Fast Times at RADwood High
The awkward decades
As a celebration of the awkward automotive decades of the 80s and 90s, RADwood is an easy event to love. Particularly for me: these were the very impressionable and formative years of my life. Or put another way, the years when I bungled through my teens and twenties.
While we're really not that far removed from this era yet, in hindsight life was pretty primitive compared to the daily niceties we enjoy today. Mobile phones? All they could do was make phone calls and either had their own bags or were bolted into your center console. The internet screeched like you were connecting to a fax machine. And the actual visuals on the screen? In all the glorious resolution your EGA graphics card could muster.
But we knew how to entertain ourselves. When your only window to the larger world consisted of old-school media like newspapers, magazines, broadcast television and (cringe) cassette, VHS or Betamax tapes - you soaked up everything and filled in the gaps with a lot of imagination or ingenuity. When you were bored you rang your mates up, or simply turned up at their front door and off you all went to find your misadventures for the day.
And dating? Awkward. These were definitely the getting-to-know-you years of analog and digital. Digital and virtual things were finding ways to get into the analog lifestyle. You can't forget A-ha's seminal music video "Take On Me" because this was us: warping reluctantly back-and-forth between the real and conceptual, the now and the future. Same goes for our heroes: in one corner the pure white testosterone of the Ferrari Testarossa from Miami Vice; in another the sultry dark intelligence of Michael Knight's K.I.T.T. And hey, when things don't go as planned, we'd go back and double down on microwave popcorn accompanied by the mayhem of The A-Team (I pity the fool!) or sulk in whatever John Hughes film best fit the dour mood of the hour.
Heroes of my youth
Which brings me to RADwood. Yes, these were my heroes. I, of the Flachbau 930 and Lamborghini Countach posters above my bed. Staring down at me in their finned and body-kitted glory, they were then and still today remain utterly out of reach - just like Molly Ringwald in the films. They're never meant to be for most of us.
But this is the now and RADwood has managed to cut this mellow love of old sheet metal into a hard-hitting heavy metal anthem. It's a show that makes its way all over the US and has finally made its first outing to Austin, TX. Forget South by Southwest, let's keep Austin RAD!
Not your plain old high school parking lot
Keen observers will note the kerbs on the road. Yes, this is a race track but no, it isn't the Circuit of The Americas. To those in the know, this track hidden away in the east side of town is simply called The Driveway. More of an advanced road driving and racing school, its bread and butter is motorsport instruction, testing and even tactical driver training. It also plays host to a furious Thursday night cycle race series during the spring and summer months. In short, exciting stuff happens here!
As such the track is more than a boring flat loop. Purposely built to be challenging, its narrow twists and turns are about the closest thing in Texas to the Nürburgring and the Laguna Seca Corkscrew. RADwood chose wisely and it was the perfect venue for a petrolhead-grade car show. Show cars were let out on the track and allowed to park organically all along the circuit. And as the cars and crowds filtered in the atmosphere became more Mardi Gras festival, not a parking lot meet and greet.
So have you got yourself a vehicle from 1980-1999? This is your show and RADwood welcomes you with open arms. It doesn't matter if it is European, Japanese or American; or whether you bring a concours-quality restoration or daily driver sporting a few dodgy body panels. If it can play your dusty mix tapes you're in.
It's a field of tremendous variety and while your poster heroes may appear alongside the ordinary, happy to note all are appreciated and treated like visiting royalty. RADwood is also a great place to get an education in the oddities of automotive design in this era: a lot of forward-thinking poured into shells that are not quite divorced from the past (see: Porsche 959). Same with the interiors. Are we in the digital age with segmented LED displays, or do we still love our analog instruments? One universal observation: the onset of airbags ruined the elegance of the steering wheel forever.
Where the period correct cool kids hang out
Remember how the parking lot was always at the center of the school social scene? It was the promenade: a place to preen, see and be seen. The entrance fees are paid when you or your best mate acquire that drivers license and a car. No matter if it was a brand-new machine for your birthday or a hand-me-down. Freedom was freedom; the trunk a larger locker to stash more of your...things. So that's where you ran to after class for a heady mix of socializing, people-watching and hooliganism.
And so it is with RADwood: it not only embraces the cars, it embraces everything social and period correct from the time. You're welcome to deck yourself out in the clothes, the hair and all the accessories you can find from a thrift-shop bin (or, your parents' closet). It's a car show with a shot of Comic-Con cosplay, and the crowd is just as interesting.
And just like then, the popular kids were around the coolest cars. So the car spotting crowd has it easy: just go find the largest agglomeration of neon, fanny packs, preppy sweaters, and loafers. There you have it: the foreign exchange students with names like Ferrari, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW. Range Rovers with their stiff upper lip, et cetera.
Most likely to be remembered
Of course all good things come to an end and finally, it was time to get packing. It was nice to get re-acquainted with long-lost friends or even spotting an old flame. A lucky few have maintained that youthful shine and sparkle; most sport the inevitable marks of age. And it's probably very safe to say that who we are and what we do today are maybe not quite what we envisioned for ourselves that odd thirty to forty years ago.
Appropriately then, my favorite of the show is this 1984 Porsche Carrera built by Kelly Moss Road & Race. This certainly wasn't the way "Willy Safari" rolled off the dealer lot, much less the Porsche assembly line. But here it stands, with its builders taking the best of its foundations and adapting it to the adventures of today. Sure, most could sling a Tepui tent on a 4x4 and call it a day. But that would never equal the panache and style that it has. This is camping, Big Willy Style.
So thank you for a rollicking good time RADwood. This was just like stepping back, but minus the cringe-worthy moments of my youth. See you next year, and maybe - just maybe - I'll have one of my poster cars as a date.
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Shot with: Hasselblad 500CM | Zeiss Makro-Planar 120mm f/4 | FujiFilm Pro 400H
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