Carlife>>from Buttonwillow To Long Beach – Pt.1

They say a week, in politics, is a long time. While I would hesitate to compare myself with the fools and charlatans that infest Parliament (I can only offer comments on the shower here in the UK) a week is also a long time in the SpeedHunters’ world.

Today I sit here in the UK, “enjoying” the first real taste of winter with Northerly winds driving the thermometer south towards zero, while cranking out this piece.  Last weekend I was at the Port of Long Beach with a flat out crazy drift festival taking place right in front of me. The Red Bull World Drift Challenge was, to say the least, a bit special, a great collection of cars and drivers competing on a weird dockside track.

Before getting to Long Beach, Rod and I had made the trek North on I-5 to Buttonwillow. Actually we had started with detour to Selby’s LA base where Rod got reunited with the Need For Speed Mustang, the Terlingua Special. If we are lucky, we drive a car that fits our mood de jour and this V6 supercharged artwork certainly pressed the editor’s buttons.

Despite the occasional scrape of the side exhausts on the tarmac and the oppressive cabin resonance at Freeway cruising speeds a big grin was evident every time he gunned the engine and felt the power while enjoying the simultaneous roar and whistle emanating from up front. Supercharger and Detroit Muscle in harmony. Of course the other minor inconvenience is that the stylish motor drinks more than I do. And faster. And more expensively. 

Two hours or so later we were arriving at the Buttonwillow track, just in time to catch up with some of the Time Attack folk and also to see the sun disappear behind the mountains between the Central Valley and the Pacific.

Back to the I-5 and the truckstop with all the local hotels and diners. A quick stroll round the parking lot gave a strong sense of déjà vu, there being half the paddock scattered around under the floodlights. Carbon fibre body panels, wings, spoilers, sponsors’ decals all under the Golden Arches, surreal.

Early next morning it was back to the track and on to the day’s action. We first caught up with SpeedHunter extraordinaire, Chris Rado. To say he was having a bad day at the office would be an understatement, as a difference in interpretation of the sporting regulations meant his day as a serious contender was over almost before it started.

I accompanied Rod round the paddock and was impressed by the big budget efforts such as the Crawford Performance and Cusco Subarus or the Factor X NSX.

The standards of presentation, engineering and performance was top rank and this combined with a willingness to show and discuss their machines made a welcome change from the regular battle with the likes of the factories' Press Police (Polizei or Gendarmes…take yer pick) in endurance racing.

Rod bravely abandoned his video gear for the week but decided to showcase his skills as a stills photographer. He made particular friends with my 300mm f2.8, although heavy to carry around it gives great results. Actually sometimes too good, Antonio and I came under pressure to stay ahead during the week as you can see for yourselves. Gonna' have to put a lock on the kit bag in future.

Actually it was not only the Pro teams that caught the eye but also the less well funded efforts, guys running what they brung, in the finest traditions of American motorsport.

In many ways Time Attack represents a new seeding of motorsport to the grassroots beyond the wine (whine?) and cheese crowd, however unfair that label is. Not everyone is turned on by the NASCAR circus nor the emaciated cadaver that is top line single seater racing in North America. So some of the cars that had stood alongside the Big Mac store the previous night were being pushed hard amongst the sand dunes of Buttonwillow. Takin' it to the streets, a very democratic form of motorsport, inclusive rather than exclusive.

Ah yessssss, Buttonwillow.

My first impression was that I had somehow fallen through a hole in the planet and ended up the Dubai Autodrome, sand and scrub everywhere, the featureless horizons, the crappy access to the action, not to mention the endless procession of trucks along the Emirates Road, sorry I-5, making a strange backdrop to photography. Better I suppose than the ubiquitous blue PortaPotties that sneek unbidden into the corners of some images. 

Still the photographers’ task is to turn chickens%%% into chicken salad, so reaching for the art attack book of tricks off I went.

A hard day trackside turned in some reasonable results or so I thought and more importantly so did Rod.

He predicted that the Cusco Subaru with Tarzan Yamada at the wheel would break the outright track record but transmission woes meant that a maximum attack lap did not happen, though the car did enough to take overall victory.

A major disappointment was the lack of a crowd or even worse no track announcer. It was almost impossible to figure out what was going on, whether a hot run was happening or who was in the top spots. OK I'm sure the organisers know their business model (I presume there IS one) but if I had been a competitor I would have felt short changed, we all want out 15 minutes of fame. Isn't that one of the key motivators in motor sport, take the flag, spray the champagne and get the girl?

But that aside the level of competition and the high standard of the cars on track made for a good day's shooting. How this compares with Time Attack in the UK I am not really qualified to say, still being a relative beginner at this side of the sport. One aim in 2009 is get better acquainted with the scene.

As the sun started to set over the hills for a second day at Buttonwillow, Rod and I headed south on I-5 bound for Long Beach. Of course it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive, at least when aiming at the 405 and trying to cross Los Angeles is concerned, and yes, we ran straight into LA’s finest traffic hold ups. OK coming from driving in and around London means that the traffic density was not any surprise or shock but at the dog end of a long day it sucked, to use a local phrase and that explained the situation nicely.

Part 2 later……………………….


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