A new feature of our web site is being launched today. Each week, we will profile a member of Fahrenhart. Today, we start out with a profile of the group’s resident racing driver.
Name: Alexander Cabinian
Hometown: Cherry Hill, NJ
Current Location: Cherry Hill, NJ
Job: Senior QA Engineer, Comcast – Downingtown, PA
Interests other than cars: beer, computers, video games and technology
Thanks to a friend of mine who got me to come out to an autocross event in Atlantic City on July 31, 2011, I’ve been hooked on racing. Whether it be autox, track days, wheel-to-wheel road racing or drag racing, I’ve jumped into all of it. Being able to control a car at its limit while going fast is a never-ending pursuit and makes time spent at the track worth every second.
2009 Volkswagen Mk5 Golf GTI
Bought in August of 2009, this was formerly a dual purpose track/autox car and daily driver. Recently, though, it has recently been relegated to daily driving purposes. However, it still retains all of the equipment from its days as a race car: K04 turbo, Bilstein coilovers, APR sway bars, USRT chassis bracing and others.
1986 Volkswagen Scirocco 16V
Bought in December of 2012 to be the race/fun car, it has seen its fair share of motorsport and broken parts in 2.5 years. Relatively fewer modifications have been done – the car has an ST Coilover suspension, front sway bar, a rebuilt 020 transmission with a Peloquins LSD and an OMP fibreglass racing seat. Other than this, the motor, with its CIS-E fuel injection system, is stock.
Dubs on the Boards (DOTB), organized and run by SlickSpeed Productions, is a unique take on the typical Volkswagen and Audi car show. Held around the “unofficial” end of the Summer, the 2014 edition was the 7th time the show took place. Since 2008, the show has steadily grown in popularity amongst the VW/Audi enthusiast community, with greater and greater turnout each year. 2014 saw 200 Volkswagen and Audi owners meet up in Wildwood, NJ on September 6th.
I see multiple reasons for this, first of which is the location. Wildwood, NJ is one of the many popular shore towns in New Jersey. You could infer from the name where the actual show takes place – on the boardwalk. That’s right – cars are parked right in the middle of North Wildwood’s famous boardwalk. That, in itself, is a very unique aspect that sets it apart. Of the shows here in the NJ/PA/DE/MD area, I can’t think of any (off the top of my head) that do something similar. Parking cars on the boardwalk puts them right front-and-center for everyone to see.
The second reason is the relaxed atmosphere amongst the participants. Unlike most VW/Audi shows that I’ve been to where the greater majority of participants have newer cars (say post-1995), a good amount of “old-school” cars, and their owners, younger and older, come to DOTB. This includes everything from Beetles, Dune Buggies, Ghias to Buses and much more. Of course, there’s no denying that a majority of the field is still made up of “newer” cars that reflect today’s modification trends.
I came out to this year’s show with my ’86 Scirocco 16V, thankfully repaired after destroying the front wheel bearings at an August track day. Along with the rest of the group, we had a clear mission in mind. In 2013, on top of the individual awards, we won an award for Best Club Participation, ahead of the Coolwater VW group. It was clear to us then, and prior to this year, that Coolwater wanted that award back. As I walked up and down the Boardwalk, it was evident that they had come out in force. Their cars were across multiple categories and in much greater numbers overall. It would come down to the very last participant in both groups to determine this winner.
Participants started showing up very early on show day. Because of local laws, there were hard time deadlines for when cars could be lined up and then brought onto the North Wildwood boardwalk. I’ll tell you this straight out – driving your car onto a boardwalk is something you have to do to appreciate – I can’t adequately describe it with just words. A majority of visitors were intrigued by the sight and had mostly positive comments (from what I could overhear). The heat and humidity, however, became very stifling as the day progressed. It felt like a sauna, prompting more than a few folks to find air conditioning and fluids, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
Voting took place with paper and pen, and, unlike other shows, both participants and spectators could pick what they felt was the best car in each class. One could argue that this isn’t a fair way to pick a winner, but I could easily say the same thing for a “traditionally” judged car show. Again, this is another unique aspect of the show that isn’t used very often elsewhere. In between the consumption of liquids and food, myself, the group and everyone else picked their favorite cars.
