My wife and I got up early to make the trip home. I wanted to get well down the road before the heat of the day beat down upon me again. There were many others preparing to hit the road at 5 AM. With the persistent heat of the past week, who could blame them? While I looked forward to getting home, I admit that I was a little misty-eyed knowing the fun was over for now.
Looking back over the week…
On Monday, we packed the cars and started out just after the morning rush hour. While my makeshift ice chest A/C working for a little while, I quickly found it was better for turning ice into water than for cooling down the car. I chose a route that was a little off the beaten path. I found an address to use as a way-point and plugged it into the Garmin along with the hotel’s address. This route had its advantages. There wasn’t much traffic, we got to see some nice vistas, and a lot of it was new to us. We took our time and stopped a few times. The Z purred the whole way there. For a car that is over 40 years old, it is fairly quiet with the windows up.
Eventually, I had no choice but to roll down the window. The dash was 148 degrees. The air coming through the vents was 105 with the window up and 100 with the window down. It dropped to a nice 96 degrees if there was a large cloud overhead. Still I didn’t mind. I was looking forward to what was in store. We got to the hotel, and there were already quite a few cars in the lot. We parked, checked in, and surveyed our room. There was a NISMO roadster in the hotel lobby, courtesy of Nissan. After verifying our room was in order, I moved my car to the Z parking, and we unloaded Wendy’s car. (You didn’t think she would tolerate an almost 8 hour drive in the heat, did you?) After washing off the road sweat, I took the opportunity to relax. The heat had drained me, and we didn’t feel like going out to eat. I scoped out the registration area in preparation for the next day. Once the sun had almost completely faded into the west, I realized it would be a great opportunity to play with the ambient light and take some Z car photos. While down in the parking lot, I struck up a conversation with Bob from Hamilton, Ontario, who drove down in his Z31.
Tuesday, we got up and went downstairs to the hotel restaurant. Okay, maybe that wasn’t the best start to the day. We drove around the area and did some shopping before registration opened. When we returned to the hotel, I prepared my video equipment and politely lobbied to take some video. Chris Karl agreed to let me in despite the frenetic pace of activity to be ready for the 1 PM deadline. The first few people queued up outside the door, and when the clock struck one, the doors came open. I went back to the room a few minutes later to deposit my video equipment and bring Wendy back down for registration. While there still was a line, it moved quickly. We got our badges and wrist bands for the activities. We paid for our tickets to Winning and moved over to the merchandise and raffles. While we were down there, we found out that Toshio Yamashita, aka Yama-San, would be giving his presentation of the design process he led for the Z32. Then Wendy and I returned upstairs to go through the program and plan our week, as well as look at all of the goodies that were in our bag.
Later, I wandered through the Z car parking lot and snapped photos of people washing their cars to remove the bug strikes from the trip in. When I was going back to my room, I crossed paths with Al and Robert from the Georgia Z Club, and we made tentative plans for the opening reception. Later, we gathered with the growing crowd outside the reception area. We made our way inside when the doors opened, and I secured the table for those of us from the Georgia Z Club and a guest. Soon I was mugged by my friend Philip, and we chatted for a moment. We dined on hors d’oeuvres and listened as Chris Karl and Mad Mike went through the opening ceremonies and followed it up with some nice Texas chili, provided by the Z Club of Texas. While chatting with Philip and Bryan (another online Z friend), we were joined by Yoshihiko Matsuo, the designer of the 240Z. We were talking about various options that were available in Japan, but not the US, and he was telling us how they used different spring rates between the right and left sides of the car to balance the weight of the driver and engine bay components. Of course, we talked about more than just cars. When Philip asked Matsuo-san about his favorite music, we learned he preferred classical music. I responded that my favorites were straight-sixes and V-8s. He enjoys those, too.
Wednesday morning saw us getting up early to go watch track day at Memphis International Raceway in Millington. We probably couldn’t have slept in anyway with the slightly muffled Zs driving down Ridge Lake Boulevard. Wendy would shoot over to the window to look out any time she heard the rumble. It gave me a nice feeling that coming to the convention wasn’t just for me. We grabbed a quick breakfast and headed off to the track: me in my 260Z for parade laps, and Wendy in her properly air conditioned car. When we arrived, we were greeted by my friend Dai, who drove his Z06 to Memphis for the event, and Mike the Powdercoater (though he’s semi-retired from powdercoating). I shot plenty of video and lots of photos, both in the paddock and of the cars on the track. The Memphis heat got to Wendy, so she headed back to the comfort of the hotel. I decided to relax by my car and wait for the parade laps. Now parked next to me was a trailer with a BRE tribute car. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the owner had recently moved to a town only about half an hour from me. Several of us chatted for a while, trying to take our minds off the soaring temperatures. Eventually we queued up for the parade laps. Soon I figured out the pattern. Someone well ahead of me would slow down to open up some room in various parts of the track, especially before the front straight. The cars would accordion in and out as we bunched up and floored it when we had the chance. I probably could have pushed it over 90 on the front straight, but I had my carburetors too lean for the heat and 10% ethanol gas. Also, I didn’t want to test the resiliency of the relatively low-cost brake pads on my car. After the parade laps, they lined us up four abreast on the front straight to take photos of the cars. The front straight is also part of the dragway. Those of us toward the back were in an area heavily coated with rubber from the drag racers. With the heat and lack of precipitation, the rubber on the track tried to hold firm to our shoes. Fortunately, I was able to keep breaking free from the track’s grip. As soon as we were done taking photos, I headed out to return to the hotel to shower and cool down.
