“I got it for $45”: Drivers recall their first cars

Published On June 9, 2015 » 2829 Views» By Phillip B. Wilson » Blogs, IMS, Indy 500, Verizon IndyCar Series

During the Month of May, IMS.com Correspondent Phillip B. Wilson caught up with a number of drivers to ask one question: “What was your first car?”

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
“2004 Subaru WRX STI. It was my baby. It only had one problem — the engine kept blowing up. That was really my first car, but it was also my first true thing that I was passionate about because I worked on that car all the time. The engine kept blowing up and blowing up. And I would rebuild it and rebuild it and rebuild it. As weird as it was, I loved trying to build it a little faster and put in a bigger turbo and do all these things. I learned a lot about cars and the mechanical side of cars from that vehicle. She only went about 15,000 miles in about six years, because literally, she kept blowing up.”

Fortunately for Graham Rahal, his Honda racing engine is way better than his old daily-driver Subaru.

Fortunately for Graham Rahal, his Honda racing engine is way better than his old daily-driver Subaru.

Townsend Bell, Dreyer & Reinbold/Kingdom Racing
“1977 Toyota Corolla wagon. Good vintage. I was 15. I found it in the classifieds. It was listed firm $65. And I got it for $45. Blown head gasket. Barely made it home. And that was my first car. So, 45 bucks, it seemed like a reasonable deal at the time. I proudly attempted to replace the head gasket. I had the big technical service manual. It never ran again. I should have just left it alone. It would run for about five minutes before it would overheat because of the head gasket. Mechanical repair and hands-on technical IQ has never been my calling card. I have a decent fundamental understanding, but not a lot of practical experience.

“I got my money’s worth. I did. Just to get five buddies in the wagon and go do donuts for 10 minutes before the steam started coming out, that’s worth the price of admission. I was really disappointed when my mom said, ‘Get this thing out of here.’ So I trailered it over to the junkyard. The junkyard would pick it up for free. I go to the junkyard, following the trailer there. The forklift comes in, and they don’t even roll it off the trailer. That takes too long. The folklift comes in and they couldn’t even take the time to roll down the windows. The forks go ‘boom, boom’ and punch through the windows on both sides. I’m like, ‘Come on, guys. This is my first car.’ They just lifted it up by the roof and took it off. I wasn’t in love with the Toyota Corolla, but at least had a soft spoke for it. Come on.”

James Jakes, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
“Volkswagen Golf diesel. It was just a good car, man. And it was an SDI, not a TDI. It wasn’t a turbo diesel. It didn’t stand for ‘Slow Diesel Injection,’ but that’s sure what it felt like. It was slow as heck, that car, with no turbo in the diesel. I would have been 17. It was from the early 2000s, about four or five years old. I was never into the whole ‘Fast and Furious’ thing. I did like over 200,000 miles in that car, driving to different races growing up. And it was cheap, it was cheap on the fuel budget, that’s why I kept it. I complained about if for however many years I had it because it was so slow, but then I complained about how much more I spent on fuel when I got another car.”

Not Dixon's favorite.

Not Dixon’s favorite.

Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing
“It was a 1982 red Honda Prelude, pop-up lights but the left one didn’t pop up. I hated it. You wanted a cool car. I think what I hated the most is that it was an automatic. It wasn’t manual. The car was good. It was a Honda, it ran for bloody ever. But the frustrating part is my dad and I didn’t get a manual.”

James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
“My first car was a Mini Cooper in 2003. It was my dad’s car and I kind of stole it from him, if I’m honest. My dad grew up in England and his first car was a ’59 Mini. When BMW announced they were remaking the car, he was like one of the first in line to get one. It just brought him back to his youth. It might have been a mid-life crisis, I don’t know. He already had a car, so this might have been his fun car. Shortly thereafter, I got my license and didn’t have a car. So I took whichever one he didn’t. He just drove his normal car more and more. I sort of naturally inherited it. The biggest ticket I got was 163 kilometers — about 100 mph. That’s just what he caught me doing. (Laughs.)”

Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske
“Peugeot 205 GTI, I still have it. It’s a French hatchback, 1991. Plenty of good memories.”

Conor Daly, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
“My first car is still my car, Subaru STI, 2004. It’s got 130,000 miles on it and it’s still barely going. (Laughs.) It works.”

Really, Simon?

Really, Simon?

Sage Karam, Target Chip Ganassi Racing
“Subaru STI, 2012. It was new. Love it. Still have it to this day. I’m going to keep it until the day I die. Favorite car. It’s my first car. I’ll get another car to add to the collection, but I will always keep my first car.”

Alex Tagliani, A.J. Foyt Enterprises
“Volkswagen Golf, 1989. I liked it. Then my second car was also a Volkswagen Golf, but it was a GTI 16-valve car with the big round lights in the front. That was the car as a young person that you wanted. It had the mag wheels on it.”

Ed Carpenter, CFH Racing
“1994 Chevrolet Tahoe. It was my mom’s car. When I got my driver’s license, I inherited it. Tan interior. It was a good car.”

Bryan Clauson, KVSH/Jonathan Byrd’s Racing
“Ford F150, I got it when I was 16. It was my dad’s truck. It was gold, not like gold-gold, but more tannish gold. It carries a lot of memories. We traveled around in it when I was racing in younger, quarter-midget races, it pulled the trailer. When I got done with it, it had 270,000 miles on it and still ticking. It was pretty solid. The first car I bought myself, I bought a Camaro SS in 2009.”

Sebastian Saavedra, Target Chip Ganassi Racing
“Subaru Impreza SL automatic, 2003. Mine was just a used car from dad that I was very proud to drive when I was 13. I drove it a couple of years. Of course it took me two months to break the muffler and then put a big noisy one on it. Good memories of it. It wasn’t quick. I put about 150,000 miles on it. I drove it all the way to Bogota, I went to the coast and back. Good mileage.”

Justin Wilson, Andretti Autosport
“My first road car was a Peugeot 306. It was a good car. I loved it. It was diesel, but Peugeot had really good diesel engines so you got great fuel mileage and had great power. I loved it, I abused it, I sold it. It was a good time. I was 17 when I got it. In England, the driving age was 17. Life was good. You’ve got wheels, you can go and hang out with your mates, you didn’t have to worry about anything else.”

Justin Wilson loved his first car. Did you?

Justin Wilson loved his first car. Did you?

Jack Hawksworth, A.J. Foyt Enterprises
“Renault Clio, 1.2 liter, 2003. It had about 70,000 miles when I got it and about 90,000 when I was finished with it. I got the car in 2009 and had it for about a year. No opinion on it. It got me from point A to point B. I’ve never been someone who has been about sentimental about his real cars. I’m always sentimental about my race cars, but not my road cars.”

Josef Newgarden, CFH Racing
“Mercury Mountaineer, 2006. It was a vehicle. No fond memories of the car. None. I’ve had some interesting cars. My first car here in the United States that I really drove frequently, when I came back from Europe, was a 1994 Cadillac Eldorado. That was pretty ‘dope.’ That’s a California term. It was a cruiser. It felt like a sofa because the thing had so much travel in the suspension, you would go over a railroad track and the thing was like a ship. It was very cool. The Mercury Mountaineer wasn’t even my car. It was just a car I got to drive. What are you going to do with a Mercury Mountaineer? You just drive it.”


About The Author

Phillip B. Wilson

Phillip B. Wilson came to the Indianapolis 500 as a kid, got hooked and has been coming back every year since. He considers himself lucky to have covered the race for two decades for The Indianapolis Star. In August 2014, he joined the Scout online network as publisher of ColtsBlitz.com and PacersPress.com Web pages. But May is his favorite time of year. He can't be more ecstatic about his second year working for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a correspondent.