May 21, 2012. It was on that rainy Monday that a tractor trailer ran a stop sign and changed my life, forever. “How?” You May ask. “Were you injured? Did you become disfigured and have to learn to walk again?” Well, no. In fact I drove Claudia, my 2001 Saturn SC1 away with a mere sprained wrist. But five days later I found myself about to have a brain aneurysm as the agent from the truckers insurance company uttered those five little devastating words... “we are totaling your car.” “Totaled!? No no no! I love this car! We have been through the fire and back since the odometer read 7 miles! How can you total my faithful plastic steed, you rotten graceless cow!?” I angrily slammed my slider phone shut and tossed it on to the worn passenger seat. Despite my rage, my Claudia’s fate was written in stone.
Tearfully, I trolled EBay looking for a newer nicer version of Claudia. That’s right people. I wanted ANOTHER Saturn. One with AC that actually worked and a nice stereo. After all, those ARE the two most important features a car can have, right? “ION 3 QUAD COUPE.” Boom. There it was. It was black, it was air conditioned, it had leather seats, tint and “DAH DAH DA DAAAAH!” a nice stereo! Win! It was also a manual transmission. But that was okay. After all, in 1996, my best friend DID give me a driving lesson in her manual Neon. That was good, right?
Enter: Rochelle. Rochelle came from an exotics wholesaler in Florida. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why a Saturn was being sold alongside those fancy cars, but whatever. It was cute and it was mine. It came off of a transporter at about 4pm on July 5th. It was beautiful! So clean and pretty! 30K miles and still smelled NEW! I took it to my Friend Ann’s house and we marveled at how shiny it was. I was not so good at driving it just yet (imagine that), and Ann's husband, Tom, who had some pity over me, agreed to some lessons when he got home. He pulled up in his Mustang and got out, making an immediate beeline to my car where he stopped at the trunk and bucked his head back in surprise, worrying me a bit. He circled the car twice and finally heads to the porch, and excitedly asks “is that your new car!?” To which I simply replied “duh, Tom.” “Well lets go!!” He demanded. He grabbed the keys and bolted to the car. He turns the key and the exhaust vigorously rumbled to life, he asked “have you figured out what it can really do, yet?” I scoffed. “Do? Yes. It shakes, stalls and makes me give horn beeping assholes the finger. That’s what it does.” Tom snorted a half laugh and without warning, floored it. The exhaust roared, I was immediately thrown back in to my seat, and the engine immediately shrieked this soul rattling high pitched squeal to which I immediately responded “oh! Great!! You broke it! Nice!! Thanks, butthole!”
He stared at me in a silent, heartbroken dismay. “You... really don’t... know... do you?” We drove back to the house in silence. I hadn’t learned a thing, I was confused, my car was broken, and Tom seemed sad. So much win in five minutes! We get inside the house and he takes my iPod touch, opens my Facebook and after a few taps, hands it back to me with a very strict instruction; “it’s a nice car but if you don’t learn it, you will kill it. If you don’t want to learn, sell it now. Just read. Don’t ask questions. Don’t say a word until you know that it’s correct. They’re going to eat you alive if you are uneducated. May god have mercy on your soul.” I looked at the screen. “Saturn Ion Red Line Forums, Facebook Style!” This seemed so extra. It was just a car. I joined Tom out front and explained that I learned some stuff on my poor dearly departed Claudia like how to change her oil, plugs, filters, a couple of sensors, and even how to rebuild and replace the valve body! This was the same, right?
Except when the hood opened and tom squealed with joy, I saw that there were two coolant tanks, the engine looks bigger, there is a pretty silver pipe, and what the hell is that big grey thing with the pulley on it. The starter? Damn, that's a big starter. Why do I have two radiators and why is one so small? And why is it hanging out of my bumper and IT'S SO FREAKING CLEAN! Where is the dirt and grease? That’s when Tom laid it on me. “This isn’t a quad coupe. It’s not basic. It’s a rare Ion Red Line and it’s faster than my Mustang. This car is supercharged. You accidentally bought a factory performance vehicle” he exclaimed, pointing to the GM Performance Division badge on the crash bar. That screaming sound was your supercharger. It’s like a turbo but works differently.” Turbo! I knew that word! But it didn’t mean all that much to me. I remembered seeing a brochure for the Redline at the dealership, once. It was so cute and I was excited that I had one! But this was all so far over my head. So I followed Tom’s advice. I read, looked, watched videos, and just learned. These guys were racing, modifying, cutting up and having the time of their lives with these cars! I NEEDED to be a part of this! I figured out that I was already ahead of the game as my car was modified quite well and the factory 205hp was up to a whopping 265hp! Look out Danica Patrick, here I come in my SATURN (insert snarky laughter, here)! I found out that there were about 2,500 of 5,000 Red Lines left and mine was one of one known in Maryland. I was also the only woman in the midst of this North American sausage fest. When I finally spoke in a thread, I was ridiculed, ripped apart, bullied and teased. I was a girl in a boys club and I wasn’t welcome. That was all that I needed to know, and I remember thinking “hold on to your floaties, boys because the tides are going to turn!” I didn’t know how but they were.
