Cars and More Cars

When folks think of car culture in Scottsdale, many think of our “Car Week” at the end of January. There are several collector car auctions at that time, and a host of other associated events.

But, the car scene here doesn’t begin and end with Car Week. There’s the enormous weekly Saturday afternoon/evening Rock and Roll Car Show centered around the McDonald’s restaurant at the Pavilions shopping center. There’s a big “Crusin’ at Phil’s” gathering at Phil’s Filling Station Restaurant in Fountain Hills every Sunday morning from May through October. There are many other such informal events scattered around the Valley of the Sun.

I’ve done way more than my share of car shows. I still like to go once in a while, but for years I’ve said I was going to get back into performance DRIVING.

After a few SCCA events and AMA motorcycle roadracing meets a long time ago, life and other priorities conspired to rob me of the time it takes to do those things. I finally started building a Datsun 280Z track car a few years back, but I’ve gotten bogged down several times. It’s now 50% done and 90% to go.

However, last year we had the good fortune to buy a different, mostly-complete Datsun 240Z from a fellow who previously purchased my ZTrix racing panels for his build. When a change in his living arrangements left him without a garage to store it, he offered to sell the car to us.

Not only is “Vayter” a fun track day vehicle, it is also a demonstrator vehicle for my Datsun Z panels. I have taken it to some of the some of the local car shows, and I’ll have it at the National Datsun Z Convention (ZCon) in Ontario, California the first week of August. Willow Springs Raceway, here I come!

In preparation for taking Vayter out on the track for the first time, Keri and I signed up for the New Year’s Eve “Throttle Therapy” half-day course at Radford Racing School.

Radford is the reincarnation of Bondurant Racing School, which was bought by passionate investors and renamed a couple of years ago. But the facilities at Wild Horse Pass in southwest Chandler remain, as do many of the staffers and instructors.

Even though I did a little bit of performance driving “back in my day,” and Keri is a pretty good shoe in her own right, we thought it would be good to knock off the rust in a more controlled environment, under the tutelage of some folks with more current and more robust driving skills.

Plus, driving someone else’s professionally maintained track cars was a better way to start than trying to refresh our skills in an unfamiliar car AND to have to sort out the car. The latter is a whole different skill set. And I won’t even mention the value of burning up someone else’s racing tires.

Keri attended virtually the same course under the Bondurant banner many years ago. So, it wasn’t completely unfamiliar to us. However, Bondurant was running Ford products back then. The switch to Radford’s Dodge SRT products was a bit of an eye-opener for me. More on that momentarily.

At the end of the four in-car sessions (lead-follow on the track, accident avoidance, karting, and autocross) that filled up the morning, we were happily worn out and feeling a little more confident.

Fresh from that experience, we joined Pro Autosports to get Vayter out on the track. At least for now, we are less interested in “racing,” per se, and more in just “high performance driving” (HPD). Pro Autosports offers several levels of HPD in your own car (in addition to time trials, some wheel-to-wheel racing, and even karting, if that’s your thing).

They don’t have a lot of rules like more racing-oriented groups (like SCCA, NASA, VARA, et al), other than basic safety equipment and safe driving. But they do require an hour’s worth of classroom work for new members, and a couple of sessions of lead-follow on the track. Volunteer instructors are available for ride-alongs, and we’ve seen friends gain great confidence with just a few tips. Insurance and liability are a little different between Pro Autosports and the other groups, but track day insurance is available, if that’s a concern.

After a couple of events with Pro Autosports, I was lucky to be invited back to Radford for a media day, where I got to repeat their driving exercises. Many thanks to Cathy Droz for the invite, pictured here with  Nancy Meek, and Radford’s Andre Rizzotti (group sales and partnerships) assisting with helmet fitting.

The purpose of the event was to announce a partnership between Radford and Mecum Auctions, which is holding their next big event in Glendale starting on Tuesday, March 28, and running through April 1 (pre-bidding is currently underway, and it’s not too late to consign a vehicle if you want to sell).

Thanks to a thorough presentation by its execs, I learned that Mecum is still family-owned, and,

…since 2011 has been ranked No. 1 in the world with number of collector cars offered at auction, No. 1 in the world with number of collector cars sold at auction, No. 1 in the U.S. with number of auction venues, No. 1 in the U.S. in total dollar volume of sales, and is host to the world’s largest collector car auction held annually in Kissimmee, Florida, as well as the world’s largest motorcycle auction held annually in Las Vegas.

Mecum website

I was impressed by how Mecum pivoted to a robust online presence during the Covid pandemic, and yet now that we are all more relaxed, they’ve maintained their strong in-person attendance.

Mecum’s partnership with Radford provides unique opportunities for Mecum clients and Dodge SRT customers.

As for me, my second trip to Radford was rewarded with a fast time. My skill level benefited greatly from the extensive racing experience and energy of chief instructor Danny Bullock and lead instructor Will Parker.

And, as I mentioned above, I was greatly impressed with their Dodge Chargers. I’d always kind of dismissed them as being traditional muscle cars. But they are quite adept.

As much fun as I had, a couple of hot laps at the end of the day with Danny Bullock showed me that I’ve got some room to up my game before approaching the capabilities of the car.

Even more impressive, the Radford Dodge SRT cars are virtually unmodified from their showroom form, aside from PowerStop “Track Day” brake pads, rotors, and Motul 660 high-temp racing brake fluid; for increased fade resistance under repeated high-speed braking.

Radford has many offerings from Advanced Teen Driving (good for insurance discounts), to serious open wheel instruction in their Ligier F4 cars. I plan on sampling those sometime in the near future. Also, if you buy a new SRT from your local Dodge dealer, you get free instruction at Radford as part of the package.

Meanwhile, maybe I’ll see you at the Mecum Auction in Glendale!


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