I knew it was always just on the other side of the canal, but once I was on the Cape for vacation it was so hard to cross over the bridge until I was leaving for home. Then I realised that I was missing a real opportunity. So in the summer of 2004 I headed for Wareham and the Factory Five factory. I could have kicked myself for not having done it sooner.
I got there as one of the owners was wringing out the the Roush powered coupe for a video that would be on their marketing DVD. It turned out I knew the cameraman, Jim Coleman. Jim had done several marketing videos for the company I worked for and lived in Raleigh. He and I talked some and then he went back to work shooting more scenes of the coupe.
Then I went inside for a tour of the facilities. The showroom was full of the various roadsters that they offer. Some were in street trim and one was the Challenge Series racer. The weekend prior they had held an event at my home track of VIR (Virginia International Raceway). Mark Weber came over and introduced himself and offered to give me a tour.
Now usually when you get a tour of a company it includes some areas that are set aside for potential customers with maybe a side trip into some of the “safe” areas of the factory floor. Not when Mark gives you a tour. Mark shows you everything. I got to see the area where they were going over the cars that they had trailered back from the VIR event. I saw the complete manufacturing areas and even got to see the prototype of the GTM Supercar. All questions were answered and every part of the process was open to view. I kicked myself again for not having done this sooner.
It was a wonderful time and really got me to thinking. They provided me with a lot of informational material and let me know that if I had any questions they were ready to help.
That winter I decided to sign up for their build school.
About 40 miles from Flint and 60 miles from Detroit, Michigan is Howell, Michigan and Mott Community College. Here is where you go to a three day school where you learn to build a roadster replicar from scratch. Factory Five is the only kit car company I know of that offers such a thing.
In May of 2005 I drove from NC to there in one day and checked in at the Amerihost Inn. There would be fourteen other students attending the class and they started to arrive at the hotel. We introduced ourselves and took a ride out to the campus so that we wouldn’t get lost in the morning. After supper I went over all the materials I had which, courtesy of the class, included an assembly manual.
The next morning we met at the campus and went into the classroom which was a very well laid out garage and instructional area. The students were from all walks of life and from all over the globe. One was from as far as Australia. Some were retired and looking forward to spending their free time building their dream roadster. Others were young guys who’s father was giving them a project of a lifetime. Everyone had their own reason for wanting to learn and we were all at various stages of our life, but we all were going to have a good time together and learn a lot. One guy was a mechanic for the Rahal Letterman IRL team.
The course was excellent. We went from beggining to end without leaving out anything. The only thing we did not have to do was strip parts off a donor car. We also did not paint the body, but we did learn all we needed to know about that process.
On the second day a couple of local owners came by with their completed cars. By that time we had gone through enough of the build process that we had some good questions and really appreciated what these guys had done to make their dream cars.
The final day we completed the car so that it was fired up and driven outside for some tire smoking fun by one of the instructors.
I left the school excited and with a much clearer idea of what building a kit car would require in terms of planning and execution. I also left with many more friends.
From there I headed up to Minnesota to visit my parents for a few days and then started the two day drive back to North Carolina. Halfway I stopped in Indianapolis and since it was May went to the speedway. The sound of the cars practicing was incredible. I could hear it from my hotel room a couple of miles away, but at the track it was intense. I bought a medallion to get into the track and made my way to Gasoline Alley. There I met up with Albert Gray, the student from the Factory Five class, and he let me into the Rahal Letterman garage.
That was a real treat and I spent a hour watching the team of mechanics assemble and prepare a car for practice that day. When it was all put together and the fluids were added (they pre heat the oil and coolant), I watched the Honda guys show up with their laptops and prep the engine for startup. The noise of an IRL engine is one thing, but the methanol really makes your eyes water.
As I headed home from there I reviewed all the things I had experienced over the past few months and I also knew that a Factory Five car was in my future.