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Davis, California

Monday, April 15, 2024

Fast and studious: Autophiles find community in Davis parking lot

Davis Motorsports Club brings together all car owners, from Civic to Lamborghini

If you passed by the South Davis Safeway this past Thursday night you may have been perplexed to see a slew of students and adults chatting in an inconspicuous parking lot. What on earth could have brought this crowd here? 

Varying in age and background, they are united by one trait — a fervent passion for all things cars. Automobiles as diverse as their owners are packed throughout the lot — ranging from an oh-so-sultry sky blue Ferrari 458 Italia to a souped-up sleek black Toyota Supra.

Davis Motorsports Club, or DMC, the organizer of the meet, gathers motorsport enthusiasts from all over the Davis area to meet up, relax and, on occasion, head out to the track. 

For many of the members, high-octane fuel courses through their veins.

Michelle Ahn, DMC treasurer and a third-year biochemistry and molecular biology major, discussed how her affinity for automobiles is rooted in her family.

“I first got into cars when I would play Need for Speed Underground and GranTurismo with my older brother, my younger brother and my father,” Ahn said. “My father is also an exotics collector and kind of like a part-time dealer as well. He was also really into building model cars. Sunday afternoons, I would sit down and help him with those.”

Ian Phillips, DMC president and a fourth-year material sciences major, has also been ingrained in car culture for as long as he can remember. From an early age, he worked with his dad, fine-tuning and admiring the different cars that passed through the family garage. These included a highly coveted Mercedes that nearly made it to the distinguished Pebble Beach Concours.

“My dad was a car guy and he always had a big ol’ laundry list of cars that he had,” Phillips said. “His most important one was from the ’80s when he restored a Mercedes 190 SL.”

Off to the Races

DMC has been a part of the Davis community since the early 2000s. Russell Shigata, a DMC veteran who was involved during the club’s founding, discussed the organization’s racing roots.

“A long time ago, it was very different.” Shigata said. “We were much more motorsport-oriented and a lot of them focused on the auto crosses. Some people did the Lemons racing and there were typically a lot of track days. Afterward, we’d meet at a pizza place and talk cars.”

 In the early years, DMC was heavily influenced by the racing scene where they fine-tuned cars; pushing them to their limits. Shigata discussed the Davis area’s intimate connection with the 24 Hours of Lemons (not to be confused with the world-famous, prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans). The racing series attracts teams from all over the U.S. The event’s trademark stipulation is that cars raced cannot cost no more than $500 at purchase, hence the name “lemons.” Teams consisting of a driver and their pit crew modify the vehicles for the track, and go racing.

“The 24 Hours of Lemons is a big racing series,” Shigata said. “Probably, the fastest growing racing series. They’re all over the United States and they’ve got several races going on every month. I’d say per capita, Davis has more race cars there than anybody else. It was insane. When I was doing it there were at least half a dozen teams there who had some association with Davis.”

 Shigata reflected on his time at Lemons. His team raced a late 1970s BMW 21, but modeled the German car after a Russian one.

“[The car] was called Emmerich, which was kind of ironic because it was modeled after the Moskowitz race car, which is the only successful Russian Rally Team.”

DMC Today

Since its origin, the spirit of the club has fluctuated greatly.

“Now it’s more like a car show type of thing,” Shigata said. “You know, you hang outside with your car and take pictures of all the cars and everything else. But it’s funny because it seems like every couple of years, the focus shifts depending on who’s in the club.”

Recently, DMC has seen an influx of international students who bring high-end exotic cars to the lot. 

“We’re starting to see that now a lot of international students who are a little more affluent,” Shigata said. “They can bring some really expensive hardware out here.”

Despite coming from opposite sides of the world, members find a special appreciation for each other and their machines.

“Everyone has every range of car,” Phillips said. “From a $500 civic that’s from the 80s to a Lamborghini Aventador. These people talk, and the person with the Aventador is like, ‘Sh*t, I love your Civic.’ And the Civic person is like, ‘Wow, I love your Aventador.’ It’s crazy how much how often you see that. The people with these with beautiful expensive pristine cars also love the grassroots movement.”

Fighting Stereotypes

Compared to DMC’s relaxed meets, the broader Central Valley is also filled with more rowdy car events.

“We call them organized takeovers,” Phillips said. “A whole bunch of people come and say we’re going to disturb traffic. Thousands of people will show up at a parking lot and you get this giant car meet. Then some guy yells over a megaphone, and everyone leaves at the same time. So 1,000 straight pipe loud cars all leave and run every light together. It’s really a mess. It’s extremely illegal.”

Unfortunately, takeovers — or sideshows as they’re referred to in the East Bay Area — have stigmatized car tuning practices. Both Phillips and Ahn were quick to distance DMC from this side of car culture.

“It screws over responsible car owners,” Phillips said. “The club has no affiliation to any of that. [Takeovers] put a tint on [car culture]. If a non-car person hears loud modified cars they might think of [these events] because that might be their only exposure as far as modified cars go.”

DMC combats these stereotypes; keeping their activities and interactions focused on the cars and not the mayhem.

Across disciplines

Many members of DMC are associated with a wide array of car-related ventures outside of the club. In addition to attending DMC events, Kenley Hendron, a third-year material sciences and engineering double major, is the composites lead on the UC Davis Formula-E racing team. Hendron discussed how being integrated into Davis car culture through DMC and beyond helps the team excel.

“Say I have to design some new component for the suspension of the race car next year, I come [to a DMC meet] and I’m talking to my friends and then I see that one of my friends has a different suspension setup. I’m like, ‘What suspension are you running? What makes it different?’ Then I’m like, ‘Oh wait, if this person did this on their car, maybe I could apply it to the mine,’” Hendron said. “It’s that interconnection — not necessarily just with DMC — that drives all of our innovation.”

Their collaborative free-wheeling spirit has served the team well in the past.

“We got fourth place overall out of 40 electric car teams I believe,” Hendron said. “That’s competing against schools like MIT, Caltech and Carnegie Mellon where we are basically the underdogs.”

For many autophiles, cars are not only an engaging hobby, but a unique way of life that shapes their perspective. Their problem solving mindset helps build critical thinking skills that apply to other pursuits.

“I’ve talked to CEOs and VPs of large Fortune 500 companies, and they say that they like hiring car people because they know their mindset,” Phillips said. “They know that they work well in teams, think through problems and troubleshoot.”

Despite the many benefits of working on cars offer, perhaps the foremost is a gateway into a flourishing community. 

“It doesn’t really matter who you are.” Hendron said. “Cars are something that brings everyone together.“ 

Written by: Andrew Williams — arts@theaggie.org


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