woods and I know that in other areas, the snow is blowing, the roads are covered with ice and being a motorist is no fun. It's a time when most people are trying to figure out how to simply cope with getting the car started in the morning and staying out of the snow banks without having to put on the tire chains.

But as it does every year, Winter gives way to Spring which in turn gives way to Summer and that means vacation time.

Being a Car Person as you are (why else would you be reading this column?), a vacation invariably leads to an activity that involves something automotive. By something automotive, I'm not talking about simply driving with the kids to a cabin at the lake, or taking the motorhome to a favorite park where the view is sensational and the evening outdoor cocktail parties are stimulating. I'm talking about "real" car stuff.

But maybe you've just become an enlightened Car Person and have only recently come to realize that vehicles are not simply household appliances whose sole purpose is transportation. Now you also know that the faithful seven-year-old Belchfire that's parked in your garage has heart and soul and shares a kinship with IndyCars, vintage Duesenburgs and custom-built show cars. They all have an engine and wheels and require someone in the driver's seat to get them going.

But what do car people do on their vacations? Herein is a list of most of them and how you, as a neophyte, can enjoy them best:

The setting up of tours to spectate at the great races around the world is a big business - but don't expect to get the brochures at your local AAA office. Companies like Grand Prix Tours (800-533-3503) or Tickets & Travel (800-894-6419) can set you up with trips to any or all of the big NASCAR races, the international Formula One events, the IndyCar circuit, the 24 Hour of Le Mans or the Monterey Historics. If you want to be exposed to open exhausts without having to stand in line for tickets, check it out.
Maybe your vacation time comes during winter in which case you might want to center it around the various big-time auto shows. The one in Los Angeles comes early in January but you have to like smog. Unfortunately its held concurrently with the Detroit show so guess which one gets the really classy attractions. Maybe you could jet between them. New York and Chicago have shows too, but you have to like glitzy press presentations. I don't.
More my style in vacation attractions. All the factories give tours and the one at the Saturn plant is like a visit with the family - especially if you own one. If you can wrangle a trip through the research and development or styling departments of any of the auto makers, you may see what's coming up after the turn of the century.
Also my idea of family automotive fun. They show the kids what it was like in the "old days." The latest issue of Vintage Auto Almanac (your local book store, $9.95) lists 73 in the U.S. from New York to San Francisco so you can plan a trip around the country and see them all. The Peterson museum in Los Angeles is a must-see and even the mighty Smithsonian in Washington DC has a transportation section.
A motorized flea market vacation? The big ones are a real experience, but bring your shopping cart - you're bound to spot something you'll want to buy. The swap in Hershey, PA, is so big that it takes a couple of days just to hit all the booths. Hemming's Motor News (800-227-4373) now has a couple of dozen pages devoted to upcoming swap meets so you can plan a monster shopping spree around rusty old fenders and cylinder heads.
And while you're browsing through Hemming's, you might want to plan vacation trips to the various auto auctions that are held to sell off some very fancy used cars. These events involve a few more bucks than the swap meets (like the multi-million dollar Bugatti Royale at the recent Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, AZ) but like all true used car operations, the prices are negotiable.
No, I don't mean going back to get a few units towards your degree. The schools I recommend for summer teach you how to master the technique of "trailing brake" applications in turns and how to best negotiate the apex of a declining radius turn. Bob Bondurant (800-842-7223), Jim Russell ((408-372-7223), Skip Barber (203-435-1300), Elf Winfield (612-541-9461) and half a dozen others can turn you into anything from a high-class drag racer to simply a better street driver by the time you have to go back to work.

Vacations are strictly for fun and they're coming up soon. As an "auto person" this is a good time to start your planning and to keep in the spirit of things, you ought to drive there.

But you'd better wait until you can get their without tire chains.