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The Birth of a Gyrhead

When exactly did you become a Gearhead?  In the paddock of the Indy Lights race at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport in 1995, RJ Valentine shared the precise moment that his passion for competitive motorsports began.  A successful entrepreneur, SCCA Trans-Am and Rolex GT endurance driver, RJ's moment was the day he flew over a motorsports event and marvelled at the incredible speed of the race cars far below.

If you talk to enough serious motorheads about this topic, most will be able to relate the distinct moment when they became forever smitten with great machines.

That moment for me was actually a composite of 3 events and times.  In the spring of 1969 my Grampy visited, not in his customary Buick Electra 225, but a pale yellow `69 Mustang convertible with 351 flags on the lower fenders. Naturally Dad had to take the 'Stang for a ride.  With Grampy riding shotgun and me in the back seat, Dad simply couldn't resist flooring the accelerator at every stoplight and squealing the hell out of the tires.  It was the first time I ever saw Grampy (a rather quiet man with a penchant for gray hats) really laughing with my Dad and it made a big impact on me - this youthful association of good fellowship and adventure in a great car.  The second key moment was when my neighbor's buddy dropped by in his brand new Boss 302 Cougar Eliminator.  With a chin spoiler, Hurst T handle shifter, deck wing and solid lifter rumble, that Eliminator was like a wonderful full scale Hotwheels car - infinitely cooler than my training wheel equipped red and white Columbia bicycle.  The clinching moment was the summer of 1977 in Southeastern Massachusetts.  My brother's friend had a positively wicked blue 1971 Roadrunner with a 440 Magnum and pistol grip 4 speed.  The sound and sight of that Mopar 440 winding up and burning the tires through 3 gears made the little hairs on my neck stand on end.  I'd pace off the length of the rubber marks and dream of the day when I could own such a spectacular machine.  It was these 3 memories which set me on a lifelong path of interest in unique machines and the subsequent ownership of dozens of classic cars, supercars and vintage motorcycles.

And the passion continues unabated into the next generation.  We started bringing our two sons to car shows at an early age, and they'd proudly accompany me in our 428CJ Cougar.  Sitting in the driver's seat, Nate would pretend to bang gears, his little hand barely big enough to grab the shifter ball.

The Cougar later made way for an 11 second 1987 Buick Grand National, with turbo upgrade and methanol injection. The boys would constantly beg for me to dip into the boost and pin them to the seats - a "turbo blast" as they called it.

The other day, my youngest son came along for an errand in the Pontiac G8 GT.  As we accelerated hard onto the highway with the 6.0 LS2 bellowing, he casually remarked "Gee Dad, I really love the sound of a V8"  I just smiled, the torch has been officially passed.

© Gyrhead & Sons Restoration Parts 2010.  If you like it, share this articlewith your friends. We worked hard on it so please cite the source.

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