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by Ray Alexander
This year’s SEMA, the aftermarket industry’s trade show, appeared to be the largest ever, though 2013 was larger, as measured by exhibitors.
On Monday, the exhibit cars were in the street for more than four hours waiting to enter the grounds, and then they were staged in a large pool waiting to get to the correct booth, to the point that a guy in a ’57 Chevy gave up and parked on the street. That let me get some pics that are far less cluttered than would be possible during the show. This year I didn’t enter the floor via a cargo door, but played by the rules and waited until Tuesday. I must be getting old.
An inflatable building half as big as a main hall was being erected outside.
In the staging area, I saw a rusting hulk that turned out to be a ’73 Plymouth Barracuda, owned by Fred Williams of Paso Robles. The car was named “Mad Maxxis,” and had a 5.0 L Cummins diesel coupled to an Allison transmission — naturally, sponsored by Maxxis Tire. The appearance of the car was distressed and I don’t think much work was done to achieve the look. The owner lamented that he and his buddy worked on the car every weekend this summer while their friends were water skiing.
In the tire and wheel arena, I was greeted by more tire brands that I had never heard of than the ones I knew. One was Wanda Tire, it made me Wanda. I was on a mission and found Toyo Tire very quickly. I participate in open road races and have a Toyo T1 that causes a vibration at 140 mph, diagnosed as a tread separation. I wanted to get the tire back to them, in hopes they could improve their processes. I didn’t want an adjustment or another tire. They gave me lip service — get the tire back to a Toyo dealer and we will get the tire back. I will get the tire back to a dealer, but it will not be a Toyo dealer. In open road racing, speeds of 150 and greater are sustained for many miles. The tire is the most failing item, people are killed and cars destroyed.
In the Mopar booth, I was immediately attracted to a Ram ProMaster, outfitted as a mechanics shop, pulling a trailer with a 392 Challenger aboard. If only there was a real Santa.
The AWD Challenger concept car was a dark grey with orange accents, an attractive color combination. It also had add-on fender flares, okay for a truck or Jeep, but missed the mark on the Challenger. Is the volume of Challengers enough to warrant model differentiation using integrated fender flare? I think not. [The flare may have been to allow for wider wheels and tires.]
I had gotten word from the Bob Bondurant School of Racing they had an important announcement scheduled for Wednesday. There were two ACR Vipers on display; one was dirty, trying to simulate a raced condition. In my opinion the car wasn’t going very fast when dirt was deposited, and where are the bugs? The second was a very clean, bright white with Bondurant lettered on the side. I know what their announcement is going to be.
The other concept vehicle was a Red Rock Jeep with its roots in Moab, on stage; I was not allowed to get close to it, but it’s a production Rubicon with minor changes. I can’t say “bolt-on,” because some were bolt-off, it had no doors. I have mused before about how many Jeep doors are stored in garages across the U.S. Fixed that problem.
A nice lady named Elise Cillvffo was selling access to a web site where dealer repair information was distributed. It included three days of free use. Places to sit are at a premium at SEMA, and Elise had nice Mopar stools, I talked to her for a long time. I missed the 4:20 meeting, but made the 4:26 p.m. press release.
Earlier I noticed Pietro dashing through the crowd like he was on a mission. His attire is now a lot closer to what Ralph Gilles wears. Bob and Pat Bondurant were in the crowd; I showed them my pictures from the recent Silver State Race and commented, “͞The picture is very clear because I was going so slow you could read Hanes on my underwear” Then I revealed the second photo of me pushing a Mustang and saying, “This was why I was going so slow.”
Business is going well for FCA. The Viper ACR was the focal point of the presentation. The Challenger has been getting all the publicity and it was time for the Viper to turn up the heat. After all, the Viper was the first “brute strength” car to hit the streets.
With the new ACR, a campaign was mounted to tame the brutal tracks using a driver that was not race trained. An engineer from SRT was selected. The first track was Laguna Seca. The entourage was small, one hauler from FCA and one from Kuhmo Tire, which is making special tires for the ACR.
The ACR has Bilstein adjustable shocks and this car has cutouts so adjustments are easily made. The existing track record for a production car was eclipsed by three seconds. On to Mid-America, Lime Rock, Road Atlanta and several others. Every track that the ACR visited has a new track record. The SCCA has certified that the ACR Viper holds more track records than any production car ever made.
The Bondurant announcement was made, both parties seemed very happy. Mark Malmstead, Head of Dodge/SRT Marketing commented, “It looks like Bondurant belongs on the car.” Pat took the microphone and, I paraphrase said you might want to get your heart checked before you come; strong enough for sex would be a marginal condition.
All SRT training will be done at the Phoenix facility. This might not be convenient, but in my opinion it is a giant step forward. I am going to share some opinion and observation about the track and the training. If you are not interested, kindly skip to the paragraph beginning with “On the second floor.”
I have been to Bondurant three times for one, two and three day classes. In fact before I left for SEMA, my wife said, “Don’t buy anything from Pat Bondurant this year.” The money that provided a lot of confidence and knowledge. If things are going wrong inside or outside of your car and you lack the confidence of being able to drive through it, I hope you are very lucky. The instructors want you to drive at the edge of your comfort zone.
The track was built in short segments with the design meant to teach specific things. The parts of the track that were built first have little grip. There are subtle elevation changes that will have all four of your tires in the air and you will be very surprised.I have had SRT Track experiences at Laguna Seca, Fontana, and Phoenix International Raceway, and I am positive that I learned more in one day at Bondurant than all three of the other track days.
On one of my days at Bondurant, I got Bob to drive my car on his track, it is a SRT8 Charger built in April of 2006. My wife was in the front seat and she said every time the car got loose he would say, “sweet” very softly. He signed the dash and now it also has signatures from Ralph Gilles and Mark Trostle.
On the second floor I found this Jeep. I noticed that the small caliber guns were plugged. The .50 calibers on top were not plugged and appeared to have a full 27’ belt of real ammunition.
Wednesday morning it was raining very hard, but by mid-morning it was done. People driving from So Cal drove through snow. There was a rat rod with an umbrella over the engine. The crowd around it prevented getting a photo.
Car color is an intriguing subject; how does a manufacturer decide they can sell x number of cars painted color y in the next ninety days? Black and silver seem to be strong colors, while white was shunned until the mid-sixties. A color near hot rod primer with clear coat is also very popular; gold is almost never used for production cars, but gold can be attractive or ugly to the bone.
It was time to make my way to the Bondurant booth. It was a beehive of activity, lanyards were being prepared. Pat and Bob were getting last minute coaching. There were maybe sixty people milling about. Bob took the microphone and his statement that carried a punch was, “I am very happy to represent a full line of cars from one manufacturer.”
Pat took the microphone and began to talk about horsepower and torque and about how thrilling it would be driving on their track. She then advised that a driver should bring along some clean Hanes underwear. I am not sure, but I could be responsible for the Hanes remark.
Now, I was off to find some tire/rubber information. The question was why tires of the same width, on the same car, exhibit vastly different forward bite. The tread wear number was maybe 40 points apart. Both tires had good side bite. I didn’t get an answer quickly.
At last I was directed to Brian Cieslak in the Continental booth. First he said, “The tread wear number is not a calculated number, a tread wear of 280 can be harder than a 320 from a different manufacturer.” Then we went to a couple of display tires and he continued, “Each groove and tread block is designed for a particular purpose. Some blocks are designed to move slightly, others stay fixed. The sipes also have specific designs.” When I noted the Sessanta tires I used, he said, “That long swoopy tread was designed for forward bite.”
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