Wendy and I met up with Robert, David and Nancy to go enjoy Corky’s BBQ. We managed to beat the dinner rush and make it back in time for Yama-san’s presentation on the design of the Z32. He didn’t think his English was very good, but in a room full of Z enthusiasts, he had no problem communicating. It was an amazing opportunity to hear the process of developing an iconic car.
Originally I was planning to go out to MIR for the autocross and drag racing on Thursday, but Wednesday’s heat changed my mind. I received a message from Chris about getting copies of the photos I had been taking so far in the week. I took the hard drive with the files down to the registration room. While Chris was copying the files, Mauricio from the Toronto club was talking about seeing a bunch of photos on Flickr. I got to tell him they were mine. I directed Mauricio to my photo blog to show him some of my other photo collections. While we were looking at them, Matsuo-san came into the room. I navigated the computer over to YouTube and showed Matsuo-san a video of my car driving on a mountain road in Georgia. I was telling him about how hot the inside of the 260Z was while driving out to Memphis, and he told me that in Japan, some people have used Kei car A/C compressors in S30s. I heard he was returning at 10 to sign autographs, and I rushed back up to the room. Wendy and I hatched a plan to make a quick trip over to Target and buy some Sharpies. I got the poster I wanted autographed and headed back to the registration room. Matsuo-san arrived shortly after that, and I showed him the poster of the two men working on a clay model of a 240Z. He told me those were his assistants for the design process. He autographed the poster and posed for a couple of photos for me.
After having lunch with a friend from my Air Force days, Wendy and I planned on having a quiet afternoon before going to see Winning at the Predisio Theater. Then the skies let loose. It rained pretty good for a while. When I was convinced it finally stopped, I grabbed my camera to capture pictures of the cars before the owners could dry them off.
We went over to the Predisio that evening. Wendy picked out the seats she liked, and we sat down. We got to see Philip and his wife again, and we were joined by another online friend, Bruce. (Imagine my surprise that all of these “online friends” of mine were actually real people!) Adam Carolla knocked it out of the park with this documentary. The theater was completely packed with rabid Z car fans, and no one left disappointed. It may not win an Oscar, but it was a fantastic view of Paul Newman.
Friday morning came, and Wendy & I took Bruce out to a traditional Southern breakfast place. I only clogged one artery in the process. Then we went back to the hotel to pack up some drinks and head down to Beale Street for the judged car show. I got to spend time with Philip, Bruce, Charles, Jim & Jim. (Yes, more online friends.) Mad Mike called over to Bruce about filling out the NISMO survey. After that, Wendy was talking with Bruce about Mad Mike, unaware that he was approaching her from behind. I managed to avoid laughing until he had the chance to let her know he was right there. Wendy took it well and posed with Mad Mike. (What would a convention be like without him?) We walked up and down Beale Street enjoying the cars. Again it was broiling hot, so we got some lunch, chatted with the group from ClassicZCars for almost an hour and drifted in different directions. I think Cliff may have even popped in for a moment. Wendy and I headed back to the hotel to cool down and clean up. When we got back to the hotel, we ran into another contingent from the Georgia Z Club. Unfortunately, they got into town too late for Friday’s car show. For dinner, Bruce joined us again. He wanted to try a place suggested by locals he met at a microbrewery. Unfortunately, one place was too busy and another was too weird, so we just got burgers and called it a night. (Thanks for being a trooper about that, Bruce.)
