The gearhead

Jim Garrison

Jim Garrison races cars. He owns them, builds them, works on them, drives them and if necessary washes them.

From his school days on he has had an abiding love of cars, trucks and motors.

“I was always a gearhead in school, and I always loved trucks. I loved riding with my dad, who was an owner-operator, or working on them. I took the vocational track, working with small engines and tractors a lot. I worked on a farm and learned that anything mechanical that broke down you fixed it yourself. I worked in a Chevy garage too. And I built a street racer, a Plymouth Duster with a 340 V8.”

Garrison’s father taught him to drive. Out of school but not old enough to drive across state lines, Garrison drove a chicken truck, which he describes as “the worst driving job I ever had.” He stepped up to a 1972 International Transtar cabover with a 238 Detroit Diesel that “you could hear coming for miles” and began his over-the-road career behind the wheel of a 1974 GMC Astro cabover.

Born in Connecticut and now a resident of Winslow, Maine, Garrison, 48, is a Crete Carrier owner-operator who started his truck driving career in 1979 and has done little else since. Even during his military service, he was a driver, piloting busses all over Europe and even driving for a General. Although he never went to driving school, he has been through anti-terrorist training as a military driver.

“I was in the Army in Germany in the late ’80s, Cold War years, and things could get tense. The military had a program that gave you things to keep you busy in your spare time. I ran into a Sergeant First Class at Rhein Main Air Base who was working on cars, and he and I got hold of a 1977 Chevy Vega, stuffed a 350-horsepower Chevrolet engine into it and raced it.”

Garrison began with Crete as a company driver but bought his 2003 Freightliner Century and now leases as an owner-operator. He runs coast to coast with general freight in a dry van, trying his best to avoid California and New York, and arranging his schedule with the carrier so he can take time to race.

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In 1999 Garrison took his love of working with cars to a new level. He sponsored a super late model race car driven by Timmy Turner in the Pro Stock Series in New England. The car was all tube framed, with no OEM parts. Turner won the championship, and Garrison sponsored him again the next year. “At the end of that second season in October his wife said she wanted him to build a new house instead of racing the next year, so I bought his car and all of his equipment.

“I put a new engine in and took it out in November in the snow to see if I could drive. I was at the 3/8-mile track in Unity, Maine, where 15 seconds is a good lap, and I started going around in 18 and 19 seconds. Brad Watson, my engine builder, got on the radio and said if I couldn’t do better I should give it up. I got a bit bolder and started running 15.4, the 15 and then 14.9.

“I had to learn fast. I’d be doing 95 – 100 mph down the short straits then go into a hairpin left turn. The gravity forces just pinned me to the seat, which was the hardest thing to get used to. I tried to lean into the turns like I would in a sedan or the truck, but I couldn’t move.”

In preparation for his expanding role in racing, Garrison took time off the road to go to Winter Park, Fla., in January 2002 to a school on how to build and set up race cars. He came back to a 25-race season, the races on Saturday afternoons or evenings, at Unity Raceway which bills itself as “Maine’s Toughest Oval.” Garrison won Rookie of Year honors and finished seventh out of the 22 drivers in the championship.

“They mix the races up, sometimes they run 150 laps, sometimes 100, sometimes they run 20-lap qualifiers and a 35-lap feature race.”

In 2003 Turner, his new house built, came back to racing and Garrison sold him his old car back. Using a completely new Hamke chassis and a new Brad Watson engine, Garrison built a new car.

Garrison teamed up with driver Louie Mechalides who now pilots the Garrison Monte Carlo. Their first work as a team actually came with Mechalides own car which they took to Florida in the winter of 2004 and won the 39th running of the prestigious FASCAR (Florida Association of Stock Car Racing) race at the track at New Smyrna Beach, Florida, virtually in the shadows on the legendary NASCAR track at Daytona.

In 2005 Garrison decided a full season of racing would be too expensive, so he parked the Monte Carlo and spent the season helping driver Billy Whorff. So far, the 2006 season has brought Garrison its share of frustrations. In the two season-opening races the car ran into mechanical problems and wasn’t competitive. “But it is a great car, and we’ll get back on track. These days we aim for the races that pay the best. The idea now is to go for those races that, if we do well, we get some decent money. It’s a way to stay in the game.

“What frustrates me most about racing is that for every problem there is no single easy answer. If the car pushes into a corner there are so many things that could be causing it. On the other hand, that is also one of the things I love about racing, it gets you so involved in trying to figure out how to win.

“It’s always a challenge to get the right chassis, engine, transmission, rear end, suspension and so on. It always takes work, but it also takes imagination and intuition, and if you aren’t passionate about it there’s not much point in doing it.’

The camaraderie at the tracks and in the shops also excites Garrison. “Everyone on my team has driven and owned cars except for Brad, and like all teams we help other teams out when they need someone. We’re not all rich, and we can’t all afford to race if we don’t swap volunteering work.

“I love it. I can go out and have our car race against the guy we race against every week and love it, and sometimes NASCAR drivers come up and race us. There was a picture of me in the local paper under (NASCAR’s last Winston Cup champ in 2003 before it became the Nextel Cup) Matt Kenseth’s car working on the exhaust for the 2005 Oxford 250 up in here in Maine.”

The Team
Garrison’s all-black #1 Chevy Monte Carlo with the Hamke chassis and Brad Watson engine is sponsored by Crete Carrier, Sonny’s Trailer Repair of Lunenberg, Mass., Watson Racing Heads of Montville, Maine and Machining Solutions of Winslow, Maine.

Garrison is the team owner who specializes in chassis and set up work, Brad Watson is the man behind the engines, Dean Fuller works with the tires, Randy Whitcombe and Randy Turner also work on the chassis and Louie Mechalides is the driver.

