The Trek 2 Texas has become an annual pilgrimage to Houston for the World Import Challenge drag race. In the first go-around, the caravan consisted of editorial staff from Turbo and Sport Compact Car as well as advertising hounds from all of Primedia's International Group. The Trek is a five-day automotive adventure that covers about 2,000 miles in five days; the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is a hotly contested drag race.
The inaugural Trek was a blast, but the payoff was ruined by hurricane Allison, an oddity of nature that drenched Houston, floated out to sea, picked up steam and looped around to hit Houston again. It was a disaster.
To add insult to injury, Allison moved up the East Coast and rained out an event in the New York/New Jersey area two weeks later.
Last year's Trek had nine cars in it; Turbo was represented by our Lexus IS300, a car in which I pulled a Joey Chitwood and became airborne in while in the Ft. Worth area.
This year I asked Alex Shen of SP Engineering to join the Trek--and bring our December 2001 cover car, SP's Supra 7, along for the odyssey. This year's adventure would include six magazines and 11 cars.
A lot of wicked stuff can happen in 2,000 miles of open road. Turbo, Import Tuner, SCC, Honda Tuning, Car Audio and Auto Sound & Security made up the mags and Team Bergenholtz tagged along too. Ron Bergenholtz joined us with the Team Bergenholtz CRX and the A'PEXi EK Civic in his hauler. Jensen Oda from A'PEXi also made the Trek. Falken Tires tagged along as well with its truck and trailer combo. We had quite an impressive fleet.
Fleetwood RV Route
Monday, March 4
I met the crew at SP Engineering at 7 a.m. Shen, Jason Reinholdt and Rex Kieu were ready. (The tuning sessions conducted on the Supra 7 before and after the Trek will be chronicled in a "Dyno Cell" article next month). The Supra 7 fires to life and the SP dually, which is serving as a support vehicle for shakedown passes the car will make in Houston, is primed to chase it across the Southwest.
The 7 has a wicked grumble at idle and a mean growl as it pulls away from a stoplight. We hit traffic en route to Irvine Mazda and since parking is at a premium, we wait for the Trek posse at a nearby Park and Ride lot.
Reinholdt is driving the 7 and I'm riding shotgun. Thank goodness the stock seats were installed. Lunch is scheduled for Blythe, Calif., right on the border. We arrive at Steaks & Cakes right on schedule. Many noted the meals got better with each day of the Trek. I'll say this: We started from as low as you can go.
The Supra 7 is beastly loud, even at cruise. Part of "The Experiment" is the 7's use of a Supra engine and tranny with a Mazda RX-7 rear end. Problem: The Supra runs a 3.23 final drive, while the RX-7 sports a 4.11. Result: Sixth gear, 75 mph equals 4,200 rpm.
That meant little rest for the engine and a mean drone for the eardrums. The car has no air conditioning, no fan and no radio. Outside, it wasn't too hot, but I found cool air vents in through the door handle area, cooling me off nicely. I enjoyed my discovery all the way to Phoenix.
We gathered for our first PR stop, Earnhardt Mazda in Chandler, Ariz., and entered in formation. Two hours later, we hit the road again to our evening layover in Flagstaff, Ariz. As we climbed to 7,000 feet, I cursed the door handle area for letting in frosty late night air. I lost the feeling in my upper legs and my right leg was numb to the ankle.
The engine loved every minute--staying cool as the Supra 7 scales each peak like a champ. Arriving in Flagstaff, I hurriedly checked in and once in my room, I stuffed the hair dryer down my pants. My ears ring for two hours before I finally fall asleep.
Direct Hits Route
Tuesday, March 5
Target--Gallup, N.M. for lunch. We arrived at the Cracker Barrel restaurant for lunch and the Supra 7, though covered with bugs and road grime, was running like a top. After the meal, we hung out in the parking lot with four or five locals who have gathered around the 7.
Amazingly, they knew the car as the Supra 7--in Gallup! After signing T-shirts and Turbo calendars, we're off to Albuquerque.
We stopped at the Hinkle Family Fun Center where Direct Hits reserved the go-kart track for us. After a quick detail of the cars and an impromptu car show with some of the local imports, it's off to the races. It becomes readily apparent the number 17 cart has a big power advantage and the number 10 is the runt of the litter. Alex dominates in his heat taking a first place. I get the 10 kart. 'Nuff said.
