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© 2001 Brian F. Schreurs
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© 2001 Brian F. Schreurs
© 2001 Brian F. Schreurs
In, Through, and Around Banner Elk, N.C.
Event: Friday, May 18 through Sunday, May 20, 2001
Nevertheless, I didn't have total faith that the problem was solved, so I prepared a 928 care package of sorts, including a new temperature sender, a replacement engine fan unit on loan from a fellow Shark owner, the silicone needed to rebuild a viscous fan clutch, and all the tools I'd need to do any of this work in a hotel parking lot.
Hey, my first car was a Mopar. I'm used to this.
We threw a bag of clean laundy next to the box of parts and headed south. The Shenandoahs were enjoyable, as always, though the temperature gauge got a little high for my liking. Cooter had one of the General Lees (Generals Lee?) sitting outside, roping in fans of an early-80s television show and persuading them to part with hard-earned money for teevee kitsch. Ah, America.
I-81 was its usual high-speed but boring self, miles and miles of not much but tractor-trailers. Some children on their way to a field trip were waving at cars from the back of the school bus. It brought memories of my own field trips, where we'd all make pulling motions as a tractor-trailer passed, in the hopes of getting a toot from the air horn. Much to the aggravation of the bus driver, it often worked, met with cheers from the bus.
I thought I should see if I could aggravate the bus driver again. As I pulled closer to the bus, I got the kids' attention away from the Cavalier in front of me by flipping the headlights on -- pop-up headlights being a rarity these days, I faced wide eyes and open mouths in short order. The students spread the word through the bus and I flipped the lights on and off a couple more times for more pointing and chattering. Then, a quick toot-toot of the Euro horn, and BWAAAAAAAAAAH!!! we were gone, leaving the bus driver to contend with a bus full of cheering pre-adolescents.
This is why we own fun cars.
Kara and I were fortunate in that we didn't hit much traffic on the way down, being slowed only briefly by some construction (windows down, heater on, problem must not be fixed yet). Our only stops were in Harrisonburg for lunch at the Boston Beanery (headquartered in our former hometown of Morgantown, W.Va.) and for fuel and a drink in Rural Retreat (home of the actual guy, Dr. Charles Pepper -- and you thought they made it up, didn't you?). We drove through Bristol and passed the immense grandstands of the Bristol Motor Speedway.
One thing I learned while passing through Kentucky: these people never get rid of cars. Everywhere we looked there were a few cool old cars surrounded by just plain old cars. A vintage Corvette protected by five unrestorable barges. A Spitfire 1500 mingling with a collection of unloved Bugs. Piles and piles of the unrecognizable mixed with the indescribable. The number of these dropped considerably when we passed into North Carolina, so the two states must treat derelict vehicles rather differently.
It wasn't long before we got off the beaten path and onto the road described by the hotel clerk as a "dreadful twisty hilly backroad that you'll absolutely hate, but don't worry, it doesn't last long." It was a great road, as I suspected it would be, and Kara admonished me to be more careful with her car.
The hotel parking lot was glorious, filled with 928s of all description. At dinner we sat with a table of true enthusiasts, and talk soon turned to the cars. Before long we were diagnosing each other's problems and comparing cop stories. My kinda place.
Saturday morning we all caravanned to Grandfather Mountain for a picnic. On the way, a pickup truck went to considerable trouble to jam his big rig right in front of us. "Lookit thet, Bertha, a beeg line'a furrin sportsy cars. Ah'm sure they won' mind if'n we force our tank RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE MUA-HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!
But that's okay. At the end of the day, I get to go home in a Porsche and he'll be going home in a crappy pickup truck.
At the mountain, Kara found a tree to park under and we spent an enjoyable day strolling in the shade, staring at 57 928s that spanned the entire run of the model, many of them fairly rare examples. We met and chatted with as many people as possible, but we know we missed quite a few. Jay Kempf's demonstration on checking the belt tension was excellent and, if it were a fair world, would have been sufficient for me to deduct the entire trip as an educational expense.
Lunch? Not the expected hot dogs and hamburgers... not from 928 Specialists! They brought in the finest barbecue you could ask for. It was far and away the best meal of the weekend, better than the served-fresh-an-hour-ago hotel fare, better than the prepared-in-darkness-to-preserve-flavor mountaintop dinner, better than the cheese-n-chicken sandwich that was served to me instead of the customer who paid for it at Beech Mountain. Come to think of it, meals are seldom dull in North Carolina.
