To many outsiders, arranging a track shoot-out is a no-brainer. We decide what we want to do, call up a few guys, then hit the track and let it all play out. If we even bother to show up, we'll expect a nice tan and a little rest as everything falls into place like clockwork, right?
Could be, except for the fact that pipe dreams like that don't exist in reality. Even if I call in two of the most reliable cars ever made and throw a nail-biting Camry vs. Accord battle, something or someone is bound to let the proverbial shit hit the fan.
Case in point, our cover story this month. It seemed simple enough: sample three cars that represent popular tuning methods for the now-huge 240SX/Silvia following and see what they can do against each other. But in the interest of saving myself from hate mail and preventing my good name from being dragged across 'kill story' or 'street battle' internet forums, I had to make sure we sampled as wide a variety as possible. With luck, we tracked down Paul Dentice's S15, Alan Viado's KA-T S14 and convinced Gary Castillo from Designcraft Fabrication to bring his latest customer creation, a VQ35DE-powered S13 coupe.
Up comes test day and everything is looking good. Photographer? Check. Track rental and safety crew? Check. 4 a.m. wake-up call to make it to the track on time? Double check. The whole cast arrives at our pre-arranged meeting spot and the day begins. Having nuked a piston just a few days prior, Viado has spent every hour rebuilding his engine to be able to make it out for our test. His sleepy eyes and his S14's constant smokescreen back up his story.
As we get ready to warm up for photography, Castillo's VQ-S13 throws a fit. The car, which previously functioned just fine, is now unable to start. It seems to enjoy the cold desert air as much as I do, which feels sub-zero frigid to this native Southern Californian. After trying an ECU adjustment, a jump start from Project WRX V.08, an injection of starter fluid, another jump start from photographer Thawley's Expedition (which has, count 'em, two batteries up front) and numerous push starts by all of us, the car finally fires up after a short tow behind the Ford SUV. Strangely, Dentice's S15 shows no signs of trouble at all. I suppose his stint in the USCC (R32 Skyline GT-R, November and December 2006 issues) has taught Dentice some manner of preparedness.
It's not just this shoot-out that exhibited hiccups. Where there's a will, there's a way, and Murphy's Law loves Sport Compact Car. Issues are bound to arise with every facet of the production on a track shoot-out, be it schedule, time, rules, lighting or car. And I applaud the dedication of every single owner or tuner who has showed up to the track with us. It's more common than not for cars to arrive with bolts that have been tightened only a few hours before, and for all-nighters to be the prerequisite for entering.
The main key is the die-hard dedication of these tuners and the profound need to see their cars tested in front of the radar gun. To see if their car can really put up and shut up those 'other' guys who have also come for the test. Amen to that.