By the time you’re reading this, the first half of the Ultimate Street Car Association (USCA) season will be done and put to bed. About half of November’s “Ultimates of the Ultimate” will have been selected for the grand finale. And when all is said and done, about a million autocross, braking challenge, and track laps will have been driven on some really cool racetracks throughout the grand old U.S. of A. While I won’t be making any treks beyond California or Oregon for USCA events, I had a birds-eye view of all the goings-on for the opening splash held at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and, yes, there is a story to tell.
While billed as a competition for street cars, we’ve seen some “not so street” stuff show up in the past. To make sure all the players could walk the walk, Jimi Day (USCA’s Grand Poobah) told me to devise a road rally that would prove them such, rattle undercarriages and dental fillings, make bladders scream for mercy, and increase fluidity in forming chains of four-letter words. If they made it to the end each car was 1) given a sticker that gave you cred for driving it on such roads, and 2) you got a hot dog. I did as asked and as a peace offering I mostly chose roads that offered world-class scenery and some stopping points. I figure I did OK as no one ended up in Seattle and everyone found their way to the host hotel for dogs and beverages.
Finishing the social stuff on Friday, Saturday and Sunday were reserved for competition, and lots of it. I don’t have the event numbers, but I do know that by the end of Sunday no one was begging for more track time, and I wonder just how many gallons of fuel was burned for the enjoyment of those two days. For each track session the number of cars seemed to dwindle and by the end of Sunday there were two ... yes, TWO cars that staggered past the grid marshals, panting their little exhausts off, and went up and over turn 1. Saturday’s autocross and braking challenges probably offered up at least 20-plus runs per entrant on EACH course. However, the best competition couldn’t be found on the track or any of the pyloned events, it was found in a secondary event called “Dodge the Sound Witch.”
See, sound is huge at Mazda Raceway. It’s been that way for almost 40 years and started when some neighbors that built really expensive houses complained to the county powers-that-be that race cars, while kinda cool, are also kinda noisy (betcha they really loved the Can-Am and Trans-Am days). Since that original gripe was cast, sound restrictions followed and original dB limits of oh, say 100 dropped like a proverbial stone to today’s 90. Yes, nine zero! Hell, an ant can fart that loud. And USCA, bless their hearts, had “bought” 92 to help everyone out.
That said, no one who attended USCA Laguna Seca should complain as everyone was warned well ahead of time. In fact, the facility even allowed three cars to do “drive-bys” around Turn 5 to check the Pro Touring car’s sound a couple of months before the event. Forums were educated, threads started, links posted, and advice given on the various methods, ways, and means to reduce exhaust noise for the dreaded “Will I make a sound?” Laguna event. Some barriers were even put on the track between Turns 5 and 6 for Sunday’s track sessions to slow the cars, and theoretically reduce exhaust noise. Sounds good, right?
It was ... until we started autocrossing and speed-stopping in the paddock on Saturday. And as Mazda Raceway is a county park, it’s also multi-use. That same day, a 5K “Run or Dye” event was being held, and as it was their first time there, some of the county supervisors showed up. Once the first car hit the autocross, the supervisors’ attention changed from dye turning people into human Easter eggs towards us! We were toast.
A little known fact is that the park has a portable sound meter. It’s brought out to rein in special offenders ... us, and from then on it was game on! There were threats of run times being disallowed and “three strikes and you’re out” if you exceeded the sound limit. (In a boost for the local economy, I know for a fact that every local Home Depot and Lowes were picked clean of steel mesh pot scrubbers, 3-inch hose clamps, and screen in attempts to make rudimentary exhaust “silencers” for Sunday’s sessions.) Saturday was filled with stealth and sneakery with all cell phones on full kill. USCA lookouts were strategically placed watching and waiting, texting, and reporting on any Witch movement. When she’d walk away, two or three engines fired up, cars jockeyed for position, all to make a run or two before she’d magically reappear with the dreaded meter set on nuke. As the braking challenge and autocross were separated by a lane, at times it was Witch Ping-Pong as she’d dart from one side to the other, meter wand waving and spitting out huge sound numbers that were dutifully recorded. A lengthy Witch potty break brought out a flurry of runs ... locking her in was briefly considered. One of the ideas bandied about was to offer her a Friday Night Special hot dog.
On Sunday, Mazda Raceway looked like a cotton field, except the little puffs weren’t cotton, they were, in fact, little pills of steel wool. They were everywhere. All the “home improvement store silencers” didn’t exactly work as planned. Oh well, A for effort anyway.
So who won? It was a toss-up between James Shipka’s One Lap Camaro and the Lingenfelter fifth-gen. And I’ve got just the trophy for this ...