On a breezy spring Sunday morning just outside of Fort Worth, Texas, I found myself standing among a group of car geeks. Or maybe fans is a nicer way to say it.
Okay, fans it is.
I’m here because the day before I had been a guest of the Texas Chapter of the Volvo Club of America. The idea was simple: Show the club folks that we actually make cars that are no longer called 242D or 760GLE. So I brought along a bunch of new hardware from corporate and a couple of the regional field guys brought their cars. The club loved it and spent the entire day reacquainting themselves with the newest cars.
It was here that I met Ben Castillo.
Ben’s been with Volvo since 1971 and got his start working for the Guatemalan importer back when mutton shops were in vogue. Life happens and Ben found himself in the U.S. Today he’s what is known in Volvospeak as an FTS, or Field Technical Specialist. Primarily he visits our retailers in the Southern Region to diagnose particularly tricky service issues. Needless to say, Ben knows how to use a wrench and he knows a hell of a lot about Volvos.
But Ben’s passion for Volvo runs deeper than a 9-to-5 job. “I’ve had about 1oo Volvos since I joined the Guatemala distributor back in 1971,” he says between bites of an enormous Reuben sandwich. He smiles and his eyes squint and he’s the kind of guy you’d like to have a beer with. Or a Reuben sandwich.
He’s also an SCCA certified race driver. His ride is a lowered 2008 C30 T5 with a six-speed manual. He races in the Stock class which allows for some modifications, but not much. He’s swapped the shocks for some Konis and he’s running a low-restriction exhaust which adds a very nice burble at idle and a nicer bark when he’s on the track. He went to the Volvo parts catalog for some lowering springs and he’s running on a pair of racing slicks up front and some performance tires at the rear. “I’m trying to get the car to rotate more with throttle input,” he says. “I’m losing traction in the corners because the inside drive wheel isn’t sticking to the ground.”
You’d never know Ben was struggling with the C30′s setup. While I was visiting he asked if I’d like to join him in the car for the next heat. I explained that adding 200-pounds of ballast wasn’t going to improve his time. At that point he was running third in the standings. He smiled that smile and strapped on his helmet. It was a good thing I didn’t go. On that run he ran his fastest time of the day and took second place in his class. Not bad, he thought, but there is still room for improvement.
So he’s going to keep tinkering. He’s going to swap out the rears for a stickier compound than the high-performance tires he used this time, and he’d love to get his hands on a much thicker front sway bar. “I need one that’s about an inch.” Ah, it’s the ol’ extra inch problem. Who couldn’t use one?
Ben figures he attends about 15 SCCA events annually, including the national meet in Lincoln, Nebraska. He drops about $5,000 a year on tires alone. After each event, he jacks the C30 up, takes off the racing tires and replaces them with the standard 17-inch wheels and tires. The slicks go in the cargo hatch, along with the jack and his helmet, and he drives home.
Tomorrow he’ll be back out visiting his retailers and solving their pesky service issues.