Everyone was up early. You could feel excitement in the air after a long night of reviewing the “plan of the day” for the Long Hauler’s Ceremony. Even though the official Hot Rod Power Tour was complete the ritual and awards were not. For each and every person who made it from Cocoa Beach to Detroit they’re rewarded with an undisclosed and secret festivity and parting gifts. Around 2pm the day prior the General Motors booth handed out directions to this secret destination and at 4pm they began to hand out the self guided tour of the “Milford Proving Grounds”(MPG) which turns out to be General Motors giant test facility. There were very strict rules and even a waiver was signed. “NO ALCOHOL or FIREARMS” was drilled in our heads; we hid the moonshine and “buy 1 one et one free artillery shell” fireworks deep in to the trunk. Rett and I had even washed the Mustang, a well deserved cleaning needed for the annual Long Hauler photograph. Each element festivities turn in to rumors including how they will take the final photo. Could it be aerial? From the top of a building or maybe they’d do individual pictures as we banked one of the 30 degree turns on the test track. There was a stringent arrival period were as if you did not enter the facility between 8 and 9:30am then you would get in. Additionally, we would all be “locked” in the MPG until noon. We were told GM would conduct testing of new vehicles and effectively have us secured within the inner grounds at “black lake”. To understand the enormous size of the facility click here :
We left at 7am, got gas and headed to the Area 51 like facility. The guard closely monitored each car for the official Long Hauler sticker. I felt like I was a VIP touring some secret automotive research cent.er, and we were. The self guided tour was ignored as we sped thru the facility arriving the middle of Black Lake, a 67 acre flat surface where GM simulates various road surfaces including ice, show, and rain. This is where we were sequestered for the next 4 hours. The HRPT stage was set up and GM provided coffee, juice and pastries, seating areas and even a tent for inclement weather (which wasn’t needed). The Hot Rod Power Tour souvenir shop made it’s final appearance and you’d think they were giving things away by the frenzy of $100 being thrown down. A few presentations were given, two engines and 2011 red convertible Camaro were given away (neither of us won) and we all stood by our cars for the final pictures which was taken by a small plane which circled black lake.(picture coming soon).
After the picture all 3000 of us got in line for our parting gifts. You could imagine the fuster cluck but surprising went quick with no injuries reported. We gave our high-fives, fist bumps and hugs, pointed West and departed. BUT WAIT, the best part is yet was unexpectedly still to come.
As we exited the GM staff allowed us to drive the high speed straight away, banked corner and road course. Let’s just say Rett left his signature, we never hit a rail or grass but did test the Mustang’s full capabilities on this GM course. We both had smiles, the type that hurt when you finally realize you’d been laughing hysterically for the last 10 miles. Yes, we travelled on 10 miles of “proving grounds”.
We booted up the GPS (affectionately named Maggie) and hit HOME. Maggie scratched her RAM and finally told us 35 hours and 2260 miles until you’re in Canyon Lake. Seems like it’s all down hill from here.
