'...And 2511 Miles Later...'

My trip to the mountains and Deal's Gap

by Jason Grott -  jasongrott@yahoo.com

Well, I'm back in one piece. = )

Have I got a story to tell! Let me start off by saying that I am now truly convinced that Miata people are _the_ greatest people in the world. No if, ands, or buts about it.

Lessee... where to start.  I left South Florida on Sunday, at about 5 pm or so. I had planned to drive straight through to Georgia/NC, and spend a total of about 26 hours awake (not unusual for your averege eccentric 21 year old college kid) to properly reset my totally out of whack sleeping pattern. You know, get into the whole 'up at dawn, out at dusk' deal. The way 'normal people' function. = )

So after a rather uneventful 12 (or so) hours of driving, I make it to RT 11 in SC. The 'rungs of the ladder' roads that run betweem RT 11 and RT 28/US 64 in SC/NC are just amazing. Nothing in the world compares to carving up those mountain roads in a dropped-top roadster. The cool crisp air, the scenery, the exhaust note echoing against the sides of   the mountains... awesome.

Took the long way (big surprise) back to Georgia, and spent the night in Alpine Helen. Would've loved to spend a couple days just in this beautiful town, but time was in short supply. Six am the following day saw me back on the highway, off to check out what Brainstorm Products was all about.

After almost two hours(!) of sitting in a parking lot next to a '94 with a blown Aerocharger (one of several in such condition I would encounter, btw) at Brainstorm, I met with a great lady named Janet, who I believe is Andy's (BSP proprietor) wife.

Janet was very warm and welcoming, and seemed genuinely eager to hear the details of my trip. She gave me a great tour of the facility (top notch operation, btw) and brought me around back to see Andy's Italia. Simply put, pictures do not do the car justice. The Italia is a truly beautiful automobile. It does not look like a body kit... period.

I mentioned that I was considering taking the drive up to Deal's Gap, which prompted Janet to spend the better half of the next hour calling people (and surfing the net) to find decent directions. I was truly amazed at how eager everyone was to help me.

I soon met with Paul, BSP's resident tech guy. Needless to say (for Miata newsgroup regulars anyway) I was looking at the Europas (fixed headlights for the M1) less than five minutes after our initial encounter. He has 'em on his car, sans Lexan covers. They are decent looking, I must admit. I do think the covers will make them look much MUCH nicer though. And contrary to popular opinion, Paul assured me they will in fact go into regular production.

I ended up leaving BSP with a set of BSP (Addco) sway bars (sweeeeeet!), a BSP T-shirt, and a "My Miata is better than your Miata" license plate frame. Before doing so, however, I phoned Cass Fernandez at Miata World... just to brag a bit. He suggested I go visit Joe at R Speed. I had no idea they were so close!

Forty minutes later I am in R Speed's parking lot, greeted by Marlene Alfonso, Joe Alfonso's wife and business partner. She introduces me to Joe, who is also eager to hear the details of my adventure. He suggests we take a ride up to McDonalds to pick up a bite to eat, which (knowing I'd get a ride in his car) I wasn't about to pass up. = )

Two hours after meeting Joe, I felt like we'd known each other for years. He is an extremely down-to-earth guy... runs his business more like an enthusiast, not a businessman. Nice concept.

I had Hector Manduley (Miata engine/performance/everything wiz, R Speed's resident mechanic) install my sway bars. I would've done it myself when I got back home, but I wasn't about to do Deal's Gap without them. = ) Hector is just like Joe... can't say enough nice things. We got along great immediately, and I definitely plan to keep in contact. If you are ever in Smyrna, Hector is the man to go to for Miiata engine work. His nickname, 'The Doctor' is well deserved.

I left R Speed later that evening, ready to tackle the Gap with my new sway bars. Despite the numerous printouts from Janet, I managed to get _seriously_ lost. Nothing is worse than the 'deer in the headlights' look in people's eyes when you ask for directions to an obscure road in the middle of nowhere. Ugh.

Nine thirty pm and I find what I (incorrectly) believe to be Deal's Gap. I spend the next hour tearing up (DO NOT TRY THIS AT, er, IN YOUR MIATA!) the road in near pitch black darkness. Stupid, yes, but I felt like a kid at Christmas. I wouldn't have been able to sleep unless I did it.

Saw a couple of motorcyclists camped out alongside the road, who quickly returned the blasts of Phoenix's airhorns with a friendly wave. The gap is populated mostly by bikers, who seem to have absolutely no problem at all with the roadster population. Very cool.

A bit confused by the seemingly very short length of this "11 mile stretch", I go for a blast down the first straight road I've seen for miles. An awesome sight catches my attention, and I am awe for several seconds. Searching for the right words to describe my shock, the standard 'HOLY SH_T!" escapes my lips. You see, the average 21 year old Floridian has never seen a dam lit up at night. Took me a good fifteen seconds to realize just what the heck this massive (yet almost invisible) structure actually was. The Fontana Dam, biggest one in the TVA. Never realized how huge (and somehow beautiful) they can be.

