Wallet awakens for 'hibernation'

By Jeffrey Fazio
Special Sections Writer

Winter in Pennsylvania means different things to different people. For me, it means three months without the car I love to drive and race. It means withdrawal. I have, after all, already admitted in a previous column that I am an automobile addict.

For my car, winter is a time to hibernate, rejuvenate and mutate. Its hibernation consists of not being driven at all. My insurance coverage is suspended from Dec. 15 to March 15, and the car is left with my mechanic, Jeff Herstine in Moore Township, Northampton County. Or, as I like to say, it has been left at the doctor's for its winter checkup.

During this season of cold, my ride sees a lot of maintenance to rejuvenate what has been used and abused all year. All of the parts that have been twisted, broken or bent from a solid season of racing get fixed or replaced by Herstine. It is also a time to make sure the engine is still healthy and that the brakes and suspension are still up to snuff. Basically, the whole car gets a physical.

Once "doctor" Herstine gives my ride a clean bill of health, it is time for the real fun -- the mutating. The goal of this transformation process is to make the car faster. Faster comes from not only squeezing more power out of my car's engine, but also improving its handling and braking.

This winter, my suspension will be upgraded with a set of lighter, stronger sway bars so it can hold onto the turns better. I will also be purchasing wider, stickier tires to improve my braking and handling. Hopefully that will net some faster times at this year's Duryea Hill Climb held on Mount Penn.

And if all goes according to plan, I will also be making an additional 100 rear-wheel horsepower pushing me well beyond 450 rwhp -- not too shabby for a 15-year-old 200,000-mile Toyota engine. As part of my engine upgrades, I am purchasing an engine management system. In simple terms, this is a computer that runs the engine and replaces the factory engine control unit.

These units are installed and tuned by people who apparently think they can run an engine better than Toyota does. No, I'm not one of those people, but I will be paying for the services of one of them, Bryan "NoShoes" Moore. Setting up and tuning an EMS to operate an engine better than the factory originally did is for people with serious brains. When it comes to tuning an engine, I have more money than brains and I don't have much money. Huh? Wait a minute. Nevermind.

At any rate, this wonderland of winter work is going to cost me some serious Benjamins. After a long season paying for racing events, membership fees, hotels, food, gas for travel, gas for racing and loads of other miscellaneous items, I was looking forward to a much less expensive few months over the winter. Ha ha.

The irony is that it appears that maintaining, modifying and fixing the car is going to be significantly more costly than racing all year. I am undecided as to which is worse: not having my car for three months or receiving its inevitable "doctor's bill."