RESIDENT DIVISIONS / STAFFS
NUMBER OF BUILDINGS
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES
THREE LAKES ON PROPERTY
MILES DRIVEN ANNUALLY
1 billion miles driven - September 1994
GASOLINE USED ANNUALLY
GALLONS OF ROAD STRIPING PAINT USED
VEHICLE DYNAMICS TEST AREA
Nicknamed "Black Lake"
OVAL TEST TRACK
CIRCULAR TEST TRACK
EAST / WEST STRAIGHTAWAY
FULL SCALE BARRIER TESTS
HYGE SLED TESTS
COMPONENT TEST LAB
|Approximately 4,000 acres|
Serves over 1,000 meals per day
Sloan, Mott and Pickett
Equivalent to over 132 miles of two-lane highway
16,550 gal. of white and yellow paint
35,000 lbs. of reflecting beads
approximately the equivalent of 59 football fields
3.104 miles (including loops)
1.204 miles each way (level)
600 per year
1,500 per year
4,400 tests run annually on various parts of GM vehicles
June 10 HRPT Day 7
Rett and Chuck Day 11
Muskegon, MI to Detroit, MI
Millage today : 230
We woke up to rain, stood in the rain for the driver's meeting and left Muskegon after having a few soggy donuts. Despite the rain, the Muskegons still gathered in yards and parking lots to watch the Power Tour parade leave their City. Today was the shortest drive, only 230 miles. We basically went from the West Coast of Michigan to the East. Arriving to the Motor City was exciting not only because it's the birthplace of the automobile but it was the final destination ot eh Tour, or as Rett says "da tora". The parking situation was fabulous compared to some of the previous venues. The rain had stopped with scattered showers but nothing to complain about. The vendors unwrapped their final gifts for the long haulers and handed out the swag they didn't want carry home. The day ended with exciting news (which Rett and I had uncovered last November at SEMA) that the 2012 Hot Rod Power Tour would start in Detroit and end in Arlington, TX, home of Painless Performance Products. They would not revile the intermediate stops but only said they have the second to last dialed in. I'm sure we'll see speculations on Bang Shift with in 24 hours. Directions to the Long Haulers Ceremony were passed out and we headed to the hotel, checked in, gave the GT-H a bath and BSed with the Bang Shifters (BSers).
The slide show tells the story.
June 9 HRPT Day 6
Rett and Chuck Day 11
Indianapolis, IN to Muskegon, MI
Millage today : 270
We're currently on the road using the air card cruising up US 31 with some small town experiences. Kokomo (no, not that Kokomo) rolled out the red carpet. We grabbed brunch at Bob Even's place. Everything on the menu looked great but we all had breakfast. Just after Kokomo it started to rain, as expected, then came the lightening but it passed as we crossed in to Michigan. The Hot Rod Power Tour route took us all the way up US 31 which is NOT the way to go if you're trying to get to Muskegon Beach quickly. About the 255 mark we hit red light after red light. At least the weather has cooled, maybe we can avoid the catastrophic car failures seen in Montgomery. The City of Muskegon is treating the power tour like royalty. They had a booth down in Indy advertising the HUGE party they're throwing tonight. This is the only venue which is actually using the street of downtown compared to the other which used large parking lots. Muskegon is located on the shore of Lake Michigan and considders it's self a major tourist hot spot.
June 8 HRPT Day 5
Rett and Chuck Day 10
Nashville, TN to Indianapolis, IN
Millage today : 330
We decided to skip the drivers meeting in Nashville and get on the road early with plans to stop and visit a few notable hot spots on the way to Indianapolis. We joined the Bang Shift guys at the Holiday Day Express, jumped on 65 North which runs a direct route to Indy, and headed North. About 100 miles in to the trip we received a call from our scout Phil reporting a major crash and back up at mile marker 65. Lead man, Mike and Donna in the convertible red Olds Cutlass, took an exit which precisely detoured the caravan around the freeway accident not to mention seeing some of the most beautiful country side yet.
About 30 miles outside Indianapolis we veered off the 65 fwy to this inconspicuous used car lot of Ray Skillman (http://www.rayskillmanclassiccars.com/). This is not your ordinary dealer, Ray specializes in nostalgic, rare, high-end automobiles, bikes, signs or whatever catches his fancy. Some are on consignment but most are his own cars. Oh ya, Mr. Skillman also owns (by my rough count) a dozen other new car dealerships in the Indianapolis metro area. Check out the pictures in my slide show, this place will blow you away!
Arriving to “Indy” just as the mercury peaked we told (a little white lie) the parking attendant we were going to the dynometer but really we just wanted a parking spot up front. We jumped out of the icy AC into hot and humid muck in time to clock in and grab our garb. We checked out the venue’s participant T-shirt and passed. Let me explain. At each venue there’s a “participant” shirt. The participant shirts are “special” with a new design for each location on the TOUR and each is a different color. Indy’s color was a very strange shade of green, maybe a puke-lime tint. One more thing, if you buy 7 shirts you earn a 2011 Power Tour Jacket. Now I realize that Hot Rod magazine needs to cater to every American but wow, you could have done better with the design and colors. My theory is they received a discount on a, overstock item from the 1980’s and stitched on the 2011 logo.
