2016. What a year. So much has happened since we welcomed the fresh calendar year back in January, what seems like a lifetime ago. Looking back, it almost feels like a completely different Afterburner now, than what had walked headfirst into the new year, unbeknownst to what lay before us. Unlike years prior. We didn’t let the motorsports off season slow down our momentum over the winter.

We yearned to get  out there. To experience something new, to find corners of Mid-western car culture we had never seen before. To meet new people and make new friends. It all started with the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan.

Nick GTR Reaction

An ageing Nikon D40 and a Canon AE-1 film camera didn’t deter us from documenting all the fresh metal (and carbon) that was on display for all to see in Detroit. On a more somber note, this happened to be Nick’s last trip with Afterburner before he shipped out to basic training for the United States Air Force. Even though we’ve put a couple thousand miles between the Afterburner gang now, I feel it’s given us an opportunity to experience even more and give you guys a refreshing perspective on automotive culture in another part of the country.

A couple of days later, as a last “hurrah” for Nicks tenure here in Indiana, he and I made a trip out to our local exotic car dealers to drool over their new Ferrari LaFerrari. While I was there, I snapped away with my film camera. I loved the premise of shooting photos of one of the most technologically advanced cars of all time with an analog camera that pre-dates it by nearly four decades. The resulting images were some of my favorite I captured this year.

The following weekend, we packed up our winter gear and headed up to the knee deep snow of Atlanta, Michigan for Sno* Drift 2016. While most of the regular heavy hitters in the Rally America series weren’t in attendance for the first round of the 2016 season. That didn’t stop us from having an amazing time attending our first ever stage rally. Even though it took a few months to get our coverage from the event out (almost ten months to be exact) it will still be one of my favorite event’s I’ve ever attended.

February saw an upgrade in the camera department for me. Out was the ageing Nikon D40 and in, was a year old Sony A7 mirrorless camera. Looking back on our photos from the first couple of events of the year, then taking a look at say, Gridlife South. There’s a stark difference between my stills at the beginning of the year and the end. If any progress was made this year in Afterburner. It can really be seen through the quality of our photos. I am so proud of how far I’ve come just this year. Even though I focus on my driving and my cars first. It’s reassuring to know I’m still progressing at something.

While not much happened between February and the end of April, we were still vlogging all our shenanigans and anime conventions, sporting events and so forth. However, just before spring broke in March I made the trip down to Louisville, Kentucky with the Fort Euro Gruppe for Water by the Bridge 2016. The event that really symbolizes the start of the show season here in the Mid-West. Once late April came around though. Things kicked into full swing and things got real busy around here.

The next three weeks presented us with back, to back, to back events. First was our local drift event. Baer Bash. Where the best drivers from around our area can shake down their cars for the new season and show off for the local crowd. The next weekend, we traveled to Chicago, Illinois for WekFest Chicago 2016. Where I went and entire indoor event without realizing that I hadn’t changed my white balance on my camera and all the photos came out way too warm. Rather than edit the shit out of them in post, I decided to leave them mostly as they were, as a constant reminder to always check my settings. The final event of the trio was the 2016 Auburn Spring Collector Car Auction. While we try to make it out to every one of these auctions that goes down just a few minutes drive from our houses, this one was a special one. For I brought home a new friend from the event.

Even though it’s been a bit of a struggle keeping this car tip top over the past few months. I haven’t regretted a single moment with it since I saw it in the swap meet behind the auction back in April. I always liked the rotary engine. I was intrigued with how it worked and respected what could be done with the bizarre engine, but I never imagined that I would own a Wankel engined car. From the first turn of the key, it was love. The rotary engine has embedded itself in the deepest caverns of my heart. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to not have one in the stable.

As well as having the honor of being my first Japanese car (hopefully of many more to come) it also is the car to take me through my first ever track day. I’ve already grown so much with this car in the short time I’ve owned it. I feel a very special connection every time I sit in the car. Almost like a mutual understanding between the car and I. Sort of a “I’ll get your back. You get mine” deal.

