A deep passion for racing

Cars: Guy Pavageau, 46, of Columbia, who grew to love cars and racing as a kid, has not lost his spark for the sport.

Howard At Play

September 01, 2002|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

You know that saying about the difference between men and boys being the price of the toys? Yep, Guy Pierre Pavageau agreed, that fits.

The longtime Kings Contrivance villager, whose work brought him to Columbia in 1979, started racing slot cars when he was 8 in Los Angeles, near the University of Southern California, later his alma mater.

"I became fanatical about it," he said, showing off a plywood fishing-tackle box his mother gave him for the paraphernalia for his electrically powered cars, each about as big as a man's open hand. "My mother worked in a factory that built missiles, and she taught me to solder. So I used to make chassis and sell them to grown men, then race against them. I fell in love with race cars, and it's been the same ever since."

Except, of course, for the price of his toys. Racing real cars can set a guy back more than $20,000 a year in repairs, travel and other expenses, said Pavageau, now 46. That's not counting payments on the 30-foot trailer he needs to haul his toy-of-each-weekend and the muscle pickup truck that pulls the trailer.

Pavageau is a full-time computer software consultant in law-enforcement matters, part-time car racer, one-time bass guitarist skilled enough to write and record disco-era music as a teen-ager, and, since last year, neophyte fund-raiser for Alzheimer's research.

He has raced cars off and on since he was 21, never attaining anything near fame or fortune.

As Don Caldwell, chief executive for the Sports Car Club of America in this region, put it: "He's like a lot of people in this sport: He has a passion for cars, and racing can be very exciting."

Pavageau resumed competition yet again this summer after a year off to, mostly, be with his father, Randy, 84, before the retired postman and electrician's helper died of Alzheimer's disease in Los Angeles.

"He was 40 when I was born, and he did not do typical kid stuff. ... He loved music, although he didn't play an instrument, and he got me into playing jazz. It may seem dysfunctional, but he never cared about racing - told me once I should buy cars that didn't need fixing all the time. But he was just a super guy, a best-friend kind of dad."

In his father's memory, Pavageau's three race cars now display the name Alzheimer's Disease Research, a program of the American Health Assistance Foundation in Montgomery County, and the slogan "Racing for Randy 2002." It's possibly a long shot, but he hopes the combination inspires some of racing's often-affluent participants, followers and advertisers to learn more and donate.

Pavageau - winner of more than 30 sports car races and holder of 1997 and 1998 Mid-Atlantic Road Race Series (MARRS) titles in a narrow Sports Car Club of America classification - has raced most weekends this summer in venues such as Manassas, Va., and Watkins Glen, N.Y.

He takes an old stock car to Manassas, home of Old Dominion Speedway, where "rich hillbillies still bang fenders," he said, on a 3/8 -mile oval track just like in NASCAR's good ol' pre-TV days.

In July, when the Cadillac Grand Prix arrived for the first time in Washington, Pavageau entered another of his cars. He got waxed on the new road course at RFK Stadium, finishing 16th out of 21 in his "Speed World Challenge GT" class, which he did not find discouraging. That car, he said, needed a shakedown, having just been reassembled after sitting - in parts - in his garage for nearly three years. What hurt, he said, was the $3,000 organizers required owners to pay for 18-inch wheels to fit a sponsor's tires.

This weekend, at Summit Point, W.Va., he is trying for his fourth straight victory in a class with few competitors, driving a 2001 stock but safety-modified Chevrolet Camaro that is street-legal. He is also hoping to qualify for a weeklong, national-title event in Ohio this month.

Pavageau, who has raced open-wheel, "formula" cars, a Volkswagen, a hot-red Ford Pinto and Porsches, acknowledges making concessions to the sport's potential danger, even though his first car-crash injury, not serious, occurred during a downpour this summer on U.S. 29, near Broken Land Parkway.

In late July, Pavageau witnessed his first fatality in 23 years of sports-car racing. A driver 10 cars ahead of him, he said, was killed when his Corvette spun, at 130 mph, into a Pocono Raceway wall during a sharp switch from a banked turn onto a flat segment.

"Horrifying," Pavageau said. "Only rarely do drivers in this kind of racing even get injured."

In 1992, Pavageau said, he tried motorcyle road-racing, briefly. "I found out that to get good at it," he said, "I was going to have to get hurt."

Because of the schooling required to race cars, he said, "My feeling still is that the track is a lot safer than the street.

"Amateur road racing is competitive, that's for sure. But I'm now driving about the biggest, heaviest, slowest cars out there.

"I'm interested in competing safely and getting home. After all, this is a hobby."

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