By the summer of 2013, I managed to make a couple of Redline friends in neighboring states. We decided to have a little meet for just a few of us. I was starting to feel like part of something and I was very much enjoying it. Why wouldn’t I? New car, new friends, learned to drive a stick, and now a fun little get together... well that “little” get together yielded 65 cars IN THE RAIN! They came from everywhere between New England to the Carolinas. The response was incredible. By the end of the night, people were thanking me for the good time. That’s right, a girl showed 64 guys a good time and didn’t even have to take off her top! More importantly, I had their respect. The rest of the summer, I threw meet after meet. Buffalo, Harrisburg, Roanoke... they came from As far away as Chicago, Arizona, Mexico and Canada Track days, Auto cross, cruises, photo shoots, Tail of the Dragon... there was never a dull moment at an EcotecNation event, and they just kept coming. Redlines, Cobalts, Sky’s, Solstices, Cruzes, Sonics, Opel, Vauxhall, Holdens plus an unexpected barrage of Ecotec swapped vehicles. if you had an Ecotec under your hood, my meets were the place to be.
In the mix of it all, a friend handed me their platform specific group page of 125 people which was renamed EcotecNation. Within a year we had 2,000 active members. They were helping each other constantly and trolling was a huge “no no.” They met up and cruised to neighboring states to help each other fix cars or just hang out. GM designers were joining us and using us for research while offering us solid advice. Tuners were there to help us and sponsors came from every direction offering members discounts, free stuff and looking for feedback. In the meantime, I just kept learning, throwing meets and growing this thriving community. I was loving this new aspect of my life. I was learning to love cars.
By 2015, EcotecNation had become the largest group of Ecotec owners that could be found in one place. Most importantly, they see each other as family. We established a charity fund. As a member falls on a hard time, the EcotecFamily fund helps them. Flood victims, daily drivers that are too expensive to repair, funeral expenses... we don’t turn our back on family. Today, 10,000 people with Ecotec engines in vehicles all over the world, rally to help each other at any given time and I’m pretty damn proud to say that I helped make that the cornerstone of our car culture.
The tides have indeed turned but instead of drowning, I am navigating them by captaining an incredibly successful ship. I organize and run some of the largest Ecotec specific AND GM Multi platform meets, in the country. I am a woman, I am fat and I drive a Saturn. There is nothing about me that says “for a good racecar time, inquire within.” I’ve become the exception and not the exclusion but most importantly, I have never stopped learning new things about cars. My accidental purchase of a “racecar” led to a cool hobby that has exploded in to a larger than life monster, altering how I look at, interact with, and will always love cars. I left my career in the children's photography industry and found myself trading in my camera for an impact gun, becoming a service manager for a national tire shop chain. There, I learned about other platforms, and their suspension, tires, wheels, brakes... and I loved every minute. But something was still missing. Those customers weren’t excited about repairs! Man, I was THRILLED when it was time for new tires for Rochelle. It was better than shopping for my own shoes! But In a tire shop, most customers don’t want to buy tires, they have to. They didn’t love cars. They had to take care of them and they did the bare minimum. It became quite clear that for some people, the car gets you from point A to Point B and for the rest of us, the car IS the point. These customers were not my people.
So I held my nose and took the plunge in to yet another icy unknown (to me). The muscle car world. Tony Fleming took a chance on a four cylinder driving Queen of the ricers, and here I am. Fleming’s Ultimate Garage. A place that I can go to and pick almost any employee, guest or customer, strike up a conversation about cars and we both will actually enjoy it. When the phone rings, there is always someone on the other end that’s excited to hear about cars. This is a place where the car is ALWAYS the point. I love it here. It's a whole new family and well, lets face it. The cars aren't half bad either.
Needless to say, If you ever see that truck driver, thank him for running that stop sign, for me, would ya?
Oh, by the way. Rochelle is a 500hp turbo build, now. But that’s a story for another time...