“The third time is the charm” … Or something like that, either way, I did it again, but not with my racecar… that’s right: another cross country time attack pilgrimage to the holy-land that is the dusty cow-shit covered fields of Buttonwillow, CA. And this time I was going as moral support, boyfriend, truck driver extraordinaire, crew chief, mechanic and all around badass (okay, maybe not the last one), all for Savanna in support of her first full season in Global Time Attack and her first trip to Super Lap Battle… but first SEMA… and then PRI. Man this one was a long trip compared to the other two times I’ve done it in much fewer days, but it was by far the most memorable (sorry fellas) with tons of amazing stops across America, lots of racecar action and knocking off a few bucket list items in a matter of a few weeks with someone I get to share it all with as well as I do with Savanna.
Exactly 10 days after getting back from our two week NOLA / Z Nat’s trip, on October 26th I hopped on a plane from Washington, DC to Orlando, FL to begin our tour of the United States destined for SEMA in Las Vegas from Nov 1-4 and Super Lap Battle in Buttonwillow, CA Nov 10-11. It was 22 days of being on the road and to say it was a lot of miles was an understatement. One thing I continue to learn on each of these trips is how gorgeous all of America really is, but also how miserable it is for my ever-getting-old-body to make trips this long, with a trailer in tow, with an expensive racecar, while sitting on uncomfortable seats. Either way, we survived and it was a trip for the ages, and one that neither of us will ever forget. I think I’m starting to love this cross country thing in some weird twisted way, and I’m kind of already planning what I want to see on the next one. Someone help!
After landing in Florida we finished getting the car prepped for SEMA at Enjuku Racing and then loaded up the #916 Nissan 350Z to began the first leg of our trip West from Florida to Las Vegas on Thursday evening. Savanna’s freshly built LS swapped Nissan 350Z was going to be a booth display car for her wheel sponsor Konig Wheels, as well as her being the spokes-model for them for the week at the annual SEMA Trade Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Along with her working I would be doing what I seem to do best, marketing to potential sponsors for myself and for Brian Kleeman Racing’s Trans Am Series race program along with a few pitches for Savanna as well. With lots of meetings scheduled, and on a time limit to get to SEMA load in on time, our trip to Las Vegas was relatively uneventful and we didn’t do too many things on the way there other than the frequent Route 66 off shoot, especially in Seligman, AZ at my favorite Route 66 restaurant Delgado’s (if you go there, try the chorizo burger), as well as a seeing a few things to plan and visit for the rest of our trip.
We arrived in Vegas on Saturday the 29th and on Sunday loaded the Z into the convention center for SEMA load-in day with out really waiting at all, and relatively issue free getting to the booth. We got really lucky during the whole event from load-in, load-out and even daily parking right next to the convention center, you would have thought we were old pro’s. Savanna’s car was in the center of the main hall under Konig’s massive booth and got a ton of exposure. I know I have a competing wheel sponsor but at the end of the day it’s a small community and the way they treated Savanna and I during the week was great, and shows how much larger companies are respecting our niche in motorsports these days. They had also worked with her to create a badass driver poster that she could sign in the booth… which ended up being a huge hit, signing thousands and drawing a ton of attention to herself and the car. All of us in the industry better watch out because this girl is going to take over soon enough!
SEMA was a great show as usual and many of the meetings I had scheduled for myself, Brian and Savanna all went really well, and we all left Vegas with a great feeling for the 2017 race season. With the 350Z loaded up, and Savanna and Zeus (yup the pup went with us after the baby sitter backed out last minute) in the truck, we decided to head to our first major deviation of our trip to check off a bucket list of mine; visit the Grand Canyon! We left Vegas on Sunday morning and trailered from the warm weather to the freezing 20 degree temps at Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim in Arizona around midnight. We got to sleep quickly and set our alarms for 5am so we could get up and head to the rim edge and watch the sun rise, only to realize that it was the night of daylight savings, but we were in an area that didn’t observe daylight savings (that was an interesting conversation while delusionally tired). A few hours of light sleep later and we drove the truck and trailer into the park and parked in the public area, and walked to easily the best viewing spot in that area on a big rock with the perfect view of Mathers Point.
