By on December 24, 2010

In this third installment covering my long-sought West Virginia road trip (part one, part two) we meet some of the local talent.

After six hours on the road I cross the Ohio River into West Virginia. New Martinsville is large enough to be ugly. And full of cars. Leaving town on WV 7/20, I’m stuck behind a half-dozen of them. Hopefully most will continue on 7 instead of 20—a glance at the nav shows the split ahead. After a few miles a passing zone finally opens up, and I take it, giving the Infiniti G37 coupe’s 330-horsepower V6 free reign, grabbing third at the redline…only to see the right turn for WV 20 flash by mid-pass. D’oh! Hit the brakes, turn around, this time successfully turn onto 20, and pass some of the same cars for a second time. A fair amount of embarrassment notwithstanding, with so much power on tap passing is effortless fun—as long as there’s a zone to do it in.

As I head southeast the hills grow larger. The locals, familiar with them, often know how to drive. Even some pickup trucks take the frequent curves at a healthy clip. I pass them anyway. Then, what do you know, a red Chevy Cavalier passes me! He’s carving these corners far faster than any clapped-out J-Car on budget tires should be able to, and clearly knows the road quite well, so I tag along. Which encourages Mr. J to drive even faster. For reasons that initially escape me, he spends considerable time on the far side of the double yellow lines even when there’s no one in our lane, and quite illegal regardless. An interesting driving style, to say the least, that further implies traffic cops must be few and far between. We have to pass some cars, but after the initial clot leaving New Martinsville WV 20 is lightly traveled.

We reach Jacksonburg and get stuck behind a school bus making stops every 100 feet or so. Though Jacksonburg includes fewer than 700 people, this seems to drag on forever. It probably held up Mr. J and I for five minutes.

Outside of town, Mr. J isn’t moving quite as quickly as before, so I decide to take the lead. A passing zone opens up, and I nail the throttle, only to have him also move into the passing lane even though there’s no one ahead of us. Suddenly I realize why he was camping out on the wrong side of the double yellow earlier—to prevent me from passing, though I wasn’t then trying to. I lean on the horn, and he reluctantly returns to the right (in both senses of the word) side of the road. I say “reluctantly,” because as I rocket past he rolls down his window and waves a certain finger.

Afterwards I’m fascinated by how long Mr. J manages to hang with me despite making do with roughly one-third as much horsepower and two-thirds as much grip—and this is assuming that everything is still in good working order. Let’s just say it wouldn’t be prudent to provide numbers aside from the G37’s fuel economy, which sinks below 13 MPG. I’m still not pushing the Infiniti anywhere near its limits through the curves, much less along the straights, as a wreck or (more likely) a spell behind bars would put a severe crimp in my travel plans. But what about the limits of the Cavalier? Must be the rear spoiler—and people say one serves no functional purpose on such a car. Mr. J can’t hope to match the Infiniti’s tenacious grip in turns or joyous thrust out of them, but nevertheless almost catches back up a few times. Even after he drops out of my rearview for the last time, I keep expecting him to reappear. Scenes from the similarly unequal 928-vs-DeVille contest in Risky Business flash through my head. Though Mr. J’s hospitality might need work, I can’t help respecting his chutzpah and mad driving skillz.

Then again, it’s often more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow equally fast. So perhaps Mr. J enjoyed our time together even more than I did? Hard to imagine—the stylish, luxurious Infiniti proved quite fun even while holding a fair amount of grip in reserve.

I hadn’t bothered to program my destination into the nav earlier, and this can’t be done through the screen while the car is moving. Attempts to employ the voice activation all end in frustration. I guess the hotel’s location, and reach US 50 a few miles to the west, in Clarksburg, a little over seven hours after leaving the Detroit suburbs.

I exit the highway, program the nav, and call my father. He’s not far away. We rendezvous at the hotel, where the G37 will enjoy a well-earned rest for a few days. We take his Mazda RX-8 back into Clarksburg to get “the downtown experience” at 4th Street. The restaurant occupies the #1 spot at and the food is good, if unexpectedly expensive given the location. We then get to sleep. We’ll need an early start tomorrow to meet Trey and his father in a second RX-8 at the northern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway by 11 AM.

Follow Michael’s journey in part four of this piece here.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data

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23 Comments on “A Road Trip Five Years In The Making: Part Three: The Local Talent...”

