photos by: the author
Drive your classic muscle car for five days, to five cities in four states for over 500 miles, through back roads — and then autocross for 4-5 hours each day. What could possibly go wrong?
It turns out that there are a bunch of car people who’ve simply gotten tired of sitting in lawn chairs at car shows, bored of long road rallies and the crowded Power Tour, and are wanting to do something more with their cars. Ideally, it would be in a smaller group where you can make friends with everyone else there and test the limits of your vehicle on a safe racing course. Enter the FM3 Road trip, aka Cars ‘n Cones, what some might consider the gateway drug to the One Lap of America event.
The cars (and drivers) in attendance were unique. This is not your usual autocross, or even pro-touring, crowd. The cars in attendance were more traditional builds; Big-Blocks, leaf springs, 400-treadwear tires, Muncie transmissions and carburators galore. Because several of the attendees had done the Power Tour in years past, there were definitely cars equipped with aftermarket suspension with upgraded leaf springs, shocks and control arms prevailing.
After all, if you’re going to actually drive your car, it can’t behave like a wooden roller coaster on the highway – at least not for five to seven-hour driving days. Most of the the older cars had modified exhaust – to keep things quiet while the newer cars seemed to be making all of the noise. Almost all of the cars seemed to perform quite civilized on the street and remarkably well on the cones.
Of course, like it or not, there were a few LS conversion cars but not as many as you’d expect at an autocross-centric event. Of the heavily modified pro-touring cars there were a couple of Novas, a tri-five Chevy and a couple of Chevelles among the group.
One of the Nova’s managed to blow a motor on the autocross at National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park. While blowing a motor on the autocross is a rarity, it does happen. The course at this event required quite a bit of torque with a drag (Christmas Tree) start that pushed into a short autocross.
Last year a different Nova blew its engine, the owner called ahead to the next stop where coincidentally Jasper Engines happens to be. (Final stop on the tour was Ridetech in Jasper, IN) The owner got the motor swapped using a rack at Ridetech and was back on the road home to Maryland with only about a six hour delay. This year it was a ’70s C-10 pickup that was up on the rack at Ridetech, but for an entirely different reason: All new StreetGrip suspension.
Throughout Cars ‘n Cones there were prizes being given away at the vendor’s discretion. In this case, Bret Voelkel (owner/founder at Ridetech) was given the heads-up that a guy named John Martin was deserving (and in need) of a new suspension for his C-10 pickup. As Bret told it, he watched John autocross for a day or two and quickly realized that the truck had a need, and would be a perfect candidate to get one of Ridetech’s StreetGrip systems installed in just one evening. Needless to say, John is a pretty happy guy these days. The before-and-after pictures speak for themselves.
Other participant door prizes were equally as impressive. Forgeline gave away an entire set of their premium forged racing wheels. Baer Brakes gave away several complete 4-wheel disc brake kits. Falken Tire gave away many complete sets of their incredibly sticky street-legal tires, and Mac’s Tie-Downs seemed to be giving away prizes every night.
Many of the cars and drivers were second-year veterans from the prior year’s inaugural event but several were new-comers, no-doubt coerced by the vets to join them in the fun. Cars ‘n Cones was developed by the same team that runs the Power Tour and The Optima Ultimate Street Car challenge events. The big idea behind this event was to create a smaller environment that was less about competition and more about the culture of enjoying your car and making new friends. This begs the question: why have autocross if you don’t want to encourage competition?
The answer is clever, make the autocross an anti-competition and require the fastest autocrossers “pay” for winning, with the pot going to charity. Last year, the charity was an organization that enables bone marrow testing and matching, in honor of a man known to many in the racing community who was suffering at the time from cancer.
This year, another cancer tragedy struck the community and all funds collected were to benefit the wife of Chad Reynolds (founder of Bangshift.com and long-time Goodguys autocross announcer) who is currently going through chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Before you think that a seventy-car event can’t raise enough money to make a difference, hold your hat – this year’s group raised twenty-five thousand dollars.
In addition to winners donating, there were all sorts of comedic “fines” levied along with generous product donations that were auctioned off nightly to sweeten the pot. Included in the auctions were Holley EFI systems, Baer brake systems, Mac’s Custom Tie Downs and even a private concert given by country music star (and hot rodding enthusiast) James Otto to be held at your personal home party.
When it came to the ‘cones’ portion of the event, there was something for everyone and rookies had exposure to several different types of courses. Monday was the traditional parking lot autocross. Tuesday was held on the infield of the historic Nashville Speedway. Wednesday was a ‘drag cross’ with a Christmas tree start, short drag race and tight autocross all in one track.
Thursday was a day in Louisville touring sites and getting some time outside of the cars. Friday was back to a more traditional parking lot-autocross in the morning and then a few hour’s drive to the Ridetech headquarters for prizes, dinner and a private James Otto concert.
There were very few big car-related incidents, outside of the event’s Grand Marshall James Otto having something go wrong with his borrowed ride nearly every day. In typical fashion, the car community banded together to get anyone with a mechanical issue back up and running by the next city. Additionally, Raymond’s Performance played ‘clean up’ every day leaving the sites last and following the touring route with tools, parts and a trailer in the event anyone was stranded.
All-in-all, this is a worthwhile event if you’ve got the time and money to participate. There is no age limit on the cars (or the people) and it was truly amazing to see the wide variety of cars and trucks taking the twisty roads throughout the Southeast, and then enjoying pushing the limits of their driving skills.
About seventy cars gathered on Monday morning in Hoover Alabama to begin a week-long adventure that consists of:
- Road trip 3-5 hours through back roads and small towns
- Road trip 3-5 hours through back roads and small towns
Rinse and repeat this same basic schedule for the next three days…
Suzy Bauter has been a car person for as long as she can remember. Already having learned how to cook and sew, she took auto shop in high school and her true passion was born for performance and wrenching. Several cars later, after about 30 years, she got the opportunity to co-build her dream car with her partner Rodney — a 1968 Camaro that she and Rodney autocross and road race all over the Southeast and Midwest. Currently under the knife in Suzy’s garage is a 1963 Rambler wagon with a 5.3 liter LS, a first-gen Camaro front subframe and a 5th-Camaro independent rear suspension.