Took the ride back down the gap to the small motel at the 'Crossroads of Time'. A motorcyclist tells me they close at 6pm, which leaves me in a lousy position. Sleep in the car, or shell out 75 smackeroos to stay at the very old lodge near the Fontana Dam for all of seven hours.

The hotel was old and funny smelling, and had way too much damn 'character' to draw 1 1/2 MSUs (Miata Spending Units) from my skinny wallet. Nonetheless, it was better than a cramped two seat sports car.

I woke early the next morning to get the jump on the gap. I chased a couple of sport bikes back to the little motel, and had a nice conversation with the owner of the place. Nice guy.

Bought a disposable camera, and went to go take a picture of Phoenix (my car) at the NC/TN state line, located a mile or so from what I believed was Deal's Gap. And then I see it: Adopt a Highway - Next 2 miles sponsored by R.A.G.S. Miata Car Club. My jaw drops: No.... friggin... way.


So I eye the road for a minute, turn back to Phoenix (my Miata), and glance back down the road. "You thinking what I'm thinking Phenee?"

A proper tire screeching, gravel throwing, sideways-onto-the-road launch sends me back on to the pavement, ready to tackle the 'real' Deal's Gap. At that point I was actually glad I spent all that time on US 28 instead of the gap. Call it practice. Gotta wade in the kiddie pool before you swim the English Channel.

Deal's Gap is everything it is cracked up to be... and more. Asphalt perfection. It seduces you with its curves and overall beauty, but can easily reduce you to scrap metal should you make a mistake. Take it from me... leave your ego at the border. Go in smooth (yet fast) and you are rewarded with a ride no roller coaster can match. I quickly found a point where I could _just_ hang the tail out around certain corners, and labeled it my limit.

Three hours of disturbing the peace and I'd had enough. Decided to take Tennessee back into Georgia, at which point I made a horrible discovery. My brakes were kaput. For those of you who have heard it, the sound of a brake pad (that has worn down to metal) grinding against a rotor is akin to a Hanson/Spice Girls duet. You cringe every time you hear it.

Tennessee is a nice state, but the Miata will never ever ever ever ever be the official State Car. That I can assure you. No auto repair shop or parts store I went to had the pads in stock, and none could have anything done before the following day.

So I nurse the car 200 miles back to Smyrna, using the hand brake (and lightly tapping the brake pedal to light the brake lights) to stop the car. After getting lost for a good hour or so in rush hour city traffic (with no brakes, mind you), I find R Speed again. It's 5:30 by now, and Hector takes the wheels off to expose the damage I've done. The right pad is gone.... totally. He manages to swap it out, and notices the rotor is scored quite nicely. I decide to leave it.... upgrade to slotted rotors when I get home. Or so I think.

He gets to the other side, and we soon find that the right caliper is frozen shut. Nothing can budge the sucker... not even the spray lubricants that are supposed to loosen anything. The caliper has to be replaced. Mazmart will get a call in the morning.

I realize I will need a hotel for the night, and Joe immediately suggests "Chateau de Joe". This did it for me; he hardly knew me, but was offering to allow me to spend the night at his (very nice) home. Says a lot about a person, imo, Apparently the fact that I was a friend of Cass and a 'Miata Guy' was enough for him.

Couple of fellow Miata nuts meet up at his place, and we stay up till 2 am playing Gran Turismo on his Sony Playstation. There it occured to me: Miata enthusiasts must actually all be 21 at heart. How else could someone my age get along so well with a 35 (or 55) year old! = )

After a good nights rest, I spend the day helping out (read: getting in the way = ) at the shop. The parts are taking their time getting here, but I don't mind, as I'm in good company. Joe and I are checking out Phoenix, and he notices the tread on my tires is in lousy shape, especially in the front. Apparently (and later confirmed) my alignment was never really off; one caliper was constantly applying force to the pad, albeit very lightly. It was enough to pull the wheel at speed, and more than enough to wear the tires at an accelerated rate.

Joe was not comfortable with me driving on those tires, and he offers me a set of (mint) alloys and tires off of a '93 for $450. I politely decline, as it would put the bank account in lousy shape. He tells me that if I want them, take them. Pay whenever I can.

I kid you not.

I end up with the Dunlop D60 A2 clad alloys for an (unpaid) $400, with Joe haggling down his own price. Amazing.

The whole brake job including rebuilt calipers, brand new Brembo rotors from NOPI, Mazda pads, flud change, and labor set me back less than $300. With her new shoes (brakes, wheels, and tires), Phoenix felt like a totally different car. Amazing.

I have never felt more confident in ANY business than I do in R-Speed. They not only run a great operation, they are good people. And although it is not reflected fully in their website, they carry a HUGE assortment of products. Definitely give them a call and see what they can do before going elsewhere. Here's their url and phone number: http://rspeed.vivid.net 1-888-551-0025

I left late that evening, with a promise to return by year's end. The long drive home gave me a lot of time to think, and I realized a couple things:

1. Miata people are indeed the coolest people in the world.
2. I will attend the national event, as well as Deal's Gap '99.

Anyway, that's my story. Hope you enjoyed reading about my adventure as much as I enjoyed creating it. Now what are you waiting for... take five days off and be 21 again!  


9 February, 2007