During our private show, we had three British visitors and one American. First was an AC Cobra -- doubtless a replica, but still cool. You cannot help but smile at a Cobra, and the driver, too, seemed to quite enjoy pulling his Snake through the Sharks. Predatory cars have respect for one another.
Second and third were a pair of Austin-Healeys. Healey Number One, a red car, was on loan from a cousin because the fellow's XK140 was being restored. The couple stopped to chat briefly and seemed impressed by our turnout. Healey Number Two, green, was driven by a young fellow who -- judging from his loud and enthusiastic departure -- was a bit intimidated from being surrounded by almost 16,000 horsepower. Last, a classic red Mustang drove through, twice, but didn't stop to soak it in.
Midafternoon we lined up all 57 928s on a quarter-mile oval track. With a respectful following distance between cars, we circled the entire thing -- it is honest to say that we had a quarter-mile's worth of 928s in attendance. Niiiiice. Photographing them all, however, was problematic. Did anybody bring a helicopter?
At some point a 944 glommed onto the group but he was respectful so no one gave him a hard time.
From there, the group went into formation and invaded the Blue Ridge Parkway, taking over an entire rest stop on the way to our target, a restaurant at the top of Mount Mitchell. The Forces of Nature met our assault with a counterattack, virtually flooding out the road with a torrential downpour. I saw Noah drive by, alas, not in anything interesting; it was a Lincoln Continental, an absolute boat of a car.
After another lively meal, we all staggered outside to discover that somebody had taken all the clear out of the air and replaced it with grey. This made it a lot harder to move around, so we drove to the observation tower with extreme caution. When we got there, we couldn't even see the tower, never mind anything to observe from it, so after a few chilly minutes we headed back to the hotel.
As it happened, the grey hadn't been properly mixed, so there were still occasional patches of clear along the road. Our rhythm went something like this:
Grey! slow, mmmbrblmmmbrblmmm...
what's this?! ...something bouncing in the light, opposite lane... FROG! crazy frog... stop, frog, please stop frog, I don't want to smush you but I'm not gonna risk skidding my wife's car to protect your slimy arse... hop hop he's at the yellow lines, I'm almost on him... stay there froggy, don't move... hop damn.
I can just imagine him caught up by the 928's brake duct, hanging on to the vanes for dear life, eyes squeezed shut against the wind, on an adventure that makes Toad's Wild Ride look like browsing at a Buick showroom, if only he could just hang on for a bit longer...
In the morning, there was no sign of the frog.
...grey! lowbeams! braaaaaaaaake DEER!!! MORE BRAKE! MORE BRAKE! EVASIVE ACTION! (excuse me, but do you hear something that sounds like a frog laughing?)
One thing that's always impressed me about these cars is how stable they are, even in bad weather. I caught up to Noah and passed him, grateful that I could, at least, be reasonably certain that Hannibal would not be attempting to cross the Appalachians this weekend, so I had no need to fear grey elephants hiding in the grey fog.
The morning came, if you could call it that, since no one had bothered to clean up the grey as yet. We caravanned a short drive to Beech Mountain, where the SCCA was hosting a hillclimb. They opened the road once an hour and we were late, so we blocked off the top of the mountain with three dozen 928s for about 20 minutes. Hey, if you gotta sit in traffic, might as well be because of a school of Sharks.
When we were finally allowed down, we were met with cheers and waves all the way! These people were surrounded by all manner of interesting racecars, and they were waving and cheering for us. Maybe I'm a little slow, but it wasn't until that moment that I realized that this "scene", if you will, is something special... even by enthusiast standards. You just don't see that many 928s, not in ten years, never mind dozens of them parading through a tiny town in the Appalachians. The 928 is an important marker in the history of sports cars, and enthusiasts respond to it. We're preserving our culture here, a small piece of the answer to why there are car guys.
Speaking of car guys:
"Why is it," Kara started with That Tone, "that everybody here assumes it's your Porsche?"
"Um," I cleverly replied. "Um, as far as I can tell you're the only girl 928 owner here."
She rolled her eyes. "It's still a man's world."