For five previous years, the Goodguys have been inviting me to compete in what they call the Goodguys Editor Shootout Autocross. I've been a competitor in every one of these events and I've come away as the first loser twice so it's a competition that I look forward to every year. Each year I was first loser, I promised myself I would drive more in the weeks before the event to get better prepared, but magazine demands and just trying to keep my collection of leakers running always seems to supersede competitive seat time. This year was no exception. Except for a two-day class at Bob Bondurant's school in Phoenix (which was really helpful) I again this year was going in cold.
Jeff Smith's El Camino, chillin' on the side of the road. Photo taken with an iPhone whil
Saturday morning rolls around and I leave before 7:00 a.m. in my '65 El Camino for the 90-minute drive down to Del Mar, California. I wanted to get to the event early to get in some practice time on the autocross course and my friend Gerald Lum offered to let me drive his small-block 427-powered '70 Camaro. My El Camino has been a reliable highway runner for decades, but as fate would have it, not this day. Roughly 45 minutes into my freeway run, the engine started to surge as if the fuel pump was failing. I quickly turned around and headed back to the barn. I got off the freeway and was struggling up Sepulveda Pass when the engine stumbled badly and quit. A quick call to AAA got a tow truck hooked up to the back end of my El Camino and we slowly made our way back to my house while I listened to the tow truck driver tell me about the police siren he had just installed on his '50 Chevy straight sixer the night before. He dropped off the El Camino and it suspiciously started right up. I decided to not tempt fate a second time by driving my Chevelle and instead took the HHR to help me make some time. Doing the math in my head, it appeared that if the traffic gods were on my side, I could still make the Editor's Shootout noontime start. My friends Tim Moore, Scott Gillman, and Brad Smith were by this time already at the show. It all looked good until I hit Oceanside which is about 20 miles north of Del Mar. That's when traffic stopped. I had four lanes of freeway and nowhere to go.
At this point, I gave up hope as the clock ticked well past noon and I was still 10 minutes out from the fairgrounds. I resigned myself to missing the even altogether. As I meandered into the spectator parking lot, Scott called and said "Where are you? The Shootout just started." What had been a leisurely cruise suddenly became this manic marathon jog from the dirt parking lot to pay my way in and another sprint to the autocross area. After the thought "How would this look to have a stroke just as I get to the gate?" ran through my head, the first person I ran into was fellow autocrosser friend Mary Pozzi, who asked, "Where've you been?" After my abbreviated version of Alice's Restaurant complete with circles and arrows, she said "Here, let me show you the tight spots. See those two pinholes? Those are real tight. And the exit is off-camber so be careful." I quickly let announcer Chad Reynolds and the rest of the Goodguys crew know that I had arrived belatedly (at which point somebody asked "Where were you, polishing your nails?") I learned they would let me run. The rest of the field had already walked the course and many had been practicing since the day before. That's when Johhny Rutherford's words "Luck is where preparation meets opportunity" flew through my head. Well, so much for the preparation part but I still had an opportunity.
The competition this year was on a brand new course, but with the same three car arrangement. Each competitor would have only one chance in each car. All three lap times would be recorded and the quickest overall time would win. Two years ago, Mary Pozzi beat me by a scant 0.008-second and last year Nick LiCata beat me by just a little more than that a couple of tenths two years before that and the rest of the time I've never finished better than fourth. After the chaos of just trying to get to the event, it wasn't shaping up as a positive day but I put all that aside. The Goodguys' schedule for driving is pretty laid back so I had my choice of cars as most of my competitors had already completed their runs. I chose the front wheel drive, Eco-Boosted Ford Focus to drive first since I'm familiar with front wheel drive turbo cars and it would give me a chance to learn the course with a predictable mount. I learned quickly that this car needed to use both First and Second gears when I nailed the rev limiter in the first fast section, but the run was otherwise decent if not all that quick.
Editor Larry Callahan races the Ridetech '68 Camaro during the Goodguys Editor Shootout Au
Next, I jumped right into the fastest car of the three - Detroit Speed's 5.0L Coyote-powered Mustang that feels like it makes 600 hp or more. Lucky for me that Kyle Tucker rode shotgun and offered suggestions on wheeling his car. He said "leave it in First gear - it's run to 8,200 rpm." This was a blast pass because Kyle sets all his cars up to oversteer so his cars are always thrilling. The pass went quickly and I learned later I was a second quicker than the runs in the other two cars and it felt like it. My last run was in the Ride Tech '68 Camaro, a black small-block Chevy-powered machine. By now, I was more familiar with the course but the pressure was on. I knew that Bang Shift's Chad Reynolds has been practicing and Classic Trucks' Wes Drelleshak had beaten me last year so I knew it wasn't going to be easy.
The results revealed that Wes was pretty close, less than 0.7-second behind so the finish was tight - as it always is. What is perhaps even more interesting is that while I was waiting for the tow truck to arrive, I considered not even making the drive, knowing there was a good chance I would not arrive in time. So this just reinforces all those positive messages you hear all the time about "don't give up". In my case, it was certainly true.
I have to give credit to all the editors who showed up to compete including good friends Wes, Chad, and ProTouring.com website editor Larry Callahan. Camaro Performer editor and three-time winner Nick LiCata was on vacation with his family so I imagine he will have a vested interest in painting a bulls eye on my back next year so I will have to be on my best game. I'd also like to thank the Goodguys organization for creating an even better autocross course that is one of the highlights of our Southern California spring-into-summer events. And what driver would not thank his sponsors? They would be Goodguys, and especially Kyle and Stacy Tucker, owners of Detroit Speed and Engineering and Brett Voelkel owner of Ride Tech for offering me the chance to abuse their cars. Without the generous donation of their cars, all this would never happen.
While we're at it, this is also a great opportunity to encourage any car crafter to get involved in autocross racing. Unless you live at the North Pole, chances are there's either a local or national club like the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) that organizes autocross events within easy driving distance. Autocrossing is a fantastic introduction to performance driving and you can literally race any kind of car or truck. This offers you the opportunity to learn the intricacies of vehicle control in a completely safe and legal venue. Most of the time, you don't even need a helmet since speeds are low and the courses are designed to keep your car safe from immovable objects. So if you haven't tried this before, do a quick internet search, find a local autocross event, and go slaloming. You might just discover it's a great way to have fun with your car.
Final Results - Goodguys 6th Annual Editor's Shootout AutoCross
- 1. Jeff Smith - Car Craft Magazine----------------------------------58.037
- 2. Wes Drelleshak - Classic Trucks Magazine--------------------58.236
- 3. Chad Reynolds - Bangshift.com---------------------------------58.284
- 4. Kirk Jones - Goodguys Gazette---------------------------------59.830
- 5. Steven Rupp - Camaro Performers-----------------------------60.534
- 6. Larry Callahan - ProTouring.com--------------------------------62.908
- 7. Mark Gearhart - Power Auto Media----------------------------63.411
- 8. Jeffrey Gomez - SNOB Magazine---------------------------------64.934
- 9. Michael Harding - Power Auto Media--------------------------71.822
- 10. Johnny Hunkins - Popular Hot Rodding-----------------------72.330
- 11. Andreanna Ditton - Hotrodhotline.com-------------------------(DNF)