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Driver's Seat

3rd September 2002

By Glenn Torrens

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Went to two modified car events on Saturday and Sunday a few weekends ago. A lot of us get a big 'kick' out of weekend car club runs, dyno days and track sprints - I know I do - and these two events were terrific examples of the popularity and strength of the modified car scene in Australia. And from poking my head into the pages of a bunch of international car magazines and keeping tabs on a few websites, I have no doubt it's the same in just about every country around the world where cars are part of the culture.

The first event was a car club dyno day in suburban Sydney. In recent times, dyno days have exploded in popularity and in many ways become the new 'drag race' event, especially in places with limited access to proper strips. Although many people have mixed views - even negative opinions - of the real worth of a simple power number printed on a piece of paper and its relevance to 'real world' performance, dyno days are a good fun way of 'racing your mates': comparing power curves and getting together with a bunch of like-minded car freaks and having a good time. No harm in that. And there's less chance of drivetrain breakage than a 'real' strip, too, for those of us who over-engineer their engines and under-engineer the remainder of our cars!

Organised by a Subaru owners' club, the day was a great opportunity for Subaru turbo owners - and a few others - to get together at a workshop, strap down their cars and let the rollers roar. I ventured along for a look and was greeted by the echo of a Subie sounding like a maniac on the dyno and a group of enthusiastic owners standing around comparing dyno graphs and talking car stuff. There were a few dozen cars in attendance, from standard with only a few thousand kilometres on the clock, to hot modified early WRXs with house money invested in their drivetrains. A workshop had kindly made available its staff and equipment to allow the club members to run the numbers on a Saturday afternoon. Good for the workshop, and good for everyone!

As the sun set on that event, I pointed my car north for a few hours up the New South Wales coast to see an event the next day, this time a hillclimb at a place called Bulladelah north of the seaside city of Newcastle. Known as the 'Bulladelah Bends' this hillclimb (where drivers race against the clock in classes based on car type and engine capacity) is run on a twisty closed section of public road. Some local car clubs get together with the roads authority, the local police, and fire and rescue squads to make the event happen.

This stretch of highway once had a shocking accident rate - one day, I witnessed a truck jack-knife in front of my eyes, and the death toll seemed to be measured in dozens - but now that interstate traffic has been funnelled onto a new section of freeway, it's a stunning drive through some tranquil forest, if you're into that sort of thing. And a couple of times a year, the steepest, twistiest section of it is officially closed for the weekend and after entering the event, you are allowed to go as quick as you like without anything jack-knifing anywhere. The fastest cars (open wheelers) see upwards of 240 km/h over the finish line, and many road/race sedans and coupes see 180-plus.

Dyno battle one day, handing battle the next. A broad spectrum of what makes performance car ownership so fulfilling. But why am I telling you about it?

Because these two events also highlighted, for me, the good and the bad points of modified car owner's relationship with the remainder of society. It highlighted the responsibility we have to do the right thing. And it highlighted how, no matter how much people try and do the right thing, it can all be undone by the actions of just one idiot. Does that sound a bit too 'deep'? Stay with me and I'll explain.

Despite what appeared to be sterling efforts of the club members who organised the dyno day, it was marred by the fact the cops had to attend. Sometime after I arrived, I was wandering around out the front perving on some cars and from the other end of the industrial estate the dyno day was held in, I heard the hoarse scream of a high-horsepower turbo engine and the squeal of tortured tyres being converted to simpler compounds.

Some clown was doing a burnout. Great. A few minutes later a car - and I'm pretty sure he wasn't a member of the Subaru club, as the car wasn't a Subaru - drove in through the gates of the workshop with two smug-looking people on board. They parked their car, joined a bunch of teenage hangers-on and began pushing their chests out like a pair of pigeons.

A few minutes later, a police car quietly arrived. Two cops got out and began casually writing down details, unbeknown to most of the people in attendance. After taking down the registration plate number of every car in the car park, the police people casually wandered into the workshop, took a look around and made themselves known to the assembled crowd with a simple message: Hello. We've got every rego number and we will act if the reports of street racing and burnouts continue. We don't think you'll like that very much. We support these kinds of days; some of us are modified car owners too; have fun, but don't ruin it for everybody by being stupid. People work around here, even on Saturday afternoons. They don't want to see, hear or smell your shit. Have a nice day.

Mr Smug and his mate looked even more smug, as if they'd just done everybody in attendance a huge favour by getting the cops along.

No, dickhead, you didn't do anyone any favours. I reckon the cops had a fair idea who their message was directed to - they can read body language better than anyone - but it seemed to me they were willing to keep the peace and not begin writing defect notices for every car with a pod air cleaner for the sake of the club and for the many innocent car owners there on the day. I enjoyed the afternoon, but it left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, and judging by the scowls on the faces of plenty of other club members, it did for them, too.

In contrast, the hillclimb was a feature on the 6 o'clock news in the local area, for all the right reasons. Fast cars, happy people, one or two biffs into the fence, and demon driving.

Now I'm not comparing the pros and cons of each type of event. The dyno day and hill climb were simply the two examples I witnessed within 24 hours, and I've seen people pay more than hundred bucks to enter these events and then act like dickheads too, but it does highlight how, whether the event be a show, a car club run, or a Sunday afternoon cruise with a couple of mates to a beachside pub for a beer, the actions of one or two people can ruin it for everyone else.

Some people reckon it's an age thing. That's bull. If you're old enough to vote, marry, drink alcohol and drive a performance car, well, you're old enough to act like a grown up and not bin the fun for everybody else with similar interests. I reckon it's all a matter of attitude.

How's yours?

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