The day ended with a lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track. This is the same track they ran the 100th Indy 500 race on just last week. What an honor.
By the time we checked in the Sleep Inn and freshened up (and believe me, we both needed it) it was 10pm. We shot down to blocks to Dan and Nancy’s garage. Quick story. Rett and Donna met Dan and Nancy at Caddy’s (remember Caddy’s from a previous blog entry) back in October 2010 after Rett noticed Dan wearing a Baldwin Motion shirt. It turned out they lived in Indy so of course Rett said “I’ll be in Indy next June”. It turns out Dan has, by my standards, a VERY high-end collection of VERY unique cars. His “garage” is located in an undisclosed location about 5 minutes from the track. If you have a minute read this for an explanation on Baldwin Motion super cars and you’ll understand why owning 5 of these awesome autos is so prestigious. http://www.officialbaldwinmotion.com/begin.htm
We got back to the hotel around 11pm local time. It was a long day.
June 5 - Sunday
Day 2 of the Hot Rod Power Tour
Kennedy Space Center Tour
Cocoa Beach, FL to Valdosta, GA
We woke up to a beautiful beach sunrise and headed over to the Kennedy Space Center(KSC) for the "behind the fence" tour and Hot Rod Power Tour (HRPT) drivers meeting. We had 2 hours to look around the KSC before the VIPs give their speeches about space and the HRPT. I spent most my time in the gift shop and grabbing a bite to eat. We had a few minutes to play with the rocket ships before Freiburger gathered everyone (about 1000) for a kick off meeting. It was a great speech including a congressman, shuttle astronaut and the COO of the KSC. Very motivational including the past, current and future of the space program. As you know the highly sucessful shuttle program is coming to an end with the Endeavour landing last week after it's last mission and the Atlantis is on the pad staged for it's last launch on July 8. You could feel the excitement around the space center as the country celebrates the US's space program. It was a real honor seeing the Atlantis pointing toward space for the last time.
We than did the tour of the space center which is typically done by civilians in a NASA tour bus for $65 but for us, nothing but the best. The COO said for the first time since 9/11 he was allowing civilian cars “bhind the fence”. It was a extraordinary drive which looped the main shuttle and rocket staging area with a nice view out to the shuttle Atlantis on the launch pad.
After the tour we exited the KSC, turned right, pointed the car Noth and punched it arriving in Voldosta at the South Georgia Motorsports Park. We walked the venue, grabbed our swag, got our credintials stamped and set up the folding chairs at the stage.
I haven’t said much about the heat and humidity but you can imagine it’s nothing like California. We hit 97F and clear, no shade and no place to rest with AC. Everyone is constantly wet. (yes Tracy, I’m drinking plenty of water).
At the Motorsports Park Rett took the option to race, got through tech inspection and did about 8 runs. I was able to do a ride along for his first run and my first drag run ever.
We finished the day back at the Days Inn.
June 1 Thursday
Day 4 of "gettin' there" on our pre-tour tour.
Woke up at O'dark thirty and grabbed some breakfast but this time it was continental and guarded by the night shift all-n-one attendant Sam. We jumped in the Mustang, turned the key and listened to the new battery immediately crank over all 8 cylinders. First things first as we headed East continuing on the 10 fwy toward Florida. I began calling Ford dealerships near Rett's condo in Madeira Beach. After sweet talking various service writers up and down the East coast of Florida we made a 7am appointment at Autoway Ford of St. Petersburg about 8 miles from the condo. The drive started and ended with soaring tree lined highways even as we transitioned from the 10 freeway on to the 75 South. One big difference on this leg of the drive was the huge quantity of highway patrol, all colors ,all makes, all models. It was so bad Rett switched on his billion dollar cop detector with stereophonic indicators.
We stopped for gas in a nice little Louisiana town and grabbed gas and a couple truck stop hot dogs. About an hour early we were burping hot dog regretting ever spending the buck fifty.
