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JESUS, HOTRODS, AND IRON

August 1, 2015

I was around 11 or 12 the first time I “borrowed” my parent’s 1973 Pontiac Catalina Safari station wagon, a 22+ foot behemoth with a 400cu V8 and a 4 bbl carb. They went to church and had decided I was old enough to stay home and go to mass later, on my own. I agreed enthusiastically.

 

I had always known I could drive. I don’t know why. I don’t ever remember not thinking that I could drive a vehicle. I’d study my parents every move while they were behind the wheel. I memorized them all. I made note of how they loosened their grip on the steering wheel after rounding the apex of a corner and let it come back to center of its own accord. I’d pay attention to when they lifted off the gas, and when they would apply the brake pedal. Id watch them peer into the side view and rear view mirrors prior to making lane changes. I even noticed that when stopping, they would remain far enough behind the vehicle in front that they could still see its tires.   It became my Sunday ritual. They went to church, and I found God behind the wheel of the family wagon.

 

I was almost 14 years old and my interest in anything that had 2 or 4 wheels and a motor was really starting to take root. I rode my bicycle up Lincoln Park Drugs to get a candy bar. The magazine rack was directly across from them. I’d always stop and peruse the rack feigning deep interest in the various hobby magazines while slyly straining my eyes to the upper echelons of the stand where the “other” more mature hobby rags were. Not this time. It was June 1985. The July issue of Motor Trend just hit the stand. Something about the cover of that issue grabbed a hold of me and like a fly to honey there I remained. I read the entire article, twice, right where I stood before finally snapping out of my stupor and making the buy.

Things got serious after reading that issue of the Motor Trend. It was the Ferrari Testarosa that was on the cover, but it wasn’t simply a photograph of the car. It was a hand drawn see-through, color picture of the vehicle. With each excruciatingly detailed and exquisitely rendered piece of that machine another nail was sunk into my chest forever cleaving me to the world of rip snorting, gut wrenching, soul snatching horsepower.

 

It didn’t take long before I found myself “borrowing” my father’s motorcycle.   I was 14. The bike was a 1978 Honda Super Hawk. Bright red with black stripes, it was calling my name, and I knew where the keys were. My confidence, typical of an inexperienced teen of my years, far exceeded my abilities. Nonetheless, I’d hop up on the 290 East and see how fast I could get the needle to sweep past 100 before a gust of wind would send me all over the road and back home in search of my courage.

 

My love of unbridled horsepower grew strongly. In 1986 Suzuki started to sell to the general public what was to this day the closest thing to a race bike that someone could buy: the GSXR-1100. As soon as I read about it in the January 1986 issue of Cycle World I decided I had to have one. 5 years later, I did. Riding that motorcycle was a watershed moment for me. Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson, and Kevin Schwantz were no longer elite racers in a netherworld outside my reality. I had in my grasp the same equipment that the world’s greatest motorcycle racers had. While talent may have separated us we were bonded by equipment and the tortured exhaust note emanating from the pipes. It was the 1960’s muscle car revolution all over again.

 

Bunkie Knudson was the genius behind the Pontiac Motor Division’s amazing transformation from being a stodgy, old man’s carmaker to becoming one of General Motors’ elite performance divisions.   Not only did he make their cars look good, he made them run as good as they looked. Understanding what few then did, he saw that what won on Sunday, sold on Monday. In the late 50’s he drove Pontiac head first into stock car and drag racing winning countless pole positions, races, titles, and championships over the next several years. By 1962 Pontiac had skyrocketed to 3d in sales in the US. The reason for this, and the reason the whole muscle car market exploded for all the car manufacturers was simple. The regular folks, folks like you and I, could walk into any car dealership and purchase pretty much what Fireball Roberts, Smokey Yunick, Cotton Owens, Arnie “The Farmer” Beswick, Dick Harrel, and Grumpy Jenkins were racing on the track. One no longer had to have that seldom seen skill and factory backing to pilot outrageously fast vehicles. They sold like hot cakes because of the instantaneous transformation and connection they created. The mundane highway drive was now the high banks of Daytona. Every Friday night traffic light on Main Street was the staging lights at Pomona Raceway drag strip. The next Super Stock champion sat behind the wheel of every car.

Those days are long gone. Or are they?

 

Indeed, the landscape has changed dramatically. Vehicles being sold today have, literally, nothing in common with the cars being driven at breakneck speeds on the track. Engineers and desk jockeys have decided to create vehicle for idiots. Back up camera’s, auto parking, collision mitigation, traction control, ABS, skid control, roll over control; it is laughable. On paper and in laboratories today’s vehicles should be the very pinnacle of achievement. Take a drive in a Buffalo winter and it becomes apparent the real world doesn’t give a damn about laboratories and their data points. Does anyone know how to counter steer into a fishtail, trail brake into a high speed turn, downshift to slow one’s speed, use momentum and wheel speed to make it through deep snow? As vehicles continue to become more laden with technological marvels, they become more and more boring to drive, and those behind the wheel become ever less skilled in piloting them and more ignorant in their operation.

While the rest of the world continues to go down the digital road of passivity, automation, and instantaneous gratification and people languish in ever more heaps of isolation, disconnectedness, and overpriced, throwaway goods, those with a home in a gym full of iron find eternal salvation from that technological damnation.

 

In a gym full of iron nothing is automatic. There is no room for passivity. Everything is earned and nothing is given. There are no collision mitigation sensors to redirect an errant bar mid-jerk milliseconds before it smashes into a chin saving an athlete from tooth rattling embarrassment and pain. There is no roll over protection to prevent a motivator from going ass over teakettle on a missed box jump. Conspicuously absent while snatching Kettlebells is ABS. Nothing less than skill and precision will prevent that bell from crashing, punishingly, mercilessly, into an athlete’s forearms like a wrecking ball. In a gym full of iron it may as well be 1950. Everything is earned with great physical endeavor and strain. We have the sweat, the bruises, the scrapes, the falls, the soreness, the sprains and strains, and the failures and successes to prove it. Nothing is given.

 

Our passion is fueled by the challenge shared with both friend and idol. Who among us isn’t, just a little bit, competing against a buddy, but also Rich Froning when they are doing a workout like “Fran”? Who doesn’t feel some modicum of satisfaction mid “DT” knowing that they are doing the workout that was done at the CrossFit games? We are doing the same exercises, suffering the same physical torment, and throwing around the same gear as are those in this sport that have our admiration and respect.

 

Everyday I’m in the gym is like driving my GSXR-1100 for the first time again. Instead of going head to head with the likes of Schwantz, Lawson, and Spenser, each tooth grinding pull on the DL bar has me pulling against Gene Sandow. Every KB bent pressed overhead has me going toe to toe with Arthur Saxon. Soul crushing squat after soul crushing squat has me trying to best Paul Anderson. My split snatches are done with none other than the great Norbert Schemanski. These giants of the sport used the same equipment that sits in our gym and did the same movements that we are trying to master. With iron in hand and feet on a platform we transcend time and space, and in our minds even our physical ability to become our own giants in the sport. While we no longer have the opportunity to win the Daytona 500 on our next drive into work, we can earn the right to climb atop the podium after our next grueling workout.

 

LIVE – GET STRONG – WIN

 

Semper Fi,

Coach Robby

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