For the last twenty or so years San Diego has been carefully tending to a myriad of cultural staples that make it America’s Finest City. Sure, there’s craft beer, imagine attempting to construct an identity without that fermented amazing stuff. There’s our infamous laid back attitudes derived in large part from the lack of seppuku inducing traffic ala LA and insanely perfect coastline and mountains. Who can forget the food too! Everything from the fancier epicure that the Cohen family of restaurants provide, to the likes of Panama 66 for a truly laid back and consistently fantastic brew and bite to eat. Food, Nature, below average traffic, and Brew. These are the tenets of a San Diego identity. To those in the know, though, there’s another spectacular pillar of awesome that makes San Diego the Finest City in America, our car culture.
Yes. You read right. Our car culture. We’ve touched on it before with the demise of Irvine Cars and Coffee, and several successful and mediocre attempts to revive the spirt of the original (which may or may not be a long term success at the fair grounds). We’ve alluded to it occasionally if you’ve run into our staff at Big-Euro, BMW Event, or British Car Day (coming up October 11, 2015!). We think the sheer number of incredible automobiles, generosity and passion of their owners, and incredible annual events really help San Diego stand out as a car aficionado mecca – especially Fleet Week San Diego and the Speed Festival of San Diego (#speedfestsd).
Fleet Week San Diego celebrated eighty years of thanking and celebrating our troops for everything they do to keep America as wonderful as it is. The most recent eighteen of those eighty years have included the Speed Festival of San Diego. During SpeedFestSD a huge portion of the Coronado Navy Base runway is shutdown and converted into a VARA sanctioned race, car show, and military show with everything from Triumphs to Transports with armor plating. Admission varies in price depending on which tickets you can source from various local places, the highest posted price is $25, military get in free. While the event is going on additional portions of the base are totally active, including one of the runways. It’s not uncommon for a transport aircraft to lift off during of a hotly contested race providing a pretty epic backdrop, along with all of Point Loma and downtown San Diego.
Getting to the event is easy, just cross the bridge to Coronado, savor the views of downtown San Diego and the ship yards, and head straight on base. Parking is ample so you don’t need to arrive at the crack of dawn, but the event is historically a hot one, as it was this year – sunscreen is a must, and liquids can only be purchased inside the event for security reasons. Stroll up to the gate, past rows of incredible military hardware ranging from compact bomb robots all the way to MRAP’s and helicopters, and make your way into the vendor area. Where your eyes will land first is anyone’s guess? The food trucks and beer tents? The towering zip-line structure that anchors the kids area with pedal karts and all sorts of fun? Maybe the NASCAR pit event where various members of our armed forces compete for the fastest times under the grueling sun? To the left of your periphery maybe? Where cars stretch out to the horizon providing a glimpse of San Diego’s incredible car culture and active clubs? Or to the right. Yes. You’ll likely find yourself drawn to the right, past the children’s area and straight on to the Jaguar F-Type R and BMW M Autocross areas, each buttressing a corner of the never ending rows and rows of RV’s, Trailers, and race-cars. If browsing the pit area of Laguna Seca during Rennsport Reunion (next weekend!) or Rolex Monterey Montersports Reunion (just passed, sorry) is the fuel in your automotive loving, carbureted heart, this is where you’ll be.
Consistent with what we’ve come to expect at Carlsbad Cars and Coffee and the exquisite Secret Car Club, every owner and mechanic we spoke too provided us with tomes and tomes of previously unknown facts and tidbits about their motors. Everything from how front engined F1 farm team cars had the engine and transmission so far back that the pivot point of the vehicle is the driver, to how quickly a Ferrari F40’s brakes will overheat on the track due to a rather unusual engineering decision to run the brake lines so close to the transmission. Did you know 100 year old cars basically needed a passenger to keep running due to hand operated pumps to pressurize the fuel canister? We sure didn’t! Or that the Marcos is the only really wooden chassis car competing in the races this weekend, the Morgans have wood bonded to a metal frame? Incredible stuff like that, stuff you’d never ever glean in hours of searching online, information bubbling over in ever conversation.
As the morning and races began to heat up we made our way to the track where everything from twelve cylinder open wheeled racecars longer than a pickup truck (Lagonda) to minuscule Mini’s and a Ginetta barreled down the makeshift track. The eastern side, where the VIP bleachers are set up, is an incredible place to take in the action. After squeezing through the chicane on the back straight every car vying for a better position ends up bunching up in three consecutive groups of turns, 6 and 7, 8 and 9, 10 and 11. Anywhere you find yourself on that side of the track will be an excellent vantage point to watch bodywork compress frighteningly close to the tarmac, swallowing tires big and small, as the competitors hurl themselves relentlessly to the front straight. Spectating from this vantage point you’ll also notice temperatures seem to be a good ten degrees cooler than the vendor row thanks to a wonderful cross breeze across the north tip of the base.
After spectating the warm up laps for most classes of racers we diverted over to the Jaguar F Type R AWD autocross event. Anyone over 21 was welcome to have a go at one of the sexiest sports coupes on the market. Of the color options available to drive we gravitated to the orange example, sun radiating off in a brilliant golden/orange sheen. Next to it the grey, black and British racing green didn’t stand a chance. After a brief 15 minute wait we found ourselves in three of the F Types, two Type R with the 550 horsepower V8 and one in a Type S with the supercharged V6. While the supercharge V6 was pretty nimble and sounded fantastic – it couldn’t match the shove or grunt of the V8. Steering was a little light for our tastes, and body roll a little too pronounced but the optional carbon brakes stopped like nobodies business and the throttle pedal is still one of the most direct we’ve ever experienced. The F Type R AWD also changed direction with surprising eagerness. If only the steering and body were as taught as the rest of the package.
With the sound of 100 year old race cars serenading our ears, including one with an aircraft engine, we crossed through the vendor section over to the the display area. The natural curvature of the tarmac at this specific spot is just enough to make it seem as though the cars stretch to the horizon, shimmering reflective like a mirror in the 90+ degree heat. Honestly, we can’t recall the last time we saw about a dozen panteras and almost two dozen Shelby Cobra replicars in one spot. Moving westward we passed several quirky cars from a hyabusa powered Honda Beat, to Zelectric’s gorgeous electric VW Bus. The Porsche corral seemed to be the most expansive of any of the clubs, everything from 914’s and 956’s to a Carrera GT, GT4 and GT3. Porsche San Diego brought their Octoberfest themed Lava Orange Targa 991 down to bring some punch to the myriad of hues. Other local favorites like the Studebaker coupe on an S10 chassis, race ready Triumph GT6 (for sale) and Nick Cage’s old Enzo also punctuated various club areas. Bill was kind enough to warm the Enzo up and play that beastly 12 cylinder concert for those passing by.
In the end the heat will most likely force you to succumb to an air-conditioned ride off base, over the bridge and back to a world of responsibility and expenses. Yet for a one wonderful isolated weekend out of the year, San Diego’s incredible wealth of car culture, and VARA’s incredible race, collide on base to provide hours and hours and hours of excitement and automotive nerdgasims. Whether your passion is domestic or imports, ancient or cutting edge, minuscule displacement or aircraft engines, Speed Fest SD deserves to be on your calendar alongside Big-Euro as a car event you simply block out the weekend for, drive to SD from hours a away, and enjoy – there are precious few better opportunities to sample San Diego’s car culture! Every year continues to surprise and impress us, we can’t wait for next year!
Without further delay, are a few of our favorite motors from this year. Photos provided by Erik Ruggels and Bruce Dinh, check out their instagrams at @zamafir and @bdinhphotography for more incredible automotive shots.