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David Soares on Setting the Scene in Monterey

This year’s Monterey Week coincided with my annual vacation and I wound up putting a good 500 miles on my semi-vintage air-sucker visiting friends and gawking at other people’s cars.  My week was all about driving the Central California roads that have been my stomping grounds for the past fifty-plus years.  Those fifty years have been pretty close to half of the history of the automobile that was on parade on the Peninsula.

I had a great week seeing people -- Driving my 14 year-old daughter up to see my old high school street-racing buddy in Berkeley and realizing that it was the first time in her life that she's been on the freeway with the windows down at 80 mph... Going to the Porsche/Ferrari “Concours on the Avenue” in Carmel and running across two deserving grown-ups giving the dating game a mid-innings rerun and acting like a couple of smitten teenagers... Driving a new pal from the old-school over to Salinas from Laguna and listening to him reminisce about his twin-plug 911 S/T getting hounded by the MP's on Fort Ord (and still feeling a little bit guilty thirty-five years later about them running their Plymouths off into the coyote brush trying to catch him)... Talking about the Mille Miglia and Mulhouse at the Historics welcome party with someone who knows both well... Checking out the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance and seeing Porsche 356-001 along with all those other old crocks on the road where they belong instead of parked on some golf course... Good Stuff.

As we enter the automobile’s second century more people around the world than ever before have the potential of boundless freedom and mobility it offers.  This moment of opportunity is also a closing of the frontier as more cars and their drivers compete for the same resources and space with which our planet has been endowed since before the Industrial Revolution.  This summer in California we had our first experience of premium gasoline at five dollars a U.S. gallon and we saw our first Smart Cars on the once wide-open expanses of our Interstate highways, looking (at least to me) as if their drivers had rolled shopping carts off the Whole Foods lot onto the freeway. The American Le Mans Series has re-branded itself as “Green Racing” and we will see multiple diesel prototypes at Petit Le Mans and Laguna this fall.

It was nice to park my high-tech 21st century ride for a week, but at the end of my torsion-bar and cooling-fan reverie the fuel bill wasn’t really any higher than running the more modern car.  There were some mighty imposing V-16 Cadillacs on the Pebble Beach Tour, but I’m not convinced that the Tour’s carbon footprint was any greater than that of the legions of housekeepers and nannies driving mini-vans from their more-affordable houses in Seaside and Salinas to dust knick-knacks for the denizens of the Del Monte Forest.  I had to chuckle watching the hawk-like vigilance of Klaus Bischoff as he shared intersections with Grand Caravans and Highlanders behind the wheel of the priceless Porsche Number One.  What a way for him to learn that we Californians long ago cut driver’s ed in the schools so that we could afford to send our brightest young men and women to direct traffic in Baghdad and Kabul.

The automobile in general and racing in particular are under scrutiny for their impact on the planet, but as I drove those familiar highways and byways I had to question how much the environment is being impacted by cars in and of themselves.  What I saw were sheer numbers everywhere I went.  The open road seemed to have vanished and traffic jams have appeared in places that I remember as being in the middle of nowhere not so long ago.  When I got home I fired-up my Interweb connection to take a look at some World Health Organization and U.S. Census population numbers.  Here’s what I found:

              1950      1960        1970        1980        1990        2000        2008

World    2.5B         2.9B        3.7B        4.4B         5.2B        6.0B        6.7B

Calif.      10.5M     15.7M     19.9M      23.6M      29.7M     33.8M      37M

This past winter some of the usual suspects (namely Dave Lister, Andrew Cotton, Tom Kjos, and the irrepressible John Brooks) were warming their frozen fingers over keyboards in a spirited discussion of oil and the environment as they relate to our favorite topic, sportscar endurance racing. Like most every other pundit on the planet the discussions focused on issues of supply.  But what about demand?  Al Gore showed us lots of helicopter- shots of melting glaciers and asked us to change our patterns of consumption, but I’m of the opinion that we could all be driving V-16 Cadillacs down the Grand Trunk Road if there weren’t so many of us.  It’s a wonder that traffic moves at all considering that the population of California has effectively quadrupled (we don’t count the “undocumented”) since dad first took me for a spin in his ’56 Mercury Monterey coupe.

I don’t advocate a return to the wars, pestilence, disease, and general mortality rates of the past which managed to keep the numbers in check but I’m not looking forward to living in a world where all the automotive beauty and vitality that were on display on the Monterey Peninsula last month are replaced by an idling cue of Tata Nanos and glorified shopping carts.  The choices we make as citizens of the planet aren’t just about gasoline or diesel; paper or plastic; Suburban or Smart Car.  Those choices will decide whether our grandchildren will be able to take a fast run down the freeway with the windows down and the wind in their hair.

David Soares, September 2008

sportscarpros Soares Says

David Soares