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Throwback Thursday: Solstice Club Drive

by DrivingEnthusiast

Today’s ‘Throwback Thursday” takes us back only a couple of years to 2006.

Here are the words from one of our editors in 2006:

Driving is what it’s all about…

…and driving on back-country roads in Central Texas is legendary – there isn’t anything like these roads in the rest of the state. Serious car enthusiasts (drivers, versus people who just look at their cars) take full advantage of these great roads. The scenery of Central Texas lends itself to fabulous drives: there are a wide variety of roads and conditions (paved, dirt, farm-to-market roads, and winding highways), there are both dry and wet conditions (several water crossings have an infamous history), there are several great places to stop to break up the day (Luckenbach, Fredericksburg, and state parks), and there are many places to get great food. We’ve been running drives here with the various enthusiast friends for about 10 years.

Here is the gallery of almost 200 pictures.

We were asked by the Southwest Solstice Club to design and design & lead the drive. We designed the “course” based on several drives we led int he past, as well as several new roads that we found in two weekends of exploration.  Since none of the three of us have a Solsti or Sky, we led the drive in an S2000 and a friend acted as “sweep car” to manage the tail with his Evo. The Solstice owners were glad to have us on board!

24 Solsti attended, representing all 7 colors, originating from all over Texas. It’s understood that this was the largest Solstice club drive that has been held to date anywhere in the country. And by that I mean a real DRIVE – not to a tourist destination, and not to lunch – but a real honest-to-goodness challenging drive. All at legal speeds, but across a multitude of roads. Challenging to the cars and especially to the owners! The purpose of a sports car is, after all, to drive it – safely and well.

We designed the course over the past two weeks and drove it several times to fine tune it. The course was 151.6 miles long and it took us 4.5 driving hours to complete (with three stops: 1 bio, 2 photo). As we built the course, we looked for certain factors:

  • Scenery: our “win theme” was to introduce the Solstice owners to some of the famous Central Texas “drivers” roads. Most of the drivers came from Dallas, Houston, and further points.
  • Challenge: we wanted to challenge the cars and especially their drivers. No simple highway miles here… the roads used were amongst the most challenging available. All back roads, probably well over a thousand turns and sweeps. Are the Solsti up to it? And more importantly are their drivers?
  • Road conditions: the Solstis are mostly new (as young as 2 days old!) and the owners wanted roads that wouldn’t cut up their cars. So while there were some crumbling conditions here and there, everything was paved and there weren’t any water crossings (at least not deep – it had rained heavily there would have been two or three mild streams no more than 2-3 inches deep).
  • Hazards: given the possibility of a major storm in the week before the drive, we wanted to ensure that we wouldn’t be held up by any deep water crossings. Despite the huge storm that came thru the prior weekend, everything was dry. The was one wet water crossing we wanted to use, but there wasn’t any way to include it in the timeframe that we were given.
  • Towns and transit sections: Central Texas is not so isolated that there aren’t towns we have to go thru. We want to minimize going thru these so that we wouldn’t get broken up… but I also wanted to show them the major crossroads (29/281 in Burnet; 360 and 620 in Austin, etc) so that they can build some reference points for a return visit. And there were a couple of “transit sections” of 5-8 miles we needed to go thru to get from one good set of roads to another… these offer a chance to wind down and relax for a few minutes.
  • Locals: the last thing you want to do is to get the locals irritated by bringing a long train of cars thru their back yards. Certain types of roads literally cross right thru properties. Best to avoid these.
  • Things to come back for: since the goal was to introduce Central Texas, I wanted to show the Solsti owners things to come back for (example: Inks Lake) and go by other things that they may want to see in the future (turnoff for Vanishing Texas River Cruise) and more…
  • Photo shoot: Solsti are still very rare; the owners are very enthusiastic about their cars. So besides the driving part we wanted to provide an opportunity for a photo shoot. We choose a good place with a scenic backdrop that worked out very well (look for the images with the canyon wall behind the cars). We also sent our sweep car ahead twice to snap shots of us from the front. You’ll note that since we ran ahead of schedule we took the time for two shoots.
  • Start of drive: given the start location, we wanted to get out of town quickly so as to not waste time. This dictated eliminating one of our favorite roads (with a major water crossing). We can’t loose time getting out of town, we wanted to get on with the good roads.
  • Learning to follow and keep up: when creating a drive for people who haven’t done this before, you have to “teach” them to follow and to keep up the pace – so they don’t get lost in the middle of nowhere and so that the entire group can make the schedule. Our course started with two long relatively straight sections without any major turns. People got the idea at different rates. This was followed by a complicated jog to the left where we lost two cars… they noticed their mistakes and caught back up with us quickly. Lesson learned.
  • Shortcuts: given the problems inherent in leading 24 cars and hoping that the cars to the rear would keep up, we put together several shortcuts to use in case we were off schedule. Fortunately, we held exactly to the schedule we had put in place (booked-ended by the start and finish locations) and we didn’t need them. If the drive has to be on a fixed schedule (and we prefer drives that are not), then we have to keep to it.