While it will be relegated to daily driver duty while I focus on the BMW for a while. I plan on doing some more modifications in the future. Trust me when I say this, you will see more of “Faye” here on the blog in the future.

June really kicked things into high gear for us. It was GridLife season. The series we had been looking forward to the entire year. With media passes secured, and gear packed. We headed up to Gingerman Raceway in SouthHaven, Michigan for Gridlife Round One. These events have become our favorite to go to. Not only do we plan on attending from now on to cover the event. We also plan on competing in them as well. So look for some Afterburner cars out in the field the next time you’re at a Gridlife event.

Music, Time Attack, HPDE, Drifting, Car Show and partying. I’m really surprised that it took this long for an event like Gridlife to happen. However, the events have been doing very positive things to the scene as a whole. But, we didn’t just attend one Gridlife event this year. More on that later.

Exactly one month later. It was finally my turn to hit the track. So I loaded up the Rx7 and left for Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Illinois for Gridlife Round Two. My instructor Bill was an awesome teacher. During my two track days I participated in this year, I learned so much more than I imagined I would. I’m beyond excited to continue racing the Mazda and growing more as a driver.

Our first full feature of the year came a couple of weeks later. In the form of Jake Grimm’s MK5 Volkswagen Golf GTi. We decided to make our first feature of the year about a local car. And we couldn’t think of anyone better than Jake to represent what Fort Wayne Euro style is. No one cares more about the local Euro community that Jake, or, for that matter. The local scene as a whole. With the accompanying video, we went all out with this one. To show you guys what we were capable of when we came out of the corner swinging.

Gridlife South was a completely different feeling event from it’s northern counterpart. With a very different field of cars and a much larger facility at our disposal. It was an amazing event to attend. The fact that most of the classes was populated by Pro level drift machines, and top level Time Attack builds gave the event a much more professional feel than events past.

Another part of the GridLife South experience was the Southrnfresh showcase. While we’re no stranger to show cars being in the spotlight at Gridlife. I was introduced to so many cars I had only ever seen on social media before. Even though the showcase was relatively small it gave me a very good insight into the show scene down south.

While it wasn’t the last Gridlife event we attended during the year. Brenden and I had our hand at driving Gingerman Raceway during the Fall Special Stage. And while I probably could’ve written a story or two about the event. It was just nice to step back for a minute and just enjoy myself for an event without the pressure to trying to write on here as well. What the event did do for us however. Is get us excited for the 2017 Gridlife season. With the year kicking off at Mid-Ohio in April. We couldn’t be more excited to get back out on track with the GridLife guys and gals.

The last event we attended this year was the final 24 Hours of Lemons race of the season. It was back at Gingerman Raceway that we encountered what became one of my favorite cars we’ve seen this past year. The Awful Computer. Part Geo Metro. Part Ford Taurus Sho. Part Porsche 935k. All insanity.

The craftsmanship and ingenuity that went into what is essentially a $500 car is staggering. Finding this car made the weekend, sleeping in Brenden’s Subaru, and braving the cold all worth it. The Charnal House racing team did a really good job with this car and we can’t wait to see what they do next.


Over the past year. We’ve seen friends leave on new adventures. Friends progress even further with their dreams and aspirations. Then made new friends in places we never thought we would be this year. Not one time did I question our motives behind what we were doing. Personally, I had more fun that I could’ve even imagined back on January 1st. We traveled to places we never thought we would be. Connected faces with profiles that we only knew though social media. Saw some things we couldn’t believe and had a hell of a time doing it.

It’s with this in mind. That I’m eager to see what next year brings. We’ve more than doubled this little community that surrounds Afterburner over the last year. I’d like to thank each and every one of you for the support you’ve shown us over the last year. We couldn’t do it without you. I can’t wait to see how much we grow next year.

Here’s to 2017,

Derek James.

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