Tension built up as the awards ceremony approached. After being cooked in the sun all day, I was looking forward to a nice shower and a cold drink, hopefully celebrating in the process. Marc went through all the classes and announced the winners, with some surprises and unexpected results. However, to be frank, the only trophy that mattered to the group was what we were all interested in getting to.
By ONE person/car, we had won the Best Club Participation trophy for the second year in a row. Instant happiness.
It’s amazing that we were able to pull this off. It speaks to the enthusiasm that all of us share for our cars and the group as a whole. Overall, despite the heat and humidity, the accomplishments of the group and its members in winning multiple awards made the day and the weekend worth the time. It pains me to think that I’ll now have to wait another year for this show to come around again. This has rapidly become an event that I look forward to participating in, simply because it’s just so different than your typical car show.
Congratulations to the winners from Fahrenhart, listed below (including your author):
Place and Class
1st, Scirocco Modified
2nd, Mk4 Modified
1st, Passat Modified
1st, Mk5 Modified
2nd, Mk5 Modified
3rd, Mk5 Modified
3rd, Cabio/Cabriolet Modified
1st, Audi A4/S4 B6
1st, Club Unity! (most participants from a club in the show)
Once upon a time, motor racing was one of the most dangerous activities you could voluntarily participate in. If you were a racing driver between about 1950 and 1970, you stood a pretty good chance of dying in an accident. Case in point – out of the 43 drivers that participated in the 1969 Formula 1 World Championship, 10 (yes, 10!) would die in accidents before the end of the season.
In an accident, you would have likely been killed after suffering, say, blunt-force trauma, a skull fracture, broken neck or burns from fire. Racing cars during this era were designed to be as strong as possible. However, the safety of its driver was not highly considered in the design. The extreme forces that are imparted during a high-speed accident could not be absorbed by the car, meaning that the driver was subjected to them. And, with the lack of safety equipment in these cars, drivers were being severely injured or killed at alarming rates.
Today, racing cars are designed to intentionally disintegrate when involved in an accident. This disintegration allows energy from the accident to be dissipated. Meanwhile, the driver is protected by a survival cell, be it a full roll cage or carbon fibre “tub” that is prevalent in single-seaters. The driver also has much more advanced and effective safety equipment at his or her disposal. With this progress, a racing driver has a high probability of walking away from an accident that would have been fatal in previous decades.
One specific type of device that I outline here probably has made a bigger impact to racing safety than anything else before it, active or passive – devices which protect the head and neck from injury.
In a racing car, your upper body is strapped tightly to the seat with a 5 or 6-point harness. However, with few exceptions, most drivers in the 20th century did not adequately protect their head and neck. In accidents where the rate of deceleration is abrupt, the head whips forward. This force are magnified even more due to the driver’s helmet increasing the weight of the head. Meanwhile, the rest of the body is restrained by the safety harness. The neck muscles, even in the strongest athletes, aren’t designed to absorb the forces that sudden deceleration can impart in a high-speed accident. Cervical injuries, skull fractures or death were highly likely to occur as a result.
The basilar skull fracture would become well-known as a nearly 100% guaranteed cause of death in a racing accident in the 1990s and early 2000s. With the sudden forward motion of the unrestrained head and neck, blood supply to the brain would be cut along with fractures to the base of the skull occurring. With very, very few exceptions (Ernie Irvan in a Michigan NASCAR race in 1994 and Stan Smith in a NASCAR race in 1993), it was curtains you suffered this type of injury.
Here’s an example of a driver killed by a basilar skull fracture. This video was taken from the 1994 Formula 1 San Marino Grand Prix in Italy. This race is well known for the death of Ayrton Senna on May 1st, but the previous day, Roland Ratzenberger of Austria was killed during a practice session. His front wing became lodged under the front wheels of his car, sending him off track at almost 190mph, head-on into a concrete wall. It is very clear that he suffered severe injuries and was killed on impact with the wall (WARNING: POTENTIALLY GRAPHIC VIDEO).
