Chasing the Dragon
Sometimes the best roadtrips arise from happy accidents. Maybe “accident” is the wrong word choice when talking about a drive in a car, but nonetheless, random happenings make for the best trips. One such bit of randomness got me on the best roads in the country with a set of tires that needed to be worn out before they were thrown away.
I was asked to attend a vintage Porsche get-together in North Carolina—specifically the 356 Registry’s East Coast Holiday. This year’s event was being held at the Fontana Lodge near some of the best roads in the country—specifically the Rt 129, the “Tail of the Dragon” and, Rt 143, the Cherohala Skyway. I've heard from friends about how awesome these roads were and I jumped at the chance to see if all of the hype was justified.
While I recently restored an early 911 that would have been welcome at the event, it has since gone on to a new owner—so the drive down would have to be in something a bit less interesting. No problem. My daily driver is a 2014 Mazda3—a comfortable and efficient car that handles my 100 miles worth of daily commuting very well. It’s already got 17,000 miles on it and hasn’t had a single issue. The 3 is frisky when the going gets twisty—Mazda really got the suspension tuning nearly perfect for a fun and frugal hatchback.
I have autocrossed the car a handful of times, but the Sports Car Club of America’s allowance of the John Cooper Works suspension package for the rival MINI has made the heavier 3 an also-ran. Things are only getting worse for the Mazda3 in 2015 as a cluster of faster cars has been dumped into SCCA’s slowest autocross class. Good for the sport—not good for my personal competitiveness.
Thanks to my lighter than expected autocross season this year (see the above mentioned 911 restoration), I’ve got a set of older Hankook RS3s that will soon be illegal for Street Class autocrossing. These tires, purchased at the end of 2012 before Hankook updated them, have a 140 UTQG treadwear rating and the SCCA is moving to 200TW for 2015. So, that means they’re fair game for some fun and games—or at least some amusing commuting until the snow starts flying.
So I took the low-rolling resistance Yokohamas that originally came on the Mazda off and the “race tires” were bolted on for the trip. The Hankooks are clearly biased for maximum performance, as noise and harshness over small pavement irregularities is markedly increased. That said, it’s nice that SCCA has changed its “Stock” autocross classes with R-compound tires over to “Street” with really much more commuter-friendly tires. It just makes sense on a variety of levels
The trip down to North Carolina from Northern Ohio was uneventful—about 10 hours with a few quick stops along the way—but my hopes for the weekend improved the closer I got to Fontana. Even the roads leading into the event venue were spectacular—one of which was Rt 28, also known as the “Hellbender” after a rare aquatic salamander that lives in the nearby rivers.