  • avatar

    Ridge runners.
    Living in Michigan for 12 years has made my hilly driving skills rather rusty. Even when I still lived in NE Ohio and Western PA, driving in WVA & VA was always an eye opener. And like you note, these folks will blow by you in 35 year old pickup trucks, and make you look like you are standing still.
    I’m betting the kid in the Cavalier saw the out of state plates and thought, “I’m not getting stuck behind this sightseer from the flatlands…”

  • avatar

    I lived in New Martinsville for about a year, my Ex lived in Shinnston over by Clarksburg with my kids, so every other weekend I got to drive across WV-20.  It is a very good road for a fun drive, and back then (1996-97) I never once saw a single cop once you got away from either of the larger towns on either end of that drive.  Personally, as long as there wasn’t a car coming the other way, I just had to make sure I stayed between the white lines on the outsides, the lines down the middle of the road were mostly ignored.

  • avatar
    M 1

    So much power on tap? Are you still talking about a 260 ft-lb V6 or did you change cars mid-paragraph?

    • 0 avatar

      On a winding road through the West Virginia hills the 330 horsepower, 270 ft-lbs V6 feels quite powerful. My average speed was primarily a function of my willingness to spend time in a West Virginia jail or, failing that, paying a hefty financial penalty.
      Also, it wasn’t so long ago that 270 ft-lbs. was considered a very healthy amount of torque. It’s certainly far more than you’ll find in the RX-8s I drove the rest of the weekend. And even the RX-8s have plenty of power for these roads as long as you select the proper gear.

    • 0 avatar

      I find it ironic how often we hear about people complaining about cars having “only” (insert perfectly respectable hp or torque figure). Out in the real world, today’s cars are so ludicrously overpowered it’s just assinine. The Germans cruise just fine at 130 MPH with smaller engines than we use here, and I virtually never see anyone winding out their cars. The fact is that we’ve got way more than enough power for how we drive, especially considering that we’re supposedly in a gas price crisis. As long as we’re still buying family sedans that are capable of sub-7-second 0-60 MPH times but never see more than 3000 RPM in the real world, gas prices haven’t gotten high enough to be a problem.

      Not that I’ve got a problem with people wanting powerful cars, but if you’re going to demand one despite the current socio-economic climate, at least use the damn thing to near its potential once in a while!

      Personally, I’ve briefly driven a 350Z (305 hp), and decided that if I were to own such a car, I’d constantly feel either like a pansy (for pussyfooting it) or a social deviant (because there’s so much power when you open up that it’s just not reasonable to use on the street), not to mention that I don’t have the skill to safely handle that amount of power (Does anyone on public roads?). And if you’re not going to use it, why have it in the first place? I downgraded from a 1,000cc sport bike to an 800cc sport tourer for similar reasons, and have been happier (and slightly less idiotic on the road) ever since.

    • 0 avatar

      Short of flat out street racing or driving for time on public roadways, backroads and highways aren’t really the venue where big motors shine. And even less so if you stick to your side of the yellow. Especially when big motors almost inevitably mean big cars.
      City / suburb / somewhat crowded freeway is a different matter. There the ability to quickly squirt around “road blocks”, turn into and equalize speed with tighter spaced traffic etc. is where it’s at.

    • 0 avatar

      “Not that I’ve got a problem with people wanting powerful cars, but if you’re going to demand one despite the current socio-economic climate, at least use the damn thing to near its potential once in a while!”
      Moving out gracefully without needing 2nd gear and angry lawnmower noises to do it is using a big motor’s potential every bit as much as winding it out.
      The real wasted potential is letting the birkenstocker’s bogeyman of the day guilt you into spending $30,000 on a merely adequate car.  There’s no shame in buying a little gas.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Don’t hate on the J-body or the Cobalt.  It’s gotten many a boy into hotroding, just as surely as an a 30s Ford or a 57 Chevy. They are the ones that will help us keep American’s personal freedom to increase HP.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      Dan, I’d give just as much (if not more) credit to the ’96-’00 Honda Civic and the MK IV Jetta & Golf. At least here in the Pacific Northwest.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Sorry midwest born and raised.  Half the guys in my class recieved stripped down Cavaliers or S10 trucks when turning 16.  That’s what happens when half your relatives work for GM. 

  • avatar

    No it’s more fun to drive a fast car fast!  There’s no telling what it was like in that Cobalt – the engine in the African Queen?  Citation to Cobalt it’s all the same to me – GM falling short; spending more money on advertising than engineering.  They did it to me with my ’72 malibu and I never got over it with them.  That Infinity is a fine trip car.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Would Nissan have made you buy a new front bumper if that curb had been 3 inches taller?