Later, NASCAR drivers Kenny Irwin, Tony Roper, Adam Petty and Dale Earnhardt would be killed by the same injury. The death of Earnhardt, especially, started the movement for the use of head and neck restraints in racing cars.
Today’s head and neck restraint devices work in a simple manner. The device is attached to the helmet with tethers, then secured to the body of the driver, most likely with the shoulder straps of the car’s safety harnesses. When involved in an accident, instead of the head and neck whipping forward uncontrollably, the device limits this movement. More importantly, the head is kept in line with the neck, which reduces the chance of a skull fracture or neck injury, while not restricting its movement as the car decelerates. As a result, the majority of energy that would have been absorbed by the driver’s neck muscles is transferred to the device itself and the rest of the body.
The most well-known head and neck restraint among racing drivers, both professional and amateur, is the HANS device. Either made of molded polymers or carbon fibre, I’m fairly certain in stating that it has saved the lives of many a racing driver when put to use.
This first video illustrates a crash test dummy hitting a “wall” at only 42mph. If the movement of the dummy’s head and neck is that extreme at such a “slow” speed, it can only be worse at the triple-digit speeds racing accidents can occur at:
This next video illustrates the same crash test dummy hitting the “wall” also at 42mph, but now using a HANS. The lack of movement of the head and neck compared to above is eye-opening:
A third example of the effectiveness comes from a Rally event in Europe. The co-driver in this car is wearing a HANS, while the driver, inexplicably, isn’t. The forces even in this “low-speed” crash into a ditch are shocking.
Other head and neck restraints besides the HANS are available from from companies like Simpson Racing Products and NecksGen, and offer similar protection.
Like wearing a helmet, fire suit, gloves and shoes, I could never imagine myself getting into a racing car without using a neck restraint. While somewhat uncomfortable initially, it becomes second nature to use. For something relatively “simple” compared to other safety equipment for the driver and car, a neck restraint has the greatest potential benefit; put succinctly, it can save your life.
However, we must realize that racing, even with advances in car design and driver protection, will never be 100% safe. It’s, I guess, part of the reason why some folks, including myself, are drawn to it. Injuries can still occur even when a driver is protected by the best equipment available. Racing drivers, teams and tracks must continue to be vigilant on safety and make the necessary improvements wherever required to ensure the well-being of drivers when going for the win.
I remember when I first started meeting other VW owners in 2011. Honestly, being in my own little bubble at that time, I thought that the VW community that I know today didn’t, and couldn’t, exist. I had started racing that year and got involved with that group of people. But, to me, a local VW community just didn’t seem possible. However, the very first VW owner I met and got to know them changed that completely.
At the Cherry Hill Mall sometime in mid-2011, I met a guy named Patrich, who had a Mk6 GTI. It was the two of us in a parking lot. But, who knew that that particular moment, insignificant as I felt it was (I was pissed more people didn’t show up) would have such a tremendous impact on me, because of what it would start.
A group of people who share a common interest in something, whatever that is, eventually develop this “familiarity” and “trust.” The members of the group can come from any sort of background (racial, financial, educational, etc), have different upbringings and things each likes. But, that bond around a single common thing can transcend pretty much most of, if not all, these differences.
Some of the people that I met during some of the organized meets back then (in the same Mt. Laurel, NJ location) are still around today. This includes Patrich (a salute to you, sir, for serving our country – he is currently deployed right now), Johny (I never realised how young you were, and still are) and Dave Bonell (who re-joined us in 2013).
As mentioned, the meets organized by Patrich and myself were rag-tag efforts. We would occasionally get a decent turnout some Thursday nights, but for the most part, it didn’t really grow. But, when I returned in May of 2012, things had flipped 180 degrees. The meet had a whole new look and feel; an identity, if you will. What was missing from both of our initial attempts had been added.
I had quite severe apprehension about pretty much every new person that came out to the meet from that point on. I remember sticking with those I knew and being quite shy about meeting the others. It took quite a bit of courage and effort to do so, but, looking back on it, I openly think about why I felt that way. I think those still being in my life to this day, almost 2 years later only makes me laugh at how timid I was.
