2008 Mazdaspeed3, Part One

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Cruising the affluent suburban streets of the Chicago area in the 2008 Mazdaspeed3, I'm looking for trouble. The dimming evening light and warm weather has brought out all the usual suspects: everyone from boy-racers in tuned Hondas to middle-aged men in Ford GTs. Chirping the tires as I dart from stoplight to stoplight, I feel like a 17-year-old taking a joyride in his dad's sports car. But I'm not racing anyone — yet. I'm just trying to get the attention of someone else who wants to run me. It's usually not something I do, but with 263 HP under my right foot, and a 6-speed gearbox in my right hand, I'm in a juvenile mood. Chasing down a previous-generation Subaru WRX that's sporting some aftermarket wheels and a loud exhaust, I feel like I might be biting off just a bit more than I can chew.

After flashing my hi-beams in the WRX's mirrors and revving my engine as I pull up next to it at a red light, I don't even get so much as a glance from the driver. Maybe he's just playing it cool. So I turn the traction control off and wind the engine up to about 3000 RPM. Green light, release the clutch, and we're off. I kill the Scooby. Oh, wait — he wasn't racing. So I try again at the next light. Will he take the bait this time? Nope. And that's the thing about the Mazdaspeed3; nobody seems to think it's anything special. To most eyes it's nothing more than a normal Mazda 3 hatchback. Paint it in a dark color and it's practically invisible. Which means that the WRX probably didn't even take me seriously enough to bother wasting gas on. It actually would have been a close race, but it didn't happen. So, I continue cruising.

To say there's a proper method for illegal street racing may sound oxymoronic, but it's true. You hear from a friend who heard from a friend that there's a bunch of guys that hang out at a certain place, and from there they go to the place where they actually race. You don't need to bother asking when, because it will always be at a spontaneous time after midnight. That is to say, the serious guys aren't out at 9PM just driving around hoping to find a victim — like what I'm doing.

So I start looking for parking-lot hangout spots, and eventually find one. Immediately I start scoping out the competition: a few enhanced Audis, a late-model Mustang, a kid with mom's CL55 AMG, an Evo IX, a small crew of crotch-rockets, the obligatory mid-life crisis man with his Corvette convertible, and some other stuff drifting in and out. Slim pickings. I buzz through in first gear to gauge reactions. With the relatively loud stock exhaust, I actually do get a few glances from some guys. I say "guys" not because there aren't any girls around hanging out, but because not a single one of them seemed to care. It's as if my gray 5-door compact isn't sexy enough. So I park the car and sit with my windows down and the stereo up. But time passes and nothing happens. This is lame. I resume cruising, but as one suburb blends into another and into another, I feel like I'm just driving in circles. Out here it's just an endless blur of shopping malls, big-box stores, chain restaurants, and cubicle farms. I've gotta get out of here.


The next morning I wake up at my own leisure, and engage in a lost cultural ritual known as breakfast. Today I'm setting my own pace instead of trying to keep up with the rat race. So, when the navigation system asks me which route I want to take on my spontaneous trip up to Wisconsin, I choose the one with the fewest number of expressways. If I encounter a few dawdling Lincolns along the way, so be it. Cars like this shouldn't be confined to petty stoplight cockfights; they should actually be driven. Sure, the back roads to Madison are no Nürburgring, but at least I get to focus more on the driving and less on weaving between traffic and watching for speed traps. And it's out here, surrounded only by farmland and lakes, that the car calms down. It's no longer fidgety and bouncy, but poised and confident. No longer am I being dragged around by the brute force, but I'm part of the machine—and we want to go faster.

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