Kershaw is a bona fide one-horse town. On the east side of Main Street, a tiny brick building decomposes by the curb, its function painted above the simple, aged wooden door - Kershaw Court. A side door scarcely reads 'Mayor' in chipped hand-painted black. The most work you see done on a weekday might be a lawn mowing, and social circles center around places like the Dollar General. After fumbling through Los Angeles International airport for the better part of two hours and hustling to barely jump on two connecting flights, arriving here is like stepping off a 100mph moving walkway.
And I like it. After you've been in good ol' Kershaw for a couple of days, the sense of urgency you've developed after years in the wild starts to diminish - hell, I think I can even feel my hairline coming back down. Sure, things happen slower out here and there's (a lot) less to do. But everyone knows each other by first name and what's the big dang rush anyway?
It's about a 45-minute ride to Kershaw from South Carolina's Columbia airport, and I can already see EvolutionM's Charles Juckett waiting for me outside in the Evo's arch nemesis, a brand spanking new Subaru WRX STI. On the ride, Juckett explains the reason for his sacrilegious move - EvolutionM has given birth to a sister Subaru forum, subietech.com, and the white STI I'm riding in is apparently the project car. Upon arriving at the booming megalopolis of Kershaw, I'm ushered into the hotel for a good night's sleep before 48 hours of Evo, Evo and more Evo. Before hitting the sack, I take a peek out the window into a sea of hood vents and fender flares reflecting moonlight into the empty town.
The Evos have taken Kershaw.
Kershaw is situated about four miles south of Carolina Motorsports Park (CMP), which will play host for the weekend. Built on an old WWII fighter training base in 1999, the track is specifically for sports cars and motorcycles (though it meets AMA and SCCA national use and safety standards). It has a wide variety of curves - mostly late apexes - but not much elevation change. The overall speed is fast and the runoff area plentiful, making it nearly impossible to hit an obstacle after unintentionally leaving the track. It's just the kind of confidence-inspiring place that some of the nation's top Evo tuners need, so they can push their cars beyond 10/10ths to figure out who rules the roost.
They're chasing two trophies: one offered by EvolutionM.net and one from Nitto tires. The field has been divided into two classes: Unlimited and Street. The Unlimited class was designed for cars that aren't typically driven on the street (at least not comfortably or safely), with roll cages, gutted interiors and the stickiest DOT-approved rubber possible. By the time the race is run, only three entrants dare compete: GSC, Robi-Spec and AMS.
The Street class provides a much cheaper venue, which is likely why eight times as many people enter for this no-more-than 400wheel-hp class. Entries have popped in from all around the country, ranging from private-owned cars to shop-tuned specials.
In addition to Street and Unlimited, Nitto sponsors a Spec Tire class, in which all competing cars have to use the NT-01 R-compound tire. For many competitors, the gummy Nitto NT-01s are the tire of choice anyway, and the Spec Tire class proves to be a great ancillary benefit with its $1000 purse.
Saturday begins bright and early, with contestants starting to trickle in at 8am for the 9am event. The day consists of open track time for owners to string their cars out, and practice time for the competitors to get everything properly dialed in. In addition, a substantial NASA/HPDE (High Performance Driving Event) staff is on call to show Evo owners where CMP hides its apexes.
But Saturday seems to blow by - everyone in attendance is eager to see Sunday's shootout, and we make our way out to dinner after a mere ten hours of track time. Dinner options are Chili's or Chili's, so we find the Americana restaurant jam-packed with Evo owners and contenders alike.
I'm at the EvolutionM table, attempting to conduct an interview, when up shows a round of the most potent tequila I've ever had. The waitress points to the opposite corner of the restaurant, where the AMS guys are waiting for us to drink the poisonous gift, laughing hysterically. Not to be outdone, EvolutionM's big cheese, Ali Allage, soon retaliates, and a drink-buying war is born.
If Day One is mostly uneventful (barring the tequila), Day Two is as action-packed as a Die Hard movie. During practice, the meticulously carbon-fibered Auto Body Craftsmen entry keeps popping an intercooler pipe on corner exit under hard acceleration, the exhaust firing a spectacular six-foot flame just before the car goes sideways. Their Evo spins because the rear suspension suddenly finds itself unloaded after the intercooler pipe blows off, making the rear of the car light and pirouette-ready.
The back straightaway has a slight right turn, preceded by a not-so-convenient bump in the pavement (corner 10) known affectionately as The Kink. It's right in the middle of the high-speed section. The trick is to let off the gas just a hair before the tiny curve, to allow the car to drop some speed, take a set, then get your foot in through the corner to keep the car stable.