  • avatar

    I got stuck living in Sistersville WV 30 years ago, while working at Ormet Corp. just across the river in Ohio. The coal miners that frequented the local bars were a rough bunch. I am not a small guy, but if not for my co-worker who was stationed on site(6’5″ 280 lbs.), and got to know the locals, I would have been pounded into dust by the local coal miners. The first time I walked into the local bar alone, it was like the scene from Animal House, where the college boys walked into the bar where Otis Day and the Knights were playing. The music stopped instantly, and I thought I was dead. My co-worker, who was parking the car, and sent me in alone, came in behind me and put his arm around me. The locals, seeing a friend, went back to playing pool, and the music started playing again. I could have used some depends that night. I have to say though, that once they got to know you, they were some of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet. I still laugh about it whenever I see Animal house.

    • 0 avatar

      My Grandpa worked at and retired from the Ormet plant.  Every now and then when I would stay with them for the weekend, he would take me to the bar near the plant on a Saturday afternoon so he could have a few with his buddies and Granny could take a nap.  I had root beer of course.  Was always rather intimidating.

  • avatar

    I grew up in Jacksonburg.  Traveling in excess of the speed limit is just foolish on Rt 20.  With all of the blind curves you never know who or what might be lurking around each corner.  While the sheriff is more likely to shoot and then ask questions, my biggest fear was the deer and groundhogs that liked to play by or on the road.  That and the drunks who couldn’t remember they were in a car and how to keep it on their side of the road.  Lucky you to have made it safely to your destination.  Next time slow down and enjoy the view.  Some of the prettiest country can be found in Wetzel County.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. Keep in mind, “Mr. J” may have been coming toward you in the other lane.

      I manage the Avis RAC in Morgantown, and am soon taking on the Clarksburg location, as well. I’ve been traveling all around this area of the country for years (grew up in Charleston, just south of there). Try that road in dead-winter, five inches of snow still falling, in a Kia Rio with bald, 33,000 mile original tires, no ABS or any other driving aids. Not so fun, then. Hertz (my former company) doesn’t take care of their cars. Or employees (I was driving it to deliver to an insurance replacement rental customer).

      But, yes, many of the rural WV, OH, VA, and KY backroads are fun in good weather, especially with a good car.

      I’ve driven the Hocking Hills area in a rented Camry LE, and just about every mass-market sub-$40k car you can imagine on rural WV and MD roads in my rental car travels.

  • avatar

    I live in Florida. What are these ‘curves’ you people are yammering on about?

  • avatar

    It’s not necessarily knowing the road, it’s knowing the car. If you’ve got a very good idea where the limits are in your car, you can drive it to the absolute maximum even on roads you don’t know. My personal favourite? Taking my 2001 1.25 Ford Fiesta up into the Peak District and thoroughly embarrassing some poser driving an Elise who was out with his missus trying to show off. Sure he could catch up on the straights, but he pussied out on every flippin’ corner. I guess the difference is how much you’re willing to risk. My wheels set me back £1500; his? Add another zero and you’re somewhere near.

    • 0 avatar

      “It’s not necessarily knowing the road, it’s knowing the car. If you’ve got a very good idea where the limits are in your car, you can drive it to the absolute maximum even on roads you don’t know.”
      Yes, it’s a good idea to know the limits of YOUR car.  But sadly 95% (if not more) of today’s drivers have no clue about their car limits.  Thus those are the very people you should worry about when driving on unknown roads.  I’ve been forced off that road by idiots who think passing in a blind curve is a good idea.  It’s great that the author made it to his destination alive and in one piece.  Luck was on his side.  To everyone else, I can only suggest you drive like a sane person.  Being out numbered by the crazies ensures that sooner or later some mentally challenged idiot is going to make your life miserable.  And RT 20 in Wetzel County West Virginia is a great place to prove my point.
      “Take Me Home Country Roads” was NOT an invitation to race around like you’re God’s gift to NASCAR.

  • avatar

    My local variant is a short bit of the Bear Mountain Parkway from Annsville Circle to the Bear Mountain Bridge.  It’s a cut-into-the side of the hill roadway, posted 40, no runoffs or medians, just forgiving stone buttresses.  It has over time become a major roadway, despite the “parkway”-ness of it.
    I’ve had runs with guys in blandmobiles who can do the whole thing, save two corners, at 50 mph.  You can’t pass legally or illegally anywhere. (I have only seen one pass in ten years, a guy with a 911 who took a huge chance and almost hit a head-on).
    The best run I ever had was behind a guy in an ex cop car.  The sheer mass didn’t hinder him, as speeds don’t get that high, but the V8 and big brakes were very helpful.
    I only lose it for the guy who does the whole road at 22 mph…usually in something that does not suck.  This is a great road for the driver, and minimizes the influence of the car.

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