Peak foliage is a spectacular free road show

It’s not very often someone driving the length and breadth of America for a living is the envy of people all over the country. But there is one time of year when you just might be.

During the fall months, each region of the country has what is known as a “peak foliage” season, or the time when the colors of the leaves are the most vibrant. Some regions, like New England, revere their foliage season so much that they offer prime driving routes through states that provide an awe-inspiring symphony of red, orange, brown and gold.

So many destinations are expensive or time consuming to get to and enjoy, even if they are worth it. But peak foliage is a spectacular free show for truckers. It’s also one that a lot of people in four wheelers spend big bucks to get to and enjoy. If you run in parts of the country where fall paints a wild canvas of color, put some time in your schedule to find routes or backroads that take you through some of the most beautiful landscape Mother Nature ever paints. Even for truckers who have seen almost all of every corner of the country, these breathtaking sights can deliver a freshness even the most jaded of drivers will enjoy.

Check your routes, check your calendar and look for loads that take you through the biggest blockbuster shows of the fall.

This handy foliage calendar will guide you to the most breathtaking sights of the season.

New England
A true New Englander swears you can’t beat an afternoon drive through the hills and valleys of the northern states. As fall approaches the trees and foliage explode with color, transforming the landscape into a painting of fall. As Yankee Magazine puts it, “One person’s peak is another person’s miss,” meaning that if you miss the peak in one state, you can always catch it in another. The earliest peaks are at the northernmost tips of Vermont and Maine, working their way down through New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Peak foliage for Vermont and northern Maine hovers around the last week of September and the first week of October, but can be around the third week of September for the northernmost parts of Vermont and Maine. Predicted peak foliage for New Hampshire is around the first and second week of October, with Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island following later at around the second and third week of October.

Any travel agent will tell you to book your New England bed and breakfast early if you want to see the leaves change, but driving through the states will also give you an eyeful. Two scenic routes include the Mohawk Trail and the Berkshires in Massachusetts. For the Mohawk trail, which runs 63 miles along Rt. 2 from Orange to North Adams, is one of the state’s most popular foliage routes. Viewing sites include the Whitcomb Summit; the hairpin turn before North Adams; the 10-mile drive to the summit of Mt. Greylock; the French King Bridge, Millers Falls; the Bissell Covered Bridge, Charlemont; and the enchanting Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls.

The Berkshire route: Follow Rt. 7 North from Sheffield to Williamstown. Rt. 8 runs from Sandisfield to Dalton between two state forests. Rt. 183, from Great Barrington to Lenox, follows the Housatonic River. Take Richmond Rd., off Rt. 183, just south of Tanglewood, and stop at the overlook for views of Stockbridge Bowl and the southern Berkshire Hills. Rt. 43 East, off Rt. 7, is the lower road to Williamstown, and passes through farmland. Rt. 23, from Great Barrington to Monterey, and then right onto Tyringham Rd., takes you through the Tyringham Valley and eventually to Lee.

Wet heat and longer days makes the South’s peak foliage season arrive a little late, but it is no less brilliant through the Smoky Mountains and the Appalachians. Vibrant color change doesn’t dip below northern Alabama, northern Georgia and a big chunk of western South Carolina, and peak foliage doesn’t happen in those areas until late October and early November.

Peak foliage season for other states is a little earlier, with Tennessee and North Carolina averaging mid- and late October. A small area around the Tennessee/ North Carolina line can have a peak of early October. For the entire region, a safe bet is late October, except for the entire state of Tennessee, which peaks in mid-October.

Southeast driving routes for peak foliage vary. The northern states of the Southeast yield the most vibrant foliage, although Arkansas has fairly strong coloring. The Southern Highroad Trail takes drivers through the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee. For more information, check out this site.

The Pacific Northwest is famous for landscapes of mountains, valleys, deserts and a magnificent peak foliage season. Unpredictable weather and early rainfall can shorten the season, but if you catch it in its prime you may not want to leave. The Cascade Mountain Range offers an impressive display of color, and the Umpqua and Winema National Forests in Oregon are beautiful places to see the dramatic change of the guard.

Peak season is tricky because it doesn’t include certain parts of northern California and the entire state of Nevada, because these areas don’t have a peak foliage season at all. Peak foliage varies between early October and late October in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, with patches throughout the Northwest states beginning as early as late September.

Mount Hood in Oregon along the Hood River Valley is a great place to explore fall color. Wenatchee, Wash., on the eastern side of the Cascades is a quiet, lovely place to see the leaves. Any drive through the Cascades during the fall is an enchanting way to spend the afternoon.

For these regions and specific peak foliage seasons for each state, check out the weather channel’s website,, and click on maps at the top of the page. Select outdoor activities, and scroll down until you find “fall foliage.” Another scroll bar will appear under the map with a listing of all the U.S. regions with peak fall foliage.

Why Do Leaves Change?
Trees draw in water via their roots, and carbon dioxide from the air via their leaves, and sunlight turns them into glucose. Plants use a process called photosynthesis to turn glucose into energy so they can grow. Part of that process uses chlorophyll, a chemical that gives plants their green color.

As days shorten into autumn, there is less light for photosynthesis. The trees will effectively begin to shut down for the winter, when they will stay alive using energy they have stored during the summer. The green chlorophyll slowly drains from the leaves, and the fall colors begin to appear. They aren’t newly minted; they have been in the leaf all year, hidden beneath the bold green. When that green is gone, even the weaker fall sunlight can bring them to their full richness. Reds may be the result of glucose left trapped in the leaf, and brown from waste left in the leaf after photosynthesis.
–Rachel Telehany

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