Crossing off bucket list items is always fun.
We all have them, right? Aspirations of sky diving, bungee jumping, swimming with dolphins, or maybe even spending a week on a deserted island completely unplugged from the modern world.
Whatever extreme sport or unwinding vacation it may be, you should always try to find ways to accomplish those goals. And after what I just experienced a few weeks ago, I came to realize that I really need to make more of an effort bringing my bucket list items to life, too, rather than just letting them fade away on the back burner.
The Coastal Range Rally is just one of many pillars that make up the Driving While Awesome organization. Its founders are the same guys that host the DWA! podcast, and will be collaborating with Speedhunters Live at the first ever Radwood Japan event on September 15 this year.
I’m sure most of you have seen some of their other Radwood events that we’ve covered in the past, but in hindsight, DWA is all about cars of the people, primarily the new classics of the ’80s and ’90s.
What started out with a group of friends who loved to bicker to and from LeMons racing events, has turned into a fully-fledged subculture within the realms of automotive enthusiasm. A near cult-like division which brings together people who find fascination in not only historically significant and iconic cars, but also cars that seemed to be odd and underappreciated.
Cars that never made your childhood poster wall, but suddenly seem interesting enough to own or drive.
With that said, it’s easy to understand why Driving While Awesome ventured into creating their own podcast, rally, and car show events. Because quite frankly, not everyone gets it, and I think you’ll all have a little more comprehension on that premise after finishing up this read.
Sense Of Occasion
DWA has been hosting their bi-annual Coastal Range Rally for a few years now, and it all began because the guys never had cars that would qualify to join other prestigious and established rallies in California, like the Fault Line 500 or California Mille. Instead of focusing on a certain brand or age of a car, qualification revolves around one basic principal: Sense of occasion.
Of course, this is a broad spectrum of cars that could see their way to being accepted into the 103 car cap that was placed this year, but that’s kind of the whole purpose of the rally. I could probably write an entire book just on the wide variety of cars that attended, but I’ll let the photos do that part for me.
For now, let’s dive straight into the event. Full disclosure: This is probably going to be a bit of a longer read, and it will be picture heavy.
Day 0: The Rally Before The Rally
Before anyone asks, as much as I wanted to take my R32 Skyline GT-R to this event, I had to hold back because it’s being prepped for other plans. More on that in the future…
Our fun started late in the afternoon on Thursday. I arrived at a local Chevron fuel station in my buddy G’s 1986 Porsche 911 Euro Carrera, which had just undergone its preparations for the four-day-long endeavor.
Waiting at the meeting point was Glenn Chiou in his Nismo R32 GT-R, Alvin from ZCarGarage in Mrs. Butters (a 240Z sleeper), and G in his E30 BMW M3 Sport Evo. This essentially became our wolf pack throughout the entirety of the event, as we all shared a similar taste in driving style, aiming to keep things spirited at all times.
We finished fueling up both the cars and ourselves and set forth on the 300-mile trek to Southern California, where the following morning would be the start point of the actual event. On the way down though, we decided it would be wisest to veer away from the highway and take a detour through the fun roads instead. It was the most logical way to get warmed up and have a proper feel for the cars before the rally.
Six or so hours later, we arrived at the hotel and took straight to the sheets for a good night’s rest.
Day 1: An Introduction To Epicness
The following morning started bright and early. My girlfriend and I packed our bags and headed to the nearest coffee shop and fuel station before meeting with everyone else for the drivers meeting.
To my surprise, the parking lot of the hotel we were staying at was covered with interesting cars, and that’s when my excitement butterflies really started to come alive. It was a mere glimpse of what was coming.
Shortly after, we finally arrived at the drivers meeting, where the first leg of the rally would start. This was one of the few times I actually got to see all 103 cars together at the same place, at the same time, so I figured it would be best to take a tour around the lot and see what we had to work with.
If I’m honest, this made for one of the best makeshift cars and coffee events I’ve ever attended. Take a moment to indulge in the vast variety of awesome cars present.
