For many, getting a car once you get your license means more freedom, but for senior Henry Haden it meant much more than that.
“I have a lot of family history with cars,” Henry told me. Henry explained that his grandfather was “an original hotrod street racer back in the 40s and 50s.” Lots of Henry’s interest and passion for cars came from his grandfather’s stories about outrunning cops and racing his friends.
While most buy a car and keep it the same, Henry takes a different approach. Since getting his car a few years back he has been making slight modifications to it as a way of making the car unique to him. “It’s really like an art, there are just so many different interpretations of how to build a car,” he told me.
As for Henry’s car, he told me that it was “actually bought on Craigslist in order to get as many aftermarket parts as possible.” What is an aftermarket part? Henry described it as “basically just upgrades that you buy for your car to improve its performance or looks.”
He said his car was “a little unreliable” when he bought it, so he had to get some things fixed so that it would function properly. Some of the modifications that Henry has made include “a clutch, which helps the transmission connect to the engine, a racing seat with a full racing harness, and aftermarket wheels.”
Henry described to me the primary advantage of car modification, which is that the car is “uniquely your own. I have the only car like mine in the entire world because I made it my own. You can buy something really nice at the dealership, but other people could have that same car.”
While there are many benefits to the car modification process, like having a car that is “uniquely your own,” Henry also told me about some of the downsides. “At the end of the day, when you are modifying your car, you usually aren’t an expert engineer, so my understanding of it has some limitations. My car has broken down on the interstate, so I’ve had to get it towed. It has its fair share of compromises too. When going over speed bumps I have to go sideways because my car is only four inches off the ground.”
One of Henry’s favorite parts about driving is “finding nice, windy roads where I can not necessarily push the limits of my car, but I can just focus on the process of driving while shifting frequently. The advantage of driving on curves is that you are always slowing down and speeding up, so you have to constantly be shifting and connecting with the road to feel it out.”
Henry also participates in what are called autocross races, which are races in parking lots that are a lot cheaper to participate in than ones along race tracks. “It’s basically just a large Nascar parking lot with cones,” as he put it. In Henry’s first autocross race, he managed to get 8th place for the novice group.
Henry gave me a lot of insight into the car culture as well. He told me that there is a big car scene here in Atlanta and many people go to what are called “cars and coffee shows” to see different cars. He described it to me as “all car subcultures in one place.” There are muscle cars, Japanese cars, import cars, hot rods, and the list goes on. People will bring their cars early in the morning to Perimeter Mall for some of these car shows.
Cars can be a way to “explore culture,” he said. “Cultures all around the world have their own flavors of car modifications. Mine are usually some Japanese techniques, but places all around the world have different interpretations of how to modify a car.”
Overall Henry said that “cars have just been a really great way for me to stay entertained during the pandemic, since you’re pretty distanced.”