These little cars, they just want to be together... [ submitted to the Fun-n-Sun Times, the newsletter of the West Penn Miata Club ] A Review of the Rock-n-Roll National Miata Rally in Cleveland, Ohio August 24-27, 1995 A Novel by Mary Beth Renze, BRG '91 [firstname.lastname@example.org] Have you ever taken a vacation where you needed another vacation afterwards, just to recover? Well, that perfectly describes the Rock-n-Roll National Miata Rally in Cleveland, Ohio. This activity-packed weekend was anything but relaxing, and worth every single penny of the $300 price tag. The West Penn Chapter of the Miata Club was represented by four cars: Guy and Pat Huettel (Red '91), Bill and Ruth Marlowe (Red '94), Bill Novak and Mary Beth Renze (BRG '91, with really cool new valve stem caps bearing the Miata logo), and Scott and Susan Dobson (White '90) Have you sent in your West Penn membership dues yet, Scott and Susan? An unverified rumor has it a fifth car from West Penn was on site as well... We also thought we spotted Bert and Sandy there on Saturday, but how could that be? We arrived at the Holiday Inn in Independence, Ohio on Thursday afternoon. A few drops of rain had us considering putting our tops up, but we stuck it out and were rewarded with phenomenal weather all weekend. Although registration was just beginning, the parking lot already looked like your dream Mazda dealership (you know, the kind that sells nothing but Miatae...) We checked in, got our goodie bags filled with t-shirts and car-care samples, and spent the next hour (of many) gawking at everyone else's cars. If you get a kick out of the 20-or-so Miatas that we have on our day trips, imagine 225 of them all in one place! It is quite a sight. We spotted license plates from Maine, Florida, Texas and even a few from California! Guy and Pat collected the most gawkers that first day with their spiffy sport cover, but after I splurged on those new valve stem caps, it was tough to keep the crowds away from my BRG.... The first evening we were on our own for dinner, so we headed into downtown Cleveland to check out the Flats (a trendy area right along the river with lots of restaurants and clubs). As we were circling around downtown (pretending not to be lost) we also got to check out the fancy shopping district and the new Indians' Stadium. Back at the hotel, our first organized activity was a 50's style sock hop social, complete with a DJ playing that good old rock-n-roll. This is where we met the Northcoast Miata Club, our hosts for the weekend, and enjoyed the camaraderie of all of the other Miata-maniacs. Friday morning was brutal - we had to be at the Nelson Ledges Race Course by 7:00 AM, and it was an hours' drive away! We agreed to pack a picnic breakfast in our coolers, and save that extra breakfast time to sleep a little longer. The Nelson Ledges facility can only be described as rustic. The only running water at the place was non-potable (yes, we are talking pit toilets here, folks) and there were no concession stands. Luckily, the Northcoast crew had made some great arrangements: the local Mazda dealership had set up a booth and were giving away free soda all day, and Northcoast had arranged with a local vendor to have drinking water available and they had buffet lunches for us each day. Great planning Northcoast! Creature comforts (or lack thereof) were soon forgotten when our time slot was called for Parade Laps (which we soon dubbed 'Party Laps'). In party laps, they take about 25 cars at a time - led by the Miata M Speedster concept car as a pace car - out onto the 2.1 mile asphalt course for a 15 minute ride around a lot of very exhilarating curves. The only rule in the party laps is that you're not allowed to pass the car in front of you. If you're smart, like Guy and Pat, you get in line early so that you're the first car behind the pace car. We' re talking up to 95 mph on the straight-aways. Wheeeeeeeee! The Hot Laps were run later in the afternoon for the serious racers who wanted to compete for best time. These folks had to wear helmets and have their cars inspected. An interesting note for all you Speed Racer-wannabes: the best time on the track was about 1:30, and was done with a stock Miata - no supercharger or anything! There may be hope for us winning that trophy after all! We spent Friday afternoon milling about the vendo-rama at the track and spending our money on aftermarket accessories like car covers, suspension braces, new antennae, fold-up cup holders, roll-bars, replacement tops with side windows, Miata Christmas cards, Miata t-shirts, Miata hats, Miata sweatshirts, Miata underwear (just kidding - I wanted to see if you were still reading this)..... and of course those ever- popular almost-sold-out Miata valve stem caps. There were even folks getting air-horns, superchargers and cold-air-induction systems installed on their Miatae right there at the track! Friday afternoon we also got to participate in the Funcana events - which were kinda like relay races with your car without the rest of the relay team. Hmmm. Bad analogy. Anyway, the first event was called Top Down where you were timed on how long it took you and your partner to put the top down. I know what you' re thinking - no big whoop. But wait, there's more: you had to start inside your car with your seatbelt fastened and keys in the ignition, get the boot out of the trunk with the key, put the top down, put the boot completely on, get back into the car and buckle up. It was a true test of any marriage. We tied with Scott and Susan with a time of 53 seconds, which I thought was pretty good. Apparently, someone at the rally set a new National record by completing Top Down in about 30 seconds. Try it yourself. My favorite Funcana event was the Park-in-the-Dark, where the driver was blindfolded and had to parallel park with only the passenger's directions to guide him/her. If Top Down was a true test of partnership in marriage, Park-in-the-Dark is a test to see if you will stay married. When blindfolded, you lose the sense of motion, so it's pretty tough to judge when you've pulled up far enough. The winners in this