We also took a detour at Mobile to check out the paddle wheel consinos and the final stop of the 2010 power tour. (the Long Hauler picture was taken on the Alabama – see picture)
We drove by the interchange that would have taken us up to Valdosta as we envisioned next week. Vadosta Georgia is our first stop after we leave Cocoa Beach. We continued down the 75 passing other vacation spots feeling like “we’re home with only 100miles to Rett and Donna’s pad in Madeira Beach. I thought of my vacation a few backs with Tracy and Alyssa as I passed the exit to Orlando knowing we’re only one hour from Orlando. Maybe next year girls.
We made it to the condo around 7:30pm with an hour before sunset. I was reading FUN FACTS about Florida to Rett and discovered that Clearwater (5 minutes from the Condo) only has 6 days of rain a year. We hit one of them. It rained just enough to raise the humidity to 178% and make the Shelby’s slick black paint look patina.
Rett gave me the tour of the building and as we arrived to the 11th floor, opened the door to the condo not only did we ARRIVE but both knew we’d made it to our first real distination. We rolled up the storm shutters to reveal the aqua blue water and white sands as the sun tried to set near thru the passing rain clouds.
We made a stiff drink and hit the hey. I’m not sure where the Vincent’s found this pull out couch but it near heavenly. Alarms are set for 6am (that 3am Cali time) so we can be one time for the alternator swap.
May 31 Tuesday
San Antonio to Gulfport, MS via Houston and New Orleans
We departed after another free and delicious hotel breakfast this time feasting on a sausage and egg biscuit and couldn't pass on the mini strawberry yogurt over some raisin bran. Once on the road we were surprised at the first signs of civilization indicated by the HOUSTON billboards along the freeway(it had been a long drive with NOTHING to see). The scenery turned from brown and flat to green and rolling. Once within the Houston city boundaries we jumped on the 610 North loop to bypass the downtown morning rush hour, jumped back on the 10 and headed East but not after passing thru Jacinto Port (where I've visited many times for work). We continued in to Louisiana and grabbed some gas in Lafayette. We decided to fill our own tanks and stopped at Subway. The line was out the door so I ran to "Agave Tamales" which turned out to be not related to the Agave plant or Mexican tamale but instead consisted of ground beef the size of pencil lead in a small uncooked 6 inch roll of corn meal the size of your thumb. The smallest order was 6 which at home would have fed a whole family but here was an appetizer. I found a "Tamale Supreme" special which consisted of three "tamales", "cheddar" and "queso" (which was nacho cheese out of a can). I ran back to Subway and split a roasted chicken foot long with Rett.
If you're ever down here, you know, in the Deep South, stop by Bourbon St, for a few hours minimum. If you plan on partying then give yourself 2 days. One day to party and one to recover.
We made it from NO-LA (that's local talk for New Orleans Louisiana) to Gulfport, MS where we are staying tonight. We fueled up before negotiating a room at the Days Inn on hwy 49 just off the 10. We're a day ahead of schedule but that was expected when there too highly attentive and strategic (or as Tracy would say "anal retentive") guys traveling together.
We continued East on the 10 (again) ending up in Gulfport around 8pm but not after stopping in New Orleans. We found a parking spot and headed toward the load jazz music grabbing a frozen concoction as we turned on to Bourbon Street. I had to question the bartender about the specific alcohol type used because being a past participant in the Las Vegas tumbling margaritas dispenser and knowing well and good they're made with wine or bottom-of-the barrel Walmart tequila. So let me warn you, in "Norlins" they are made with the real stuff. After a few tastings I went with the deep-red frozen “Vampire's Blood” which was mostly Bacardi 151 and vodka with a splash of red die, strawberry flavoring and VERY high fructose corn syrup. I could sense the 151 after passing just twelve strip clubs (about 20 feet). Still early in the day, the party people were flocking toward their favorite jazz club. We continued down Bourbon and past the church to the swelling Mississippi river. We met "World Famous Pete" who rambled on about nothing and then asked for money, a young lady who ticketed us for "not having fun", gave us a hat and asked for money and then, a lady we'll just call "Jane" who asked what we were doing tonight and again, asked us for money. I had my wallet in my front pocket and acted like I lost it as I gave her the "no money" motion toward my back pocket. We took a picture and went on our way. Now if you don't believe me, check out the pictures, it's all there.