Dang! It’s Saturday already! Where the hell did the week go? I packed a lot of water to go into the Z and prepared to go to Millington Regional Jetport for the People’s Choice show. I was stopped by Jim Daniels on the way to my car. He was asking for Philip’s number to help tune his carburetors. There was no need to bother Philip. I went and got my sync tool from Wendy’s car, as well as my tachometer/dwell meter, grabbed a set of gloves from my car, and went to help Jim. I balance his carburetors as best as I could and as quickly as I could, and I set off for the airport. Well, I tried to. When I searched for it on my Garmin, I came up empty. I used my phone to find an address and punched that into the nav unit. NOW, I was on my way. I navigated through the construction zone and went north to Millington. The Garmin directed me down some roads that made me question its ability, especially when I saw the entry control point for the Navy base. I drove around a little until it gave me another path. Eventually I found the hanger and was directed to park. I got out my video and camera equipment, and I raised my Datsun flag again. After I shot some quick videos, Matsuo-san happened to wander by and posed for a picture by my car. Bruce suggested I climb up an aircraft boarding ramp to shoot some photos, and then I wandered around a lot talking with people and taking plenty of pictures. During all of this time, I was passing out bottles of water to my friends. The heat was brutal, as usual. I got Philip to operate my camera for a few minutes to take some group photos of the Georgia Z Club members. I finished taking photos and relaxed a little while, talking with any friends or strangers who wandered by. The corporate types from Nissan were also there in force. I got a call from Jim Daniels, who had the same Garmin issue I had earlier. I gave him a good address and directions. Eventually Jim and Jim got to the show. However, he said he was still having a problem with his car. I asked for more details, something I should have done to begin with, and found out the car was hesitating. It was the 10% ethanol gas and the heat conspiring to rob Jim’s car of its performance. After a while, we looked at his plugs, and they indicated lean. He turned the nozzles on the carburetors a quarter turn richer. Soon after that, people were clearing out. I decided to do the same with Jim & Jim following me. When we got back to the hotel, Jim told me his car ran a whole lot better. I was relieved to hear that considering he would be driving home the next day. Both Jims wanted their glove box doors signed by Matsuo-san at the banquet, so I suggested they go over to Target to get sharpies. In the meantime, I was going to clean up and get ready for the closing banquet.
Then it was time to go downstairs for the banquet. Wendy looked great. We met up with friends down in the lobby. Jim and Jim were having all of the ClassicZCar friends sign their glove box doors in addition to their Matsuo-san autographs in order to remember the week. We filtered downstairs and mingled until the doors opened. Several of us grabbed a table and enjoyed our meals. Matsuo-san spoke about developing the 240Z. He may not speak perfect English, but he can communicate about cars very well. One of the guest speakers was Hiroshi Tamura. Tamura-san is a current designer for Nissan. He talked about how he doesn’t believe a GT-R type powertrain is appropriate for a Z car. He said he thinks the GT-R is like a monster, chewing up the road, while the Z is a dance partner that reacts gracefully. I like his way of thinking, and I hope the next Z can be a graceful dance partner like my 240Z & 260Z. Mad Mike held his usual roast of the convention goers and later spoke of Katayama-san’s passing. Mad Mike had a very close relationship with Mr. K, and you could feel his grief as he spoke about his loss. Then came the awards. I was shocked that I knew many of the winners from the car show. As a matter of fact, I was privileged to be at the table with the owner of the Best-in-Show car, Jim Arnett. He was so elated upon hearing the news. When I went to shake his hand, he almost crushed mine, he was so excited. They finished the show by showing the nice video the Toronto gang made for next year’s convention in the Great White North followed by the raffle prizes.
After a long day, it was going to be a short night. Wendy had already packed most everything before the banquet. I set the alarm for 4 AM, but I woke up half an hour early. We got up and got ready. We retrieved a luggage cart and loaded it up. Wendy brought the car around, and I put all of our things into it while she checked us out. We drove down to my car, and we got ready to drive home. A couple of Z cars passed by as I arranged everything to my liking in the 260Z. One driver flashed his lights and honked as I waved to him. Then it was our turn to hit the road. While I was looking forward to going home, I felt a little sad since it’s not often I have this much fun in a week. I got out of the regular grind for a few days and got to spend some time with a lot of nice Z enthusiasts. To some extent, I believe one will get out of a ZCON what one tries to get out of it, but the people who organized this one gave me a lot of opportunities to find things to enjoy.
Now I had another almost 400 mile drive in front of me. As the sun rose, there was a little bit of fog along the highway. I couldn’t resist trying to snap a quick photo of it.
After a couple of hundred miles of four-lane highway, it was back to the two-lane roads. It was nice to get off the main roads for a while. We took our time again, and made it home safely.
Today, I decided to wash the 260Z, just as I did before I left. It ran over 800 miles flawlessly. I was never worried about whether or not it would make the trip. It was now covered with over 800 miles worth of bugs. It deserved to be cleaned.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. If you’ve never been to a ZCON, I hope it gave you some idea of what it’s like. This was only my perspective, but considering there were about 500 people who attended at least one day, I would dare say that a lot of people enjoy the experience. Now that I’m refreshed, maybe I can look at creating some more technical articles.