event parked in 15 seconds. Bill and Pat parked in impressive 42 seconds. An anonymous couple in the West Penn group (with really cool valve stem caps, which I am sure helped their ability to drive) parked in 31 seconds due primarily to her exceptional driving, and not because of his instructions. Stay tuned to see if their marriage lasts! The last Funcana event was called something like Driving Backwards Through a Serpentine and Having Your Passenger Toss 45 Records at Targets on the Ground. You got 10 points for just hitting the ground with each of the four records. Needless to say, most of us tied with 40 points. All this fun and we're still on Friday? See what I mean about action-packed! Friday night, Northcoast had rented out an entire drive-in movie theater for our party. Prizes were awarded for the best 50's costume - poodle skirts were abundant as well as flower children tye-dyes, even a few nerds were floating around. Some folks even dressed their cars! Pat won a 'best costume' prize for her leather ensemble.... The best part of the event was seeing the look on faces of people coming in to see the other movies; I can just hear them now "Look, Stanley, an entire theater filled with nothing but little convertible cars. Do you think they planned it that way?" The cartoon was a Bugs Bunny rendition of Casablanca which was great; I'm not sure if anyone actually stayed to see the movie, The Amazing Panda Adventure. If I stayed, I certainly am not admitting it.... The highlight of the evening was meeting Tom Matano (head of the design team that brought us our little cars) and getting the chance to talk with him. I was especially impressed by his great personality and his easy-going nature. You'd never know by talking to him that he is practically worshipped by this cult. He drives a smurf blue Miata, in case you were wondering. He also let us know that the new 96 models will have armrests AND map pockets on the doors (yeah!), more interior lights (yeah!), the mirror mounted on the windshield, and five more horsepower (yeah!). No word on the color selection yet.... Saturday morning we were back at the track again, buying more valve stem caps for our friends, doing more party laps a little faster this time, getting a little bit more sunburn, breathlessly watching the hot-lappers, and enjoying the camaraderie. We also attended the autocross event, sponsored by Dunlop. It was held in a church parking lot about 12 miles from the track. To illustrate the difference that tires make in how well a car handles, Dave Shelton (AKA Dunlop Dave) had three brand new 1995 Miatas available - one with OE tires, one with Dunlop D60A2 (about $70 each at Tire America) and one with the SP8000 (approx. $130 each) line. Dave, who is extremely knowledgeable, gave us a quick driving lesson. I can still hear him saying 'Remember folks, friends don't let friends apex early.' Then he let us drive each of the cars around the orange cones marking the autocross track. It was very informative and very fun. If I hadn't just bought brand new D60A2s, I'd probably be shopping for those SP8000s right about now. An interesting statistic he quoted: about 50% of the Miata owners who replace their OE tires buy Dunlops. One thing I can say though, is that after his mini-driving lesson, I have been having a little more fun on those turnpike exit ramps! What do you think, Ruth, want to sign up for the North Park Autocross event with me? Saturday night was the awards banquet at the Crawford Auto and Aviation Museum that is part of CASE Western Reserve University. A truly impressive place. Boy, did Northcoast have our number pegged -- everyone just loved the place! They pulled the Miata M Speedster inside the museum and parked it among the concept cars of yesteryear.... Who knows, in 20 years or so, a Miata will probably be represented there! Vince Tidwell, president of the Miata Club of America was a guest speaker as well as Tom Matano. They gave out awards and pulled names for door prizes (lucky Pat and Guy won a glass replacement window for their softtop). Then they fed us, and sent us back to the hotel for about 4 hours of sleep and yet another day's worth of events. Sunday morning was the next (unofficial) Funcana event called Re-Pack your Trunk after Spending All of Your Money on Stuff That Takes up Trunk Space. Good thing I had those valve stem caps installed -- I wouldn't want to lose all that trunk space on them! Anyway, they didn't have to blindfold us for this event as it was 6AM and still very dark out. At 6:30, we had a police escort into the city of Cleveland. A quick mathematical quiz -- how many miles long is a caravan of 225 cars? About 2.5 - 3 miles long! At about 7:30, we boarded the Goodtime III party boat and had a very nice tour of Cleveland from the Cuyahoga. Then, they tried to line us all up (sans car) in front of the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame for a group picture. 500 people, mostly misbehaving, smushed together quite tightly. This was another one of those 'camaraderie' moments. Look for us in the picture. We're dead center, back row, in front of the woman on someone's shoulders. Once they finally took the picture(s), we were treated to a sneak preview tour of the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame that is due to open Labor day weekend. We only got to see a piece of it, but it looks to be very well done. I was especially impressed by I.M.Pei's architecture - the building is beautiful! They probably say this to everyone, but they told us we were the first group to get to see the Hall of Fame. Are you impressed? After a catered box lunch, we had to say good-bye to all of our new friends and work our way home to Pittsburgh. I feel as if I was at one of those weekend spiritual retreats that rekindled my love of my little roadster. There is just something about these little cars and the people who drive them -- they just want to be together! It was a great weekend, with great weather, and a great event -- kudos to the Northcoast club for pulling it off! So when do we start planning the 1999 Steel City National Miata Rally in Pittsburgh?