Over the course of several test and planning drives over the past two weeks we fine-tuned the roads, adding or eliminating sections as needed so that we could have a successful drive in the allotted timeframe. Three sections of roads were totally new to us and they all worked out great… especially an absolutely terrific road out in the middle of nowhere that shall remain unnamed. We “discovered” that particular road, it was one of the highlights of the day, and it was challenging to drive (including 6 low-water – but dry – crossings and a large number of cattle guards). It also provided the backdrop for the extended photo shoot.

The entire drive was mapped out in advance using Microsoft Streets & Trips mapping software, and then adhered to using GPS navigation. As the drive “navigator”, we ran the GPS from the passenger seat and kept us on course and on track time-wise. We’ve been using GPS for several years on drives, and it’s the only way to keep on any kind of schedule. Occasionally, on other drives, we purposely left the GPS and maps behind and just “headed west” to see what we could find. Eventually – perhaps hundreds of miles away – we’d come onto a major road we recognized. True driver’s cars are meant for one thing: driving.

We provided emergency instructions to each driver in advance… in sealed envelopes. I’m happy to say that nobody had to open their envelops. A rumor developed that the sealed instructions said nothing else other than “Loser” and “Good luck” :-) – in reality there was a single overview map showing the outer boundaries of the drive (not the actual roads, the map would have had to be too large to cover the several hundred square miles that were driving inside of) and the location of the final stop.

The drive started at the Country Line BBQ on 2222 after a very early and necessarily quick lunch. We ended at the Oasis just as the sun went down. Both are representative of the Austin area, and that was one of our goals.
In terms of timeframe, this was a fairly short drive. Several drives with enthusiast have literally taken the entire day – starting around 10 in the morning and arriving home 12 hours later after covering several hundred miles. But we also wanted to give the Solstice owners a chance to talk in person – this is the first time most of them have met each other outside of forums.

In terms of the attendees (drivers), this was a very mixed group in terms of driving experience. We kept the average speeds down below the posted speeds. Afterwards, some drivers told us it was too slow, but others said it was too fast. All in all, I was happy with the pace and most of the Solstice drivers kept up to it. When you plan a drive, you have to plan to the skill level of the drivers and I think we overall did well there.
A couple of us got back together Sunday morning and took a couple of glamor shots with the famous 360 bridge in the background. Those Soltice folks who couldn’t make it Sunday morning missed a great opportunity… including a drive (again on challenging roads!) over to the Hula Hut (I had the salmon and it was great).

We want to thank the Solstice club for the opportunity to lead the drive… it was fun, we met a lot of good people, and I was happy to find that this was a good bunch of folks. We didn’t have any issues with show-offs… which as our readers know a few years ago totally ruined one particular S2000 drive. Everybody drove well and responsibly… although maybe one or two were over-aggressive and under-skilled. We expect that several of these folks will be back for a longer and more serious drive in the future.. and in fact we’re discussing setting one up on in a few months. We have a course in mind already… and several incredible sections of roads planned.

Selected images below – full set in the gallery.

Start of the drive on 2222 in Austin, while we waited for everybody to show up.

A famous low water crossing well outside of town. We choose many parts of the road for scenery and almost none of the participants had seen any of it before.

Some of the folks following us stayed very very close… for those who fell well behind, Derek rounded them up.

Crossing into Kingsland from the north. Right after this, our “sweep car” almost became our “bait car”.

Stopping for gas on the other side of Kingsland. Turns out a bio break was very much needed.

Railroad bridge on the east side of Burnet. This was one of our last minute additions to the drive, we “discovered” this bridge only a week before the drive. It was too good to pass up on, although our efforts to ensure that we passed under it as the scenic train passed overhead didn’t work out.

Picture stop, off of route 1174. We stopped here to gather up everybody before we turned onto the next road for the best picture stop of the day.

Which was here. We lined up all the participants in a row, focusing on getting all the Solti possible into one shot.

It took a while to get everybody lined up, but the picture was well worth the effort.

And here is everybody:

Organizer of the drive, and “sweep car” driver.

Finally, after a very long day, dinner at the Oasis. We had lost a few people right at the end, but somehow they were found and everybody was able to relax and talk about the long day.

Sunday we took pics under the landmark 360 bridge in Austin.

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