Wednesday, March 6
Destination--Amarillo, Texas. The Supra 7, fitted with a silencer in the exhaust system, was as quiet as a normal 862-hp Supra. I took the controls of the Supra 7 and got the triple-disc clutch to engage properly on the fourth try. About 15 minutes later, the car's lack of front or rear anti-roll bars and its tendency to wander got the better of me and I handed the wheel to Jason--after a righteous full throttle (straight-line) blast, of course. The GT3037S turbos sounded like a squadron of jet fighters during a full afterburner takeoff. Absolutely surreal.
On this leg of the Trek, we got to stop at the famed Cadillac Ranch where a bunch of classic Cadillacs have been buried in the ground with their fins sticking in the air. This place is a slice of automotive Americana. They stand in all their glory about an eighth mile from the frontage road in plain sight of the highway. Our timing was ideal; the sun was setting and the light was great.
Dinner was cool too. Ever hear of the 72-ounce steak you can have for free if you can eat it in an hour? There are signs from Arizona to Alabama touting the place--The Big Texan in Amarillo. That's where we dined Wednesday evening. You have to eat the entire meal, not just the 4.5 lbs of beef. Talk about artery cloggers. It is an intimidating place to eat; the dining room walls are decorated withhides and stuffed animal heads. Made me feel guilty. A 30-ounce boot o' beer helped calm the nerves. For kicks, we watched a rattlesnake eat a mouse in the gift shop.
Nitrous Express Route
Thursday, March 7
This was a busy day with stops at Nitrous Express in Wichita Falls and a Mazda dealership in Irving. Like a well-oiled machine, the Trek caravan pulled into Nitrous Express in unison--and on time. The Texas barbeque Nitrous Express put on was awesome and we had some good-looking cars lined up outside for dessert. We made good time to the dealership--lucky for us because the SP truck and the Supra 7 had the wrong maps and we pulled up to a dealership in Ft. Worth.
We arrived at Freeman Mazda at the right time but with 90 additional miles on the clock. At a gas stop, we took off the silencer to make a proper entrance. Again, the 7 drew a crowd big time. This was by far the best dealership stop; the place was jumping. There was a cool Protege 5 that had been turbocharged by Rotary Performance. We gave away a bunch of prizes and got some righteous radio coverage.
Friday, March 8
My anxiety level concerning the Supra 7 had been elevated since Monday. The car had no plate. It was properly registered and insured, but Alex had not driven the Mazda in eight years, so when he got the proper stickers he couldn't find the plate to put them on. We had run the gauntlet successfully so far and we only had one leg left. I got a big scare when a state trooper passed by the convoy. I was flush in the face. Luckily, he exited and drove off into the wilderness; perhaps there was a Krispy Kreme in the sticks.
One problem. Our map directions were for Baytown, the city, not the track. When all else fails, ask the locals. A guy named Henry got us there in 10 minutes. As we approached the Houston Raceway Park gates, a tremendous weight lifted from my shoulders. The 862-hp Supra 7 proved once and for all that stratospheric power and 2,100-mile reliability can go hand-in-hand. Major props to SP Engineering for proving it in front of the editors of three of the four major import titles.
We parked the car and trailer and I cracked what had to be the best beer of the Trek. Alex, Jason and Rex planned to play with the car, making some half-track passes on Saturday and while that scared me, I knew my Trek story was complete.
The Holy Grail of our Trek was getting a cowboy hat for Rex. Once situated in our hotel we moseyed down to nearby Cavender's Boot City. The results of that fateful odyssey can be gleaned from the photos on page 52. There was a late night party at Club Hyperia in downtown Houston. It was wild, but unfortunately no cameras were present when our fearless leader, Larry Saavedra, busted some moves on the bar with the go-go dancers. Oh, the extortion money we lost that night.
Saturday, March 9
The Supra 7 was tech'd for 12.00 seconds and I borrowed a driving suit from the guys at HP Racing. Thanks guys. The suit even matched the car. Team Bergenholtz supplied the air for the slicks and I scared up a container for the oil we changed in the 7. I was scavenging so much I felt like a hyena. But would I be able to laugh at the end of the day? The car's first half-track run ended with a big tail wiggle and I hoped the driving suit was not "soiled."
The second pass was an improvement but the wind and the car's pre-existing instability brought the show to a halt. I thought it was really cool the Supra 7 did more than commute to Houston, which is a feat in itself. It also took part in the action at the strip. SP Engineering learned a lot in the two runs, especially in the context of launching a triple-plate clutch. The team plans to add some anti-roll bars to the car, finish the tuning and apply these lessons at a Southern California. We will be there every step of the way.