Goodguys has its Street Machine Autocross, Hot Rod magazine has Drag Week, and Holley has its LS-exclusive LS Fest, but only Popular Hot Rodding has the event that combines drag racing, braking, and autocrossing into one event that covers the entire spectrum of American muscle car machinery. We call it Muscle Car of the Year, and it's coming to National Trail Raceway on Monday, July 14.
We got the idea to do this three years ago when a sister magazine booked National Trail Raceway for a suspension shootout the day after the Columbus Goodguys show. When that didn't happen, we jumped on the open booking and designed an invitational event that would test all the most important performance aspects of Pro Touring muscle cars.
Having the Monday right after Columbus Goodguys—the biggest Pro Touring show of the season with the Street Machine of the Year (SMOTY) competition—turned out to be a huge gift, since virtually all of the year's top Pro Touring muscle cars were in town. (National Trail Raceway is only about 30 miles from the Ohio State Expo Center.) Any fun-loving gearhead entering into the Goodguys Columbus autocross might easily make the short trip to National Trails for a lot less trouble and a whole lot more laps.
The Goodguys team has done a great job over the years in promoting the Pro Touring build style, an aesthetic that blends traits of Trans-Am–inspired race machinery with real street equipment, all wrapped in stunning bodywork. The end product in many cases aspires to the level of supercar, and to prove the point, Goodguys requires all entrants into the SMOTY competition to run their “street” machines through their autocross. In theory, this should prove how versatile and capable these works of art really are, but sadly, that's not the case. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.
Here's the problem: If a guy goes to the trouble to build a powertrain with outrageous power, stuff it into a chassis that would run rings around a Trans-Am racer from 1969, put pizza-platter–sized brakes on it, endow it with every type of creature comfort, then wrap it in a classic body, why on earth doesn't he drive it hard? It turns out that in better than half these instances, guys are just struttin'. It may be to one-up the guy who lives next door. It could be the result of a pissing contest with someone else in the hobby who rubs them the wrong way. Or they might just be bored with their Bentley or Mercedes-AMG. The point being, many high-end Pro Touring machines exist solely for the ostentatious display of wealth, and as a car guy, that just seems wrong to me.
If you like these cars as much as me, it worries you that Pro Touring isn't taken as seriously as it should be—and by the very owners who paid to have them built, no less. Is there a way to separate the men from the boys? Goodguys got it partly right by requiring the autocross for SMOTY. (As if hauling ass in a bitchin car is a disdainful task you need to force on somebody.) And while I preach the message of tolerance and brotherhood in this hobby, I think the judges at Goodguys ought to be able to run up to a big bell in front of the crowd and ring it loudly whenever a deliberately slow lap is laid down—like the Gong Show. You lay down a lame lap—you're gonged out of the Top Five.
So after years of wanting to bang the BS gong at Street Machine of the Year, we finally got the chance to build our own "Gong Show," called Muscle Car of the Year. And while we always will admire the beautiful machinery on display at Goodguys Columbus, it is our very own Muscle Car of the Year that will truly and accurately measure the mettle of man and machine. (OK, Car Craft's Real Street Eliminator comes close.)
Here's how it goes down: We start the day by running the entire field of cars through the quarter-mile. With two hours open for this, everybody gets time for plenty of runs. We take the best three passes from each car to use in their final score. Then we reset the dragstrip for an eighth-mile braking test. Cars launch hard like a drag pass, but they have to stop just past the eighth-mile mark inside a 50-foot cone box. Like the quarter-mile drags, guys get a full two hours to refine their technique and sneak up on their best e.t. We take the best three runs from each car, and save those for the final scoring. After a break for a nice catered lunch on us, we resume with a high-speed autocross for the final two hours. Once again, we save the best three laps for each car to tally the final score. By 5 o'clock, we're knocking back beers, telling war stories.
So does it sound good to you, hanging out with a bunch of car guys for the day, beating the senseless tar out of your Pro Touring machine? If this is in your DNA, we'd like to invite you to our performance party on July 14. We have space for 15 cars, and there's no entry fee—we're paying for everything including track rental and lunch. Everybody we invite gets featured in the December 2014 Muscle Car of the Year issue, and one lucky guy walks away with the PHR Muscle Car of the Year winner jacket. (We also have trophies for winners of individual categories.)
If you want in, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line: MCOTY. Briefly tell us what you've got, and enclose a couple of pictures. Don't forget your phone number where you want us to contact you, and send us your email no later than June 1, 2014.