Rett’s outside with the AAA guy watching his battery get replaced. Rett's optima was DOA after pulling in to the parking spot here at the Days Inn in . Better here then in the middle of the Power Tour. After listening to the drivers life story we also learned the 'stangs alternator blew a diode causing the battery to lose more then it's gaining. We've made an apt. for 7am Thursday at the St. Petersburg Ford dealer to replace the alternator under warranty. We'll lose about 4 hours but we're still a day a head of schedule. We'd make the Bandit jealous.
Rett and I packed the car, kissed the girls and were on the road by 7am….IN THE RAIN. We hit rain all the way to the AZ boarder and immediately hit 45 miles of sand storm but when the end of the world ended it was beautiful. We landed in Casa Grande, grabbed gas and lunch and joined up with Dannie and Barry. We jumped back on the 10 fwy headed East and decided to detour to Tombstone, ya, that Tombstone.
During our 611 mile trip we racked up the following stats: average 61mph (fairly good considering rain and sand storm, stopping for lunch and gas plus the back roads to Tombstone), 23 mpg and used 26.8 gal of gas.
The pictures tell the rest of the story.
Sunday San Diego to Lordsburg, NM
Monday Lordsburg, NM to San Antonio, TX
Tuesday San Antonio, TX to New Orleans, LA
Wednesday New Orleans to Tampa (Rett and Donnas’ condo)
MORE TO COME. Wake up call in for 5am (5.5 hours from now)
Friday May 27 21:00
I'm packed and ready....wait, did I put my razor in my bag? a screw it, who needs to shave anyway.
Joe, Rett and I spent a few minutes setting of the Car Club Fiesta Days booth over at the Lodge but mostly BS'd about tomorrow and the Power Tour.
Saturday May 28 is the Canyon Lake Summer KICK OFF party, otherwise known as Fiesta Days. Our car club is providing 14 convertibles for our dignitaries and 10 cars for the Car Club entry complete with two Earleywine girls carrying the banner. The parade last from 9 to 10 ending at the Lodge where the entire City's set up camp for the Memorial Day weekend. We'll be hanging out at the Car Club booth from 10 to 4pm when we're quickly tear down the EZ-up, drop the truck at my house and head down to Rett and Donnas' for the night. We'll most likely pass out shortly after walking thru the door and then wake up early like's it's Christmas morning.
Fiesta Days 2011 Pictures : http://s1218.photobucket.com/albums/dd412/chuckcasey/Fiesta%20Days%202011/
Sunday morning is when we depart on the quest. I spoke to Dennis in Houston today who says "It's hot and dry, people here are praying for a monsoon". Dennis went on to say that "weather" hasn't come as low as the 10 fwy yet this season meaning that we have a clear path to Florida. I heard a rumor Texas has not speed limit, is that true? Just in case I withdrew another $300 for bribe money in case we get pulled over.
Stay tuned because we are moments away from the POWER TOUR
May 20 22:00
Nine days until we leave on the HRPT. I dialed in the last bit of the electonics and even started packing. Packing for 16 days will be tough.
Some of you have been asking if I'm taking the Falcon, well the Falcon is not a long hauler. We're taking Rett's 2006 Shelby Mustang GT-H. The H stands for Hertz, as in rental cars. Back in 1966 Shelby converted some stock mustangs to GT350s (pluls a little) and sent them to Hertz so people could "rent a racer". Remember, back in 1966 the Pony car was brand new, a new concept. People started renting these hipo rod rods and racing them on the weekends. Some even swapped the Shelby 289 engine for their stock engine. Hertz started placing lockwire from the shock tower over to the engine block as a tell-tail of an engine swap. For the 40th aniversary Shelby decided to make a commemerative GT-H in the classed gold on black. Only 500 were produced which even included the same lockwire as the 1966s.