In every gearhead's mechanical life, there are certain "aha" milestones. A few of mine: The revelation that a numerically higher set of gears will accelerate the car faster without any engine work. Then there was the discovery of throttle oversteer when I gassed it hard while making a right-hand turn in a busy intersection. Or how about the first time I put a blower on a V-8, then christened it on the street with a felony burnout? Some of my "aha" moments are fond memories, others are embarrassments, and still others are downright dangerous.

There are three particular "aha" moments in my hot rodding life that were both embarrassing and dangerous at the same time. All of them have to do with inadequate brakes. In all three instances, I could've gotten hurt or wrecked my car, but I was lucky enough to come out unscathed. (Actually, there were a lot more incidences, but these are the scariest.) See if any of these rings a bell.

Has This Happened To You?
The year was 1982, and the car was a four-door '72 Malibu-with manual drum brakes all around. I'd had the car for a few months, and found the brakes adequate, but not great. They worked OK, so I never gave them a second thought. Then driving to work one day in a gully washer downpour, I rolled through a deep puddle, then tried to stop for a red light. No freakin' brakes! It was like someone smeared axle grease on all the brake shoes. I ran the red light, and thank goodness no one was in the intersection. I burned one of my nine lives that day.

A few years later, I bought a brand-new '87 Mustang 5.0L LX. It was awesome fast for its day, and I had a weakness for being goaded into high-speed hooligans on the highway. When a Nova pulled up beside me on the last light out of town, we hit it. I got out on the guy, but he was still dogging me. This went on for a few miles, and by the time my exit came into sight, the speedo was buried. I started braking, and by the time I got it down to 70, the brakes were spent. The car shuddered violently, the rotors were warped, the fluid was boiled, and I was along for the ride. Being a young idiot, I still tried to make the exit, and slid the car sideways across three lanes of traffic. I dodged a bullet again. Heart racing, I pulled to the side of the road, got out, and looked at the stupid 11-inch brakes. They were ticking, and glowing cherry red.

Fast-forward to 1999. I was running my '93 Firebird at Watkins Glen in a late-day session. My lap times were going down with every circuit, and the stroked 396 LT1 underhood was pulling uphill through the esses like a freight train. I was feeling like Neil Bonnett as I hit 140 at the top of the backstretch. Somewhere between the 400- and 300-foot brake markers, I stabbed the brake pedal, and it went straight to the floor. I plowed through the "bus stop" cones going about 120, and brought out the yellow flag to end my session.

It took these instances, and a few more "minor" ones to convince this hardheaded editor that good brakes aren't a luxury; they're a necessity. As my examples show, the power underhood clearly dictates what you need for brakes, and it doesn't even matter if you're road racing or autocrossing, because let's get real, you're going to "hit it" just like I did. More snot underhood is clearly a shout-out for better brakes. In the case of Project Laguna, we were clearly headed for a déjà vu experience: with a 560hp solid-roller small-block underhood, 4,000 pounds of curb weight to manage, and dinky 15-inch wheels, I had set myself up unwittingly to star in the next Jackass movie. I gave Baer Brakes a call.