It’s quite the sight, right? With the drivers meeting wrapped up and eagerness filling the air, everyone got together with their small driving groups and set off on the first 100 or so miles of driving towards the coast.
G, Alvin, and myself ended up finishing what was supposed to be the first half of the day in about two or three hours. After filling up again, we figured since we were so far ahead on time, we would take a detour through Angeles Crest, and I’m quite glad we did. What was typically a road filled with tourists and cyclists on the weekend, ended up being a clear path up the mountain, until the block-off area halfway to the top.
This wasn’t my first time driving this stretch of road, but man is it one of my absolute favorites to hit. I try and frequent it every time I’m in Southern California. Sadly, though, it was blocked off before Newcomb’s Ranch, which is typically a must to visit. So we improvised and stopped by the ‘skid pad’ lookout for an impromptu photoshoot session with our cars. A taste of the ’70’s, ’80s, and ’90s.
After heading back to the rendezvous point and filling ourselves up with lunch, we continued through the second half of day one, where Mother Nature had plans of her own.
About 50 miles or so through the route, we stumbled across another group of cars parked on the side of the road, with a large crowd around our buddy Lloyd’s 240z. “Uh-Oh,” I sighed, as we pulled off to see if we could lend a hand. Lloyd’s Z was not in good shape.
Glenn was already there working alongside Lloyd, trying to figure out some sort of remedy to get the car to the end point of the rally, which turned out to work. But the unfortunate reality of the matter still ended up resulting in a total loss for the Z.
The verdict was that the windy conditions pushed sand from the sides of the roads on to the tarmac, which Lloyd just so happened to catch with his rear tires, resulting in a loss of control.
He tried to save the car, but sadly the cliff on the side of the road took the victory. Efforts proved successful though, as he managed to limp the car to the end point near the California coast, where he would tow the car home the next day.
After facing a heart-wrenching reality of what we were up against, we decided to take it down a notch for the rest of the day, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. We kept a good pace throughout the course of the mountains, and even made time to stop for a few photo opportunities, indulging in the epic scenery that California has to offer. I’ll touch more on its serenity in a bit.
As the sun began cresting down upon the coast, we finally saw ourselves to our hotel for the night. ‘What an absolutely epic first day,’ I thought. We went from the foothills of the Southern California mountain range, up to the absolute edge of the state in one day, with the most interesting and diverse group of cars to have ever been seen driving together.
It’s also safe to say, this was the raddest hotel parking, ever. We wrapped up the day with dinner and drinks at a local pub, following another night of sleep for yet another epic day to come forth.
Day 2: The Best Road Ever Built
Right, pre rally – complete. Day one – complete. So far, everything was panning out to be worthwhile. Not that I was expecting anything less, but no one prepped me for what day two consisted of, which was ultimately my favorite day of the rally.
911 keys swapped for the Sport Evo, we started out racing away from the coast, heading back inland with a bit of a larger group this time. Traffic was also quite heavy en-route to the foothills, but luckily cleared up by the time we got to the fun stretch. And this is where things really started to get interesting.
Honestly, I don’t even know what cities we passed through, or what roads we took as I was focused mostly on keeping pace with my buddy in his GT4. All I know is that it genuinely felt like we went through multiple different countries.
To put it into perspective, we started going up the mountain, which then turned into a plateau or valley of some sort, then proceeded back down and ended up in the middle of the desert. That includes passing through a couple of rivers that crossed paths with dirt-covered roads and going through a small town with cabin homes and even snow. I for one didn’t know these places even existed.
Needless to say, the halfway point ended up being in the middle of the desert, also known as home of the oil refineries. After lunch at a BBQ joint, we went through an endlessly long straight road parallel to the mountains for maybe 50 or so miles, and of course had to stop for a photoshoot with the three amigos.
After filling up at the only gas station within a 30-mile radius (ironic isn’t it?), we continued on to my favorite road of the entire rally. I’ve been asked to not disclose the names of said roads, but to fill you guys in, it was basically a freshly-paved, short mountain stretch that takes you directly through the California ‘Super Bloom.’
