Saturday, October 10, 2009

Attack of the Cones

Photo by Stephen Stalcup.

Judging by the increased use of photo radar throughout Tucson, it's pretty safe to say that everyone feels the need for speed occasionally. As someone who recently got snagged by an ominous white van parked on the side of our road, I tend to agree. Of course, I'm also an avid motorsport fan, and I'll watch pretty much any racing that I come across on TV that involves the horseless carriage. However, I know that speeding and city streets don't mix, so I don't usually speed in town. It's just not safe (and of course I'm not advocating it).

What I will do however is buy a small car for a specific purpose: the enjoyment of simply driving. In January I summoned a friend and the courage to visit Sierra Auctions in Tucson. What lead me there was a year long search for the perfect simple motorsport car. It turned out that was a black, mid-nineties Mazda Miata (pictured above) for a great deal. Auctions can be fun and exciting. Auto auctions even more so. Within 20 seconds of furious hand waving, it was mine. "Dude, you just bought a car!"

Eva and I have taken the car on several drives, as far as California on one occasion, but this September we began auto-crossing it at the Pima County dragstrip, an event organized by the Arizona Border Region SCCA club. You don't need to have a sports car however. You can race pretty much anything in autocross as long as it has working seat belts, nothing is falling off, the tires aren't bald, it's not leaking any fluids, and it's not stuffed with a bunch of stuff you keep forgetting to take to Goodwill. Helmets are provided, but Eva and I decided we'd make a semi-permanent investment and buy our own at Play-it-Again Sports. Be careful to pay attention to the helmet rating if you go this route, as only specific helmets will qualify. And anywhere your helmet isn't covering, slather on some sunscreen.

Autocross is a simple form motorsport involving a parking lot, timing lights, and a truckload of cones and organization. The tracks are laid out differently every month, so everyone has to learn the track on the day of racing, which is probably the most difficult and surprising part. Events are run/work, which means you race three to four quick heats and then work three to four, and only cost $35 to $40 for non-members. Working simply involves knowing a few flag and hand symbols, watching for hit cones and course deviations, and manning a walky-talkie or fire extinguisher if needed.

When you go, make sure you bring some water, some lunch, and even more sunblock. Even if you don't participate, you can still have alot of fun by riding along with experienced drivers, sometimes in pretty exotic and rare cars. After having a couple of course deviations (a 20 second penalty), I rode along with a veteran in a modest looking Subaru. I thought I knew what fast was: the ride blew my mind and I didn't even have to pay a fine.

Text by Andrew Haberbosch exclusively for Tucson Querido.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

What's Left to Salvage

With the economy in the dumps, the spirit of DIY is stronger than ever. People are finding ways to live just as comfortably without breaking the bank. The recent Cash for Clunkers popularity is certainly evidence. I was almost tempted to take the bait, as my car certainly qualified, but having no car payments rather than lower car payments was a little more appealing. In the “good old days” of a booming economy, I usually paid for automotive repair. But when my '97 Crown Victoria Police Interceptor recently broke yet again, this time I thought I'd do something I haven't done since high school: visit a salvage yard.

If you've been to an auto recycler, you may know their stereotype. Often they're on the edge of town, away from subdivisions, run by grumpy old men, and dirtier than sin. Tucson junk yards are no different. I've visited a couple so far, and have had the nicest experience at Arizona U-Pull & Save.

I talked to a couple of different junkyards on the phone, and everyone was helpful, but most of them directed me here. This seemed to be the place for 97 police interceptor parts. With a spare afternoon, I gave them a ring to make sure, and after a brief but polite phone call, grabbed a few tools to check it out. You need a buck just to get in, and cash is preferred for the entrance fee. After this small formality, they'll point you to the right place.

Junkyards like U-Pull are becoming rare in the United States. Most places will not let anyone off the street enter the yard for fear of liability. Many places I visited in high school changed their policies and now mandate they have their employees bring the part to you. Some places in Tucson have done this recently. To be fair, these places are not for the faint of heart. In the photo above, you can see rows of cars each perched precariously on old car rims. Many of these cars have been picked through. Who knows how the last person left it for you. But with a little experience, some courage and luck, you can save a lot of money, and Gary at U-Pull will help you.

Photos and text by contributor Andrew Haberbosch exclusively for Tucson Querido.