Best Roads of Texas Tour and Challenge
Story/Photos by James Salazar
Do I give up a trip to Minneapolis/St. Paul for a college re-union (not mine - my college told me not to come back after they showed me the door!) or do I join the Texas Hill Country Alfa Romeo Owners Club for the Best Roads of Texas Tour? I am sure that those of you that know me or anyone else who has been following my travels on our Web site ould have guessed I wasted no time in getting the Valentine and Nikons ready for Austin.
The Alfa folks call this the Best Roads of Texas Tour and Challenge. The challenge part of this title is not meant to challenge you to finish the tour first but to challenge you to find better Texas roads than those presented in this tour. If youre planning on taking this challenge, you are going to be hard pressed to find more scenic and challenging roads than what Alfa has to offer.
I arrived in Austin Friday night, checked into the Omni and dropped off my luggage. I had taken the day off from work to be able to get some things done around the house, pick up some new wheels from Glenn at Intercontinental BMW and some new Yokohamas AVS Intermediates from Vince (reminder: Vince is now at Discount Tire in Sugar Land, Highway 6, south of 59) for the 323. I had planned on leaving at mid-day and getting to Austin early enough to take a shower, relax and then to join Alfas social and pre-tour dinner. Oh well, I made it to the pre-tour dinner just before everyone sat down for dinner. The food was great and the company was even better. I got a chance to meet tour organizers Elliott (and his lovely wife) and Bernie and some of our own club members. This was also a chance to talk with tourists who had done the event in the past and to decide which group I would join: fastest group or the fast group! (I wont get into speeds - call and ask if you have to know.) But, that is not to say we spent all dinner talking about cars - if you plan on joining us for the tour next year, you really should join us for dinner.
We were supposed to start meeting Saturday morning at 8:15 for a 9AM departure. I arrived at 8AM (yeah, I know, it is hard to believe I actually arrived early) and found at least 15 cars parked and ready to go. By 8:45 the lot was full of Alfas, Ferraris, a great little Alpine and an Austin-Healy 100/6. Of course there were a few Porsches (not as many as I expected, though) and I was happy to see a large BMW turnout - everything from Bill Sextons 2002, many different kinds of Z3s (1.9, 2.8, M) to an M Coupe. We had a very large group in Austin and we were expecting another group to join us later from San Antonio and bringing some 60 cars together. With this many cars, we had to have a short meeting outlining all the rules to keep us out of trouble.
We had several stops that were meant to give us a break and to re-group or split the group into smaller groups. These included a stop in Dripping Springs, Sisterdale, Ingram and another across the street from a football game. This stop by the football field was the funniest. There was actually a game being played by small boys. As the cars arriving, a few of the boys that were not playing ran up to the fence and started laying claims to their favorite cars and just going nuts. The boys playing football were not controlling themselves much better either, and we heard a coach struggling to get his players to pay attention to the game.
The drive itself was great. I had brought along plenty of music but with the top down, the music of a Ferrari 8-cylinder sucking gas or an Austin-Healy going through its gears was much better than anything I had in my CD changer (the Ferrari and the Austin-Healy were two cars that I followed during a tour). It was also a good idea to listen to the car in front of you - if you heard him bottom out at a dip, you knew you had better prepare for it.
Our group was led by a white Alfa Romeo Duetto from Ingram to almost Utopia. As we went down fast straights and steep, twisty mountain roads, I was impressed by the little Alfa in front of me. At one point, he passed a car and I was unable to see him until we got closer to Utopia and I saw a white flash to my right. I had been caught up watching Tomme Eng and the cars in front of us that we were trying to pass and I failed to notice that the white flash was the little Duetto losing its timing chain*. We had lost our leader. As Tomme and Karen led us through Utopia and past it, I started wondering if they knew where we were supposed to turn. I had not seen the street sign and I was worried that we had somehow missed it. I signaled to them to pull over and as we pulled over, I looked in the rear view mirror and saw that a Ferrari, Jim Sewells 911 and many more BMWs were pulling in behind us. We were way past Utopia and we all had to make a 180. Sure enough, we had failed to see the street sign.
Once all the cars came in, I started checking to see who was missing. Right away, I noticed that the white Alfa that was leading our group was not there. Also missing, the Austin-Healy. This is when I found out that the Alfa had lost its chain. I talked to the Austin-Healy couple and found out that they had a tire go and had gotten a ride to Utopia with one the service vehicles (a couple of Alfa mechanics were on hand to offer assistance - a nice touch). I also learned that another Alfa suffered some problems. But we were among car folks and we tried to offer help in any way we could. The Duetto owner offered his tire to the Austin-Healy so that car would be running again.
As I made my drive back to Austin by a route offered by the organizers via some more great roads, I thought, I definitely will try to be back next year. And maybe next year I will run in the Veloce group!
Thanks to the Elliott, Bernie, the mechanics and everyone else who helped in putting on a great event!
Do you have pictures from this event that you would like to send? Send e-mail to email@example.com
*Update: I had originally been informed that the above mentioned Duetto had a broken timing chain. But, I just received this from Bernie: "FYI, it turned out the white Spider that broke down did not have a broken timing chain. The bracket for the battery had come lose and made contact with the fan blade, cracking a few. A lot better problem to have than a broken timing chain!!"
About the top picture: No, she is not driving and no, I did not put the picture in backwards. This is actually a right-hand drive Austin-Healy.
The Texas Hill Country Alfa Romeo Owners Club has been updated for this year. Click here to visit their Web site.
For an interesting story and photos on this year's Best Roads of Texas Tour and Challenge, read Colin P. Cobb's story, "BROT Touristas".
All photos copyright James Salazar or by their respective owners