(This article appeared in about 1990 in the print Zündfolge. The author was reminded of it, sent it to me to see whether I remembered it. I did, easily, without prompting. I’m happy to share it, again, as it is a delight. —Editor-in-Chief)
I ran my first road race more than eighteen years ago. There are few things in this world that give me more satisfaction than delicately balancing a multi-ton machine on the Laws of Physics and extracting the most from whatever combinations of variable I am dealt in any given instant. But one of my best races wasn’t a race at all. It wasn’t a hell bent, ten and a half tenths from overall triumph in the old 280Z. It wasn’t even in front of a cheering crowd of spectators. In fact, the only other people there were a stranger I never met or saw again and two people who slept through it!
About three years ago, my wife, Sandi, and I had just finished a crash reassembly of a BMW 2800 CS that I had spent three years doing a restectomy on. We got it done in time to take off to Monterey to the BMW CCA’s Oktoberfest. The car got a close fourth in class in the concours with the ratty interior, so the years of effort had paid off. But now with the clear car stuff out of the way, it was time to drive.
The drive north on 101 through San Francisco early in the morning, up through the Redwoods by midday and into Northern California by midafternoon, was beautiful but relatively uneventful. The BMW coupe was in its element. They designed it for grand touring, and it surely was. After a much-needed late lunch I turned the spinning propeller east from Crescent City on Highway 199 to Grants Pass. Sandi and my daughter, Lindsey, soon fell asleep on a warm afternoon and a full stomach, leaving me to cruise alone with my thoughts.
My thoughts, as they often do, turned to the rearview mirror. A gold 280ZX hustled up behind me in one of the straight parts and then passed on the next. The grey-haired gentleman seemed to be road dancing alone and I knew that every dance contest needs at least two contestants.
I knew this dance would be different than any I had done before. To keep from awakening my passengers, I would have to dance a waltz at a foxtrot tempo. The other dancers were not afraid to boot it down the straightaways, but I was always happiest when finesse triumphed over brute force. The CS and I decided to go down the straight parts at a reasonable clip and try to catch up with the other couple in the twisty bits. But this turned out to be more of a challenge than we intended for the pace of our braking, cornering, and accelerating was not limited by the capabilities of my BMW or the available traction but the bobbin of the two sleeping heads in my car. My two onboard g-Analysts could only be seen out of the corner of my eye which my concentration was fixed on the road ahead. I have always prided myself on being a smooth and consistent driver and some of my most cherished triumphs were on a wet track where smoothness is the prerequisite for success. This would be no different.
My passengers’ subconscious minds must have been enjoying this too because I found that the neck muscles attached to the sleeping heads would compensate for gradual and steady changes in g-loading in all directions. Actually, quite high steady state g-forces would be tolerated if they were arrived at at the right rate. Too much and you’d see the dreaded head snap we are all familiar with.
Highway 199 is one of those great roads that follows a meandering river through the Siskiyou Mountains. The BMW couple is one of those great cars that was designed by engineers that are also enthusiasts. I couldn’t have asked for a better combination of dance floor and partner. Rolling off the throttle from high speed, gently applying the brakes with an increasing then decreasing pressure as cornering force builds to tighten another set of neck muscles, all the while imperceptibly downshifting the butter smooth ZF gearbox, sliding the foot over to the throttle pedal at the precise instant when braking force is spent and cornering force is gaining, squeezing down the throttle as cornering force reluctantly relinquishes its influence to the smooth torque of the six-cylinder engines, feathering the throttle while releasing the clutch for upshifts, matching the revs perfectly, engaging the clutch, squeezing the throttle back on to thrill the chipmunks with the sound that only a high revving six ca deliver, roll off the throttle to start the whole wonderful process over again. For nearly two hours my partner and I danced this road, each getting something different out of it. As we left what we both knew was the last real corner on the road we knew the dance was over but the contest was not. We opened the secondaries of the Zeniths for the first time, planted our CS right up his ZX and waited for him to lift. When his bumper got bigger, a flick to the left put us in front for good. We ran together in the high double digits until we slowed for civilization. Soon a flash of a turn signal, the wave of a hand and they were gone.
Ironically, it was the complete stop at a signal in Grants Pass that awakened my passengers. I told them of the fun we had just had but I don’t think they really understood, because a few months later my wife commented, as wives do, that she couldn’t remember the last time we had been dancing. I grinned and told her that she would if she hadn’t slept through it! I then realized that racing or road dancing is a very personal thing that cannot be fully shared with anyone but the partner in your arms. The black coupe and I are dancing with new partners now, but I now know it is the only one who can appreciate that two hours in the Siskiyous as much as I do.