ADVENTURES IN THE WHEEL WORLD
by Max Backwards
The following is not meant to glorify or encourage speeding or the violation of any traffic laws. It is merely entertainment. It may or may not be true.
A good, clean pass. Is there anything that feels better? I'm talking about on a 2-lane road of course. I mean, nothing brings a driver's adrenalin up better, or scares the bejesus out of passengers more, than setting up for a back road pass. (Pat Bedard recently shared some remarks along this subject which I quite enjoyed.)
Plus, a pass is made all the more exciting when the passee doesn't want to cooperate. We've all been there. It's worst practitioners seem to be on the freeways lately. You know, the ones who just sit in the left lane with open road in front of them and the cruise control set on 58 or 62 or some other gawdawful dog-slow thing, no matter how many cars bunch up behind them.
Marcel may remember a left-lane bandit minivan on I-15 north of Vegas on the Starlite that ran through Red Rock Canyon a few years ago. Parked her right front corner dead even with the left rear corner of the guy in the right lane for 15 - 20 miles. Marcel was tired and had asked me to drive. This is usually a sure cure for driver drowsiness because I tend to drive, well, aggressively, especially when it comes to this passing stuff.
Anyway, I tried everything on this minivan. Dropped way back for a while hoping to lull her into a false sense of security, as if she had actually made that lane safe for democracy or whatever it was she was trying to do. (Why people take it upon themselves to do this, I'll never understand.) Didn't work.
Tried drafting her. Well below a car length. Didn't work.
Tried drafting the other guy. Must have been in cahoots with her or both had the cruise on the same setting or something because he wouldn't budge either. About here Marcel started saying things like, "I'm really OK to drive now. Anywhere you want to switch."
Finally I tried a door handle push. Actually tapped her door with my side mirror. Would not move. I guess she never drove in L.A. because she wouldn't still be alive.
Anyway, Standoff wasn't that far away, so I gave up and set my cruise for 1 mph slower than theirs. Never saw Marcel so happy to get to a Standoff.
Even worse, of course, is an unwilling passee on a 2-lane. This can present a truly dangerous situation if one forces the issue, so I usually hang back and try to anticipate the dotted line. I go into each turn way back, but gaining fast, so if the curve opens onto a passing zone, I've already got a head of steam up to carry me by. And if the line stays double you shut down quick, obviously.
This usually works, but I remember one time on CA HWY 150 going from Carpenteria to Ojai on one of those deals where you know you've done the leg wrong, but you're going to try and make it anywhere. (Navigators, how many times have you heard, "Just tell me how fast I have to go to get there"?) Anyway, I was going for it and it was pretty late at night when I come up on a 1979 Chevy Monte Carlo (oh, irony). Probably the widest one I'd ever seen too, by the way.
He evidently didn't think anyone should be allowed to pass on that road. And for some reason, flashing your lights at somebody like this just makes it worse. One of the things I like about driving in Europe is that people really don't seem to mind when you do that. Come flying up behind someone. Blip, blip. Over they go. Zip, zip. You're by. No problem.
Try that here and half the time they give you a brake test.
The other problem comes on the straights. They speed up. In this guy's case I actually had 2 legal passing zones, and both times I wasn't carrying enough speed to pull it off.
Anyway, on my second try he squeezed the lane as I pulled out (on the dotted line, mind you) and very nearly put me in the weeds. Something snapped and I decided it was no-holds-barred from there on.
I hung back around a couple of hairpins going up a grade, since I have seen molasses move uphill faster than this guy. Over the top and starting down along the northwest side of the lake the road opens up a little. I picked up some momentum and, coming out of a slow sweeper, I found a straight long enough to make my move.
However, once again, bargemobile floors it and won't let me back in the right lane. But now I'm tweaked. Now way will I back off. So, side by side we go. Up and up. Sonofabitch. Still further up.
About this time I realize I'm going way too fast to make the turn that's coming up. Not to mention that the dotted line is solid double again and I'm completely blind in the wrong lane.
No time to brake, I pitch the Probe sideways. The whole car shuddering as I scrub off the speed. Never did that move on pavement at that velocity before. Totally bitchen opposite lock tires screaming. I have no idea how we made it through. Thank God it wasn't a decreasing radius or anything.