In those 2 years, I think pretty much everyone has seen my good, and for some, unfortunately, my bad side. While I’m a nice and pleasant person a majority of the time, I’ve always had anger management problems as far back as I can remember. Because I’ve always been a perfectionist with everything I do, I got easily frustrated and angry when things don’t go right. When that happened, instead of venting about it, I let it sit and smolder inside, which resulted in outbursts that I’m embarrassed about. I felt my main reason for not expressing those feelings was that I didn’t want to waste people’s time. I thought that people wouldn’t want to hear about my problems; and who would, really, when we all have our own issues to deal with on a daily basis?
I think I’ve gotten better at not holding feelings of anger and frustration in over the time I’ve been with this group, but I still struggle. I have moments where I question whether I really want to say what’s on my mind, because of past incidents where doing that got me into trouble. But, actually having true friends who are willing to listen when I need to vent is something that has comforted me. Frankly, I still can’t understand how everyone I’ve met the last two years still actually gives a shit about me.
I guess the word that I started this whole thing out with – camaraderie – really is present amoungst all of us, and it goes beyond just cars.
I can’t imagine myself meeting and getting to know a better group of people than the guys and gals of Fahrenhart. I’ve been accepted, flaws and all, somehow. Even doing something that 99% of the group doesn’t do – racing – didn’t affect how I was perceived. In fact, I think it probably gained me a few brownie points, really.
To the group – thank you.
To those of you who read this and wonder if you should join up with us, or even come to a meet – don’t question it, just do it. You will not regret it.
The proliferation of “crapcan” racing series like the Chump Car World Series and the 24 Hours of LeMons has opened up endurance road racing to a wider audience. Is it really true that you don’t need a multi-million dollar budget and the fanciest or fastest car available to go endurance racing? Sort of. Even though the door has been opened to a wider audience, at its core, this is still racing. And, as we know, going racing with any car, brand-spanking new or a shitbox, can get very expensive.
Two weekends ago, I joined up with Maximum Attack Motorsports to do the second 24 Hours of LeMons race of the 2014 season held at New Jersey Motorsports Park on August 9 and 10. The name of this event was “There Goes the Neighborhood.” We entered a familiar car, a Mk3 Volkswagen Golf 8V ABA. While slow on straights compared to the other cars in the field, it was still competitive enough that a decent finish was not out of the question.
The first LeMons race of the season, The Real Hoopties of New Jersey in May, was an interesting one. Our team ended up getting too many black flags for on-track penalties such as contact, going off track, etc. In LeMons racing, after a certain amount of black flags, your car is parked and not permitted to return to the track at all. This happened to us in May. And, worse, we got parked MINUTES from the final checkered flag. Needless to say, we were looking to avoid the same fate this time around.
The driving team was again composed of familiar faces – myself, Brandon, Ed and Dave. We would have had a 5th driver available, but that did not materalise. Because of this, the team asked me if I would start the racing on both days. Despite the series name, a large majority of LeMons races are two-day events (Saturday-Sunday) and up to 15 combined hours in length. Additionally, because only 4 drivers were available, each of us would have a longer stint on-track. Secretly, I was scared out of my mind. But, wanting to project confidence, I instantly agreed to be the starting driver.
This go-around, I felt more relaxed and comfortable in the car. I guess that comes with experience and seat time. On the Saturday of the event, getting suited up, belted in and performing final car and radio checks was almost routine. I knew what to expect and could focus on the task at hand. Then, I pulled out onto the track. Heart rate and breathing rose, but I still maintained a calm and cool head…
Until about 30 minutes into my stint. On the Thunderbolt course the race used, turn 1 is after a long straightaway and, in our car, can be taken at 60+ mph. Prior to reaching this turn, a Chevy Camaro was barreling up the front straightaway, catching me at a fast rate. Knowing that he was faster and not wanting to ruin both our races, I left him a lane on the inside of the turn to allow him to pass. He did not use that lane, and hit me twice, punting me into the runoff area. Thankfully, I got the car slowed down before I would have hit the tire wall. Almost instantly, I thought of two things:
The car was badly damaged.
