Doane Yawger: A love affair with race cars

Race cars comprise a very minor percentage of the overall automobile “population,” but they’re loud and get lots of attention.

In the overall scheme of things, race cars aren’t very practical. They aren’t street-legal and wouldn’t fit in on the evening commute along G Street. Gas mileage is terrible and most people don’t have the skills to successfully race them.

Nevertheless, I love them. Ryan Larimer just finished a brand-new IMCA sport modified race car a few weeks ago. It’s gorgeous, ripple-free and destined for great things once the initial mechanical gremlins are resolved.

Larimer and his grandfather, my longtime friend Johnnie Rocha, have worked on several race cars over the last eight years or so. In its first two outings at Merced and Hanford speedways, the car suffered some hiccups, including overheating and having a spring fall off. These are minor setbacks, so the future still looks promising.

The IMCA modifieds have very angular, industrial-looking designs. Their body panels were fashioned out of aluminum, on a sheet metal brake at a friend’s shop in Winton. They are easy to replace if they get wadded up in “traffic.”

As I said before, race cars live a rough life. Larimer’s race car is likely to get its side panels rumpled in close contact at the two dirt tracks. Larimer said he didn’t build the car to be a garage queen, so wear and tear are expected.

Unlike our daily drivers, race cars need lots of tender loving care. Larimer and his father and grandfather estimate the sport mod will take about 15 hours of effort each week to maintain – maybe more if suspension or body parts are damaged.

When I first saw it, Larimer’s modified looked its Sunday best with a polished silver-aluminum color and bright orange numbers and graphics. The frame and front suspension clip “borrowed” from a 1964 Chevelle also are painted the bright orange color that’s hard to ignore.

Larimer started racing in 2006, first with a Hobby Stock Camaro and then a modified. He started working on the current race car in March and finished it up last month.

The 355-cubic-inch V-8 “crate” motor has a 750 CFM carburetor. The motor is factory-sealed and its internals are not to be messed with. Mechanics can adjust the timing and a few other things, but that’s about it. An engine should last an entire season, maybe more, unless unforeseen obstacles creep up. Nothing’s guaranteed in racing.

Like a big cat at the zoo, Larimer’s sport mod snarled and growled at me when he fired it up. But that’s fine; noise is one of the fringe benefits of watching race cars.

In its infancy, I wish the sport mod good luck as it matures. But the chances of an event-free life are much slimmer than the average sedan, even on G Street. Maybe that’s what makes them interesting and unique.