I get her straightened out and notice that there's nobody beside me. Move back to the right lane. Glance in the mirror. All I see is a massive cloud of dust and headlights spinning like a rotating beacon. Guess he didn't have front wheel drive. However, he did pick one of the only spots on the road with any kind of runoff (a turnout).
The headlights came to rest in a massive cloud of dust. I reached the next curve and lost sight of him as I turned in. I never saw him again and I'm very thankful the outcome wasn't much worse.
One other time I remember was while laying out the second Angels Crown. Big Tujunga Canyon Road was the first leg, and I used the posted mileage signs to set my odometer before measuring the course, then went back down to the start to set up an odometer check for the route instructions.
Since setting up a rallye does take a fair amount of solo time behind the wheel, I try to cram as much as possible into the little time I have by driving really, really fast. (Okay, okay, I confess. I just like to drive fast, period. This is just another excuse.)
Anyway, I'm coming back down the canyon, and I've run the road a lot so I know it well enough to really cook. Coming out of a turn I see a Dodge Aspen Wagon (remember those) up ahead. Really bad green color. Stepladder tied on the roof rack. A couple of turns later and I'm right on him.
Now he's working really hard to do about 50, and I guess he's really proud of it because he sure doesn't want to let me by. Coming out of a sweeper I build up a little steam. As we near the apex, I can see a half mile of clear road ahead, so I move inside to pass.
He chops me. Big time. And no weeds here, just the rock wall of the mountain from which the road is carved. Major brake lockage to avoid wacking him or the wall.
I drop way back and just watch him for a while. I know a passing zone is coming up and I want to set up for it just right. He disappears into a series of those canyon turns up ahead and I put it down hard. I'm hoping I can come out of that last turn onto the straight fast enough to get by.
It was one of those things that worked out even better than I could have hoped. I pop out of the last turn somewhere north of xx (mph) and he's right in front on me. I jig left. He finally catches a glimpse of me in his mirrors and chops left again. Too late, I'm gone.
It was a good, clean pass.
But that clever little chopping move of his tossed him sideways. At least he knows to turn into it. Then it goes back the other way and he catches it again. Gets it straightened out.
Good, I think to myself. Not trying to hurt anyone here. But of course now he's really pist and he's coming hell for leather after me. I figure it's no big deal: Probe vs. Aspen. Come on? Not a contest. Well, through the back country, sure. But we start to come back into town and it goes to 35. I get a blip on the radar and slow it down to 45.
However, the Aspen is ignoring the speed limit and is making up time very quickly. The speed limit goes to 45. I detect no further blips and kick it up again.
Big TJ, as it's called in those parts, goes back into civilization with a 90 degree left posted at 15. That particular piece of pavement is where, 20 years ago, I learned how to properly slide a front wheel drive car through a tight turn, just like those pictures of rallye cars I had grown up with.
I couldn't resist suckering this guy. We're coming up on the turn just as he's closing in. He's about a hundred feet behind me when I hang a hairy 5th-to-2nd downshift, jam hard on the middle pedal, jerk the wheel way too far to the left, then immediately back to the right. The car responds perfectly. Tail comes all the way out.
Key now is to anticipate the apex and punch it hard. Let the car pull itself out of the turn. I glance down. 46 on the digital.
I check the rear view just in time for the fireworks. The Aspen, well, didn't turn in quite as well. Sideways and out of control. BLANG! Over the curb. CRASH! Into the guard rail. The stepladder comes halfway loose and falls to one side. Hubcaps fly off, spinning, on their own tangents. Sparks and rending metal as he slides along the rail.
But he keeps coming.
By now, I'm almost starting to respect this guy, but what he's gonna do, I have no idea. I mean, he could be packing for all I know. And I don't really want to find out.
He's got a tire going down and the ladder banging against the side of the car, but he's got his foot on the floor and fire in his eye and I don't want to be in the same zip code with him.
I run a police scanner on a daily basis, and you really learn a lot from it. For example, the only times I've ever heard the cops loose somebody is when the guy just keeps taking corners. Eventually they manage to pull out that crucial one block ahead. The pursuers get to an intersection and see nothing. If they toss the coin wrong, it's all over.
I engage that evasive maneuver, terrorize some peaceful neighborhoods, but lose the Aspen from hell. I go back to that park on Foothill Blvd. we used for Start on that event. I see the Aspen heading down Foothill, still looking around.
I started my measuring run for Angels Crown quickly, heading the other way, back to the open country. Looking for a good, clean pass.
See you at STANDOFF.
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