For those who are unaware of the phenomenon, California is currently in a state of Super Bloom due to the incredibly rare amount of rain we’ve been getting for the past couple of months. To understand this a bit better, California was in a drought for the past seven years.
Everything was drying out year over year, then suddenly, we were hit with rain for three months straight, ending the drought all together, and resulting in a mesmerizing wildflower blooming season all throughout the state. So much so, that it can actually be seen from space.
The scenery was hard to beat, but with a 240hp E30 M3 on Bridgestone Potenza RE-71Rs at my disposal, I found my serenity in the actual stretch of road. Honestly, it was everything you could ever ask out of a road: The pavement was literally brand new; no bumps, no abnormal counter banking, nothing to deter you from going in at 100%.
It started with a few long straight stretches at the foothills, leading into extremely technical and tight back-to-back hairpins all the way to the top. And of course in the midst of all this, the weather was about 70°F (21°C) without a cloud in sight, the surroundings were vibrant with yellow daisy wildflowers blooming on every apex, and traffic was at a bare minimum.
Seriously, it was dreamworthy. So much so, that some of us actually did this stretch twice…
As much as we wanted to drive this stretch over and over, we knew we couldn’t stay all day. Tourists were starting to rack up, along with their cameras, which cued us to take on the final stretch to the end point for day two. Save for a stop at dirt parking lot which lead to a hike up a small hill and panoramic views of more of Mother Nature’s breathtaking creation.
Day 2 saw its completion with a dinner party at a local restaurant, where an award ceremony and raffles took place with participants of the rally.
Day 3: The Final Stretch
After catching up on a well deserved night’s rest from hours upon hours of spirited driving, we left our vineyard Airbnb and met up with the group for a final drivers meeting.
We managed to rile up the small town we were stationed at by taking over their town square. The crisp spring air was overpowered with exhaust fumes, the smell of rubber, and a hint of cheap cologne.
Since it was the last drivers’ meeting, a few other raffles took place, which somehow ended up in a game of saishohagu – Japanese for rock, paper, scissors.
With the winner taking home a cluster rebuild voucher, the meeting was wrapped up, goodbyes were said with those parting ways early, and I set forth with a different group of drivers.
An hour of driving later, we ended up back to where the back roads for Northern California started from our day zero trek. Since the group I was driving with managed to get there pretty early on in the morning,
I decided to spend the rest of my morning taking action shots of attendees as they flew by. This was the last rendezvous point before everyone began heading home, and I couldn’t help but have a bittersweet taste on the tip of my tongue.
That’s A Wrap, Now Get Out & Drive
With what seemed like the blink of an eye, the Coastal Range Rally was over. Our cars were covered with tiny hitchhikers that probably didn’t live long enough to make it to their final destination. Our bodies ached from three days of non-stop spirited driving. And our hearts began to feel the underwhelming truth of having to go back to reality.
It’s always strange how time can typically drag on when you’re daydreaming of being out on the roads while sitting at your desk job, while on the contrary, going through the exact opposite of that feeling once you’re out there as time flies by. My buddy G described it best, as there is no other way to experience “true driving nirvana.”
I must say though, the best part of the entire rally was being able to spend that time with close friends, driving hard and enjoying a huge chunk of what California has to offer.
I discovered rural areas that I hadn’t even known existed, and roads that simply amazed me. And the views, man were they gorgeous.
It was honestly quite sad driving home after such a colossal weekend, but I deeply encourage those of you interested in scenery to make the efforts of getting out in the world. Take your time off, pack your bags, hop in your car, whether it’s fast or slow, unplug yourself from your phone, and really indulge in what the world has to offer. The experience you’ll encounter is unexplainable.
I don’t want to get all poetic or anything here, but seriously, get out there, get in the zone, and just take it all in. You’ll be surprised at what you may have been missing out on.
Before wrapping up, I want to thank the Driving While Awesome guys for the opportunity to join and document such an epic event. They will continue to host more rallies, and I’m hoping to have more chances at bringing the stories to you guys. And another thanks to Paul from Autokennel for the video.
Get out and drive!
Cutting Room Floor