This article was supposed to be about my first track day. It was supposed to be about how for the first time, I was able to finally turn laps in my Subaru on a legit race track, instead of pretending to do so playing Forza on my Xbox. It was supposed to be about how I was excited and scared all at the same time, and yet despite the emotions, I survived to tell the tale and encourage everyone else to do it too. It was supposed to be about how I felt like a little kid racing around out there, overcoming the fears and the “what ifs” of racing your pride and joy, and how I’m so excited to be on track again sometime soon.
It was supposed to have a buildup of how my stock motor died two years ago after more than 140,000 miles of fun trips and hard pulls, and how I spent most of my summer last year putting in a brand new 2.1L stroker motor in it that I’ve had sitting around for years. It was supposed to show you pictures of me doing it myself (and with the help and supervision of knowledgeable friends) for the first time, and how proud I was to essentially tackle the most grueling and labor intensive automotive task on any gear head’s list. This motor was my crown jewel that was going to be the car’s headlining item on a list of other tasteful modifications, and I was so happy to finally have a running car after waiting 8 treacherous months for machining, assembly, and waiting for parts to arrive so that I can finally have what, in my mind, was the ultimate WRX. It was a good come-back story.
But that article will have to wait.
Instead what you’re about to read is a sob story, because I never was able to take my car to that track day. Less than 3 weeks before race day, I dropped the car off at a shop for some routine maintenance and to make sure that anything that needed attention was fixed. Oil leaks, brake fluid, and shifter bushings were all on my list of things that needed to be addressed before the car made its way onto the grid, because the last thing that I wanted was to cook my brakes and crash, or have a car fire while trying to set a good lap time. Death and destruction is usually not high on my priority list.
And that’s when it all went wrong.
After the car was serviced, I drove about 3 miles away from the shop before I heard a POP. The entire motor gasped for air and fuel for a few fleeting moments before coming to a complete stop. I tried hard to restart it on the side of the road to no avail. I couldn’t even get it to crank over. I had a million thoughts running through my mind as to what it could possibly be, but all along, I feared for the worst. As I played roadside doctor trying to resuscitate my car, nothing I was doing was making a difference. I felt hopeless, and without any tools, I was pretty much was. I had another guy in a Subaru pull up behind me and ask me for help while I was under the hood. I wish I remembered his name, but he was doing his best to troubleshoot with me. We were both left dumbfounded, but when I checked the cars vitals by pulling out the dipstick, I knew there was no point in trying to save it anymore. It was full of metal and various bits of glitter that could only mean one thing. The one thing that I feared the most.
I remember sitting in my car on the side of the road in complete disbelief while I was waiting for the tow truck. I didn’t even need to tear the motor apart to know that all of my hard work, patience and money were essentially now an abstract metal sculpture that you’d pay $20,000 for at an art museum (someone please buy it). I was more numb than I was mad or upset, and I kept telling myself “this wasn’t supposed to happen”. This motor hadn’t even seen 10,000 miles yet. I haven’t even had the opportunity to push it to its limits, or get it to what I truly envisioned performance wise. If this motor was to go, I wanted it to be my own doing, my own ignorance, my own mistake, and not some freak accident that caused it to seize entirely. But, I guess that’s life. Sometimes you wish for a unicorn, and instead, you get a goat.
It’s funny, because my ownership experience with my Subaru has found many parallels with my own personal life. When I look back at what I’ve been though and what my car has been through over the course of the last 7 years, it’s been a ride that we have literally both shared, for better or for worse. My car and I eerily share a lot of ups and downs in similar ways that it’s almost something out of Final Destination movie. For example, when I split with my longtime girlfriend about 2 years ago, about a month after, in almost a symbolic way, my stock motor died too. It took me a long time to dig myself out of that mentally, and it took a long time too before that car left my garage running again. While I didn’t have to walk past my ex every day, walking past my car every day that was just sitting and rotting in my garage was torture. A daily reminder of “Hey, we used to have fun, do you remember?”. Putting that motor back together was almost like me putting my life back together. Bolt-by-bolt, one quarter-turn at a time, my confidence and car went back together simultaneously. Humpty Dumpy would live on, and life would be good again. When that motor started and ran for the first time, I felt like I could do anything. I was past whatever bullshit life threw at me and I made it to the other side. Things were on the upswing.
Looking at it now, this stroker motor dying is also full of creepy symbolism too. 6 months ago, my 18 year old brother died unexpectedly. He was a smart kid, and all around a good person, and although we had a 9 year age difference, the old and the new got a long pretty well. Both, as the gasoline-fueled heart of an old car, and as two brothers growing up with each other. Someone so young and so full of promise that suddenly was gone just caught everyone off guard all the same. It was the whole “It wasn’t supposed to happen” thing all over again. But it did, and for whatever reason, I find myself back at square one again. I have to find a way to pull myself out of this mess while I look at an empty garage this time, and while I look at this empty hole in my heart that I don’t know how to fill. My Subaru was the car that I drove to the hospital to see him before he died, and between me and you, a Pegasus couldn’t have gotten me there any faster. It was there when I absolutely needed it, but not there when I wanted it to be.
While I’m waiting to find out exactly what caused this failure and contemplate my next steps, I’m just left with heartbreak in the interim. If I decide to put a new motor in this car again, it should at least be cheaper to rebuild it, and I also learned a lot from my first crack at it. There are already a few things that I would do differently, but then again, do I really even want to? I’m coming to the realization that maybe it might also be time to try something new. While I enjoy my Subaru, and it has been a permanent fixture in my life that’s led to amazing relationships and friendships with such a large amount of people, I can’t help but wonder what other great cars I’ve been missing out on (or if maybe this car is just cursed). While going through all the work and financials of getting my car running again the way that I had it before is daunting, it’s also part of the game we play with modified cars. I just wasn’t prepared for this sort of thing to happen again so soon, but now that it has, I’m really not sure if I should rebuild it at all. I feel almost cheated out of time and fun that could’ve been had with this new motor, and even this car. I’m here asking myself, is this normal? Is it even worth the hassle of having something like this happening a third time? I think the financial aspect of getting this car running again is what will ultimately be the deciding factor for everything. I just have to be honest with myself and what I want from a fun car these days. Maybe I give the Subaru one last shot to be what I wanted it to be before I decide one way or another that it’s still the right car for me. I’m truly conflicted, and right now at the crossroads, I wish I had a clear path.
One of my favorite comedians, George Carlin, has this bit where he talks about how life is a series of dogs. You’re constantly replacing your old dog with another one when it dies. Sometimes you wait a little bit in-between dogs, but each dog you have is different, and each dog you have is special and loved in their own way. While no other car can replace my Subaru, maybe it’s time to see what else I can fall in love with. If I can fall in love with one car, I can certainly find another that makes me feel a certain way when I start it up.
Instead of dogs, maybe life is just a series of cars. Maybe my Subaru has shown me everything that I needed to see from it, and maybe it failing now is the sign that it’s time to do something new in my life. A fresh start when I could really use one. Or maybe we still have a few more moments and memories still left to share, and this chapter in my car life isn’t quite over yet (to be fair though, it’s slowing becoming a Stephen King novel at this rate). Some things get better with age after all, but all I know is that right now, there’s an Impala parked in my garage where I wish there was something else, Subaru or otherwise. Only time will tell what happens next.