Having never seen the Grand Canyon before I had no idea how amazing it was going to be. Watching the sun rise and slowly reveal the massiveness and beauty of the Grand Canyon was one of the most mesmerizing things I have ever witnessed in my life. I cherished every second of that moment with Savanna by my side sitting on top of an ancient rock, watching one of the most beautiful things either of us had ever seen, knowing that this trip together on this awesome racing journey would be something we would never forget. After enjoying the sunrise and the sudden mass influx of people we decided to leave our spot and walk around the South Rim, and enjoy the scenery and all of the great Native American culture the various museums and buildings had to offer. It was an amazing time and even though we were only there for a few hours it was easily the best moment of the trip.
With smiles from ear to ear we set off to Buttonwillow with the Grand Canyon in our rearview, in search of a race track in the middle of a cow pasture somewhere in dustbowl California. A day and a half later we ended up at Buttonwillow Raceway Park and unloaded the #916 350Z in the pits and got to work. We did some last minute spring changes and a few other fixes like replacing the starter that had failed in the streets of Las Vegas after unloading from SEMA. Come Thursday morning the #916 Enjuku Racing Nissan 350Z was ready to race and Savanna would have to focus solely on learning the new track in the little bit of time she had and just do her best, on a track that is notoriously difficult to learn quickly.
Super Lap Battle is the finale to the Global Time Attack Pro Series and also the most prestigious stand alone event in North American Time Attack. The event held by Super Street Magazine is in its 12th year and has used Buttonwillow Raceway Park Configuration CW13 as its benchmark track for all things time attack. Having raced here myself in 2013 and 2015, I knew Savanna had a large learning curve to overcome, and I had a car setup to help figure out in an effort to make her job easier. Buttonwillow was a very different track than the flowing east coast tracks we know well, and requires a different mindset as a driver and different suspension setup on the car. Thursday’s day one served as a test bed for Savanna to learn the track and try out a few setup changes along with work on her line. After a long day and only a little bit of track time she had done a great job getting faster each session and was getting more confident in the car and learning the track every lap.
Going into Day 2 Savanna had set a time goal for the event, focusing on herself and the car and letting the class results land where they may. By the second session on Day 2 she had already surpassed her goal for the day and kept getting faster each lap. It was awesome to watch her from pit lane get faster on track every session and drive more aggressive than she ever has, while also getting a ton of attention from media and sponsors off track and be as determined as she was to. She did awesome with the brand new car, at a brand new track, with a ton of pressure, and I couldn’t have been more proud of how well she did! As sad as I was to not have my own car there racing with all of my GTA family, I had an amazing time supporting her and watching her get better, and better, with a smile on her face. If nothing else happened on the trip, it would have all been worth it for that.
After finishing the event cleanly, with the driver happy, car running great, and driving crew well rested (Zeus was rested better than us all, but refused to drive…), we were loaded up Saturday morning and head back home to Maryland…. Just kidding, we took another day off and went to Six Flags Magic Mountain for a relaxing day on roller coasters and waiting in line haha. Then we finally traversed the Grape Vine one last time and headed toward our long journey home back to Maryland. On the way we made a few more awesome stops all while driving on Route 66 whenever possible. Some of my favorite highlights were the seeing the thousands of ancient petroglyphs at National Petroglyph Monument in Albuquerque, NM, visiting the classic “U-Drop Inn” Conoco Gas Station from Disney’s “Cars” in Shamrock, TX where we even unloaded the car for a photo opp, Calico Ghost town in Movaje, CA, Bonnie & Clyde’s death car at a random casino in NV and a ton more random stops and attractions along the way, with our final deviation in central Virginia where we visited President Thomas Jefferson’s estate; Monticello. After weeks on the road, we finally made it back to the east coast and home in Maryland on November 17th, a full 22 days after I left.
We saw a ton on this trip, stopped at everything that interested us, took our time, enjoyed the road and each other, and had an amazing time doing it. In the end I still stand by what I said after my first trip: “Everyone should drive cross-country at least once in their life.” But now that I’ve done it three times and seen so many new things each time, maybe its time to start saying everyone should do it multiple times… but in much more comfortable truck seats haha. My back still hurts… Luckily we have almost 2 week’s rest until we are back on the road with Savanna’s Z from MD to Indianapolis for the PRI Tradeshow with her car being featured in the Exedy Clutch Booth. For more info on Savanna’s race program check out her website at www.SavannaLittleRacing.com