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It’s been a while since I last autocrossed. A series of equipment mishaps and numerous scheduling conflicts have prevented me from getting out and carving cones in the past year and a half. When I found a slot (admittedly a very narrow one) in my calendar that coincided with the local VW club’s autocross, I made a commitment to myself that I’d take advantage of it, at any price. That event was this past weekend, and I kept my word.
Although I don’t miss spending every summer weekend standing on the hot asphalt waiting to reset toppled pylons, this weekend did manage to remind me of why I’ve owned VWs for so many years. It really comes down to two things: the cars and the people.
Let’s start with the cars. I showed up Saturday morning to discover a lot full of Volkswagens, spanning many models and generations. GTIs, Jettas, Corrados and R32s were scattered about as drivers torqued down wheels, filled up tires, and removed loose items from their interiors prior to tech inspection. This sight alone got my blood flowing, but it was nothing compared to the excitement of seeing the cars in action.
I have to admit, my decision to buy my first Volkswagen was heavily influenced by the TV commercials for the Rabbit GTI in 1983. Some of you may remember it; a pair of Bunnies chases each other around a road course, tails drifting outward as a German voice sings “Little GTI” to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Little GTO” song.
I could almost hear the song as I watched one VW after another smoke the tires, lift its inside rear wheel, and dance through the cones. My favorites were the early cars, the first- and second-generation GTIs in particular. They weren’t the fastest cars at the event this day, at least in terms of outright speed, but their light weight and nimbleness continue to lure drivers in search of a rewarding driving experience.
But the cars are only part of the fun. It’s the camaraderie among Volkswagen owners that keeps me entrenched in this scene. A broken front motor mount on my GTI on Friday nearly ruined my weekend, but as usual, friend and fellow GTI owner Chris offered his hands and his time to make sure the car was ready to go on Saturday morning. After working together to fix my car, we switched focus to a couple of issues on his car.
With the car now back together, I offered to share it with another old friend, Tom, who is currently without a proper autocross car. Our driving skills are roughly on par with one another, and Tom and I have always enjoyed gunning for each other, whether at an autocross or a track day. Besides, he built the engine in my car; I figured it was only fair to give him an opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his labor. The fact that he beat my best time by two tenths of a second didn’t bother me in the least.
The day was not without its problems. Chris and I both suffered minor cooling system failures in the first heat. Mine was a simple matter of the cooling fan not switching on, leading to a small boil-over in grid. When the hood went up, several people came by to offer their services, their advice, or their tools. In the end, a couple bottles of water were all that were needed to get me back in the running.
Chris was a little less fortunate, his alternator shredding his upper radiator hose. Nevertheless, someone offered Chris a car so that he could run home, pull another hose from a parts car (which has so far benefited a half dozen or so people in the club), and return to the event. He spent the better part of the day repairing the car, but managed to get all of his runs in for the final heat thanks to the generosity of his fellow VW enthusiasts.
I drove home from the autocross with a renewed sense of pride as a Volkswagen owner. After all these years, and through so many problems, I still love these cars. And though the scene is bigger than ever, there is still a sense of family among VW owners. People and cars- ironically the two words that make up “Volkswagen.”
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