What were the LeMons judges going to penalise us with because of the contact? (we did not get a penalty after all)
I limped the car back to the paddock for the team to try to repair the damage. It was agnoising to sit in the car and wait, completely unable to help my teammates. But, it was also fascinating to watch the team work quickly, methodically and in unison to affect repairs. It was also highly amusing to watch the tools chosen for the job put to use – a sledgehammer, breaker bar and tin snips. It turned out that the car was not affected from a drivability perspective, but only suffered minor body damage. After a 10 minute repair, I was back on track. Luckily, the accident was followed by a Red flag and race stoppage due to a BMW experiencing an oil fire and runaway engine; crapcan racing for sure.
So, we ended up not losing much track position.
By the end of the 1st day, we were classified in 25th place overall out of 126 cars. However, the car was battered and bruised by additional incidents of contact with other competitors. At least 3 additional colors were now on the car on top of the regular gray/black/red motif. Seeing the body damage afterward further reinforced what the car had been through.
On day 2, I jump back in the car to start. Being in 25th place, our goal was to not only reach the checkered flag, but improve our standing as much as possible. As my stint progressed, everything felt normal. We had a long green-flag period which let the field string out, allowing open track to drive at (or in my case, close to) 100%. Towards the end of the stint, I gained 6 spots to 19th. Then, I started hearing a scraping noise from the right-front wheel area. I thought it was a tire rubbing the already damaged fender, so I kept going. It got progressively worse and worse, however. Suddenly, my steering went awry – I had to turn the wheel almost 45 degrees left to keep the car going straight. Additionally, the scraping noise got louder and louder.
Diagnosis – cracked and split right-front lower control arm.
I was absolutely heartbroken. We did not have a spare available, either. What happened next was a miracle, of sorts. Using some bolts and a metal plate, my teammate Ed pulls the control arm off the car, finds another team in the paddock with a welder, and somehow welds the control arm back together. When it was re-installed on the car, the alignment was almost identical to before. Unbelievable. I then help Dave buckle in and he goes out after about an hour in the paddock.
He literally marvels at how amazing the car is handling. I’m in disbelief, thinking that this patched up control arm stood no chance of making it to the end. But, this being a car that somehow cannot be broken, it soldered on.
Mid-way through Dave’s stint, we got a radio call that 5th gear broke while going down the front straightaway. Crap. Even in a slow car like ours, we still got enough speed that 5th was regularly used. Now, not only did we have to run the engine basically at or above the redline for that fast part of the course, all of those metal fragments from 5th gear were floating around the transmission. If the fragments hit any of the other gears, it was basically curtains for it and our race.
We get to the final driver change, and the car is still running. It does not sound healthy, but we decide to go for it all. Ed jumps in for the final hour or so of the race. Nearing the finish, I finally start thinking “we’re actually going to finish!” Not so fast. We get a black flag with less than 5 minutes to go until the checkered flag. I believe it was for going off course and putting four wheels in the grass. Ed pulls the car into the penalty box, but we expect him to be back on track quickly. But, all that we hear is radio silence. The checkered flag falls, but I did not see our car on track. We had been parked.
Gutted. This was now the 2nd race in a row where we did not take the checkered flag because of a penalty. However, despite all that happened to us during the weekend, we still finished 38th overall out of 126. It was surprising and almost unbelievable that we finished that high up in the order.
Teamwork and cooperation play a major role in any sort of endurance racing, amateur or professional. Instead of one person handling the duties of driving the car, there are multiple. This changes your perspective when driving and how you drive, because when something happens, everyone on the team is affected by it. It alters driving strategies and responses to on-track incidents. It was a joy to go racing with Maximum Attack Motorsports, because of not only the encouragement and enthusiasm for racing, but for how well everyone worked together to achieve the common goals of keeping our car on track and finishing as high as possible. I’m already itching for next season’s races. Word from over the grapevine is that a new car is in the works…