Humble beginnings can create character or leave you jaded. Adam Carolla has gone from pauper to prince in a town that worships its stars, surrounded by dregs and failed dreams. Like Hollywood stars before him, Carolla clears his mind by taking solace in motor racing.
He may not be Taco Bell Material, but funny-guy, Adam Carolla, has managed to rise to success and celebrity from very humble beginnings as illustrated in his new book by the same name. Once a success, however, many opportunities have opened up - from owning a house in the Hollywood Hills to a hobby few truly get to enjoy from behind the wheel - vintage auto racing.
Vintage racing has many classes with a plethora of cars to choose from. Carolla has had a lifelong love of older Datsuns - and a race car collection to match this passion. “I grew up in Southern California around a lot of guys who did a lot of hot rodding running 510s. On Saturday night, guys from South Hollywood High would go up to the twisty roads on Mulholland Drive and make Mulholland runs.” Carolla chuckles, “Can you imagine our wives' reaction if our kids today were in 11th grade, re-jetting Mikunis and making Mulholland runs?”
Stereotypically, as a former carpenter who transformed into a working-class hero, Carolla could easily be moved by American muscle cars - but of those he has little interest: “I like the Mustangs and Camaros in race trim, but I never liked the technology... the old push-rod type motors, leaf springs.” However, Carolla recently purchased a Camaro raced by Paul Newman as part of his collection - paying tribute to the late racer/actor. But he leans towards the Japanese cars that were competitive in the Trans-Am and IMSA series. “I always liked the overhead cam engine, I like the aluminum valve covers, the side draft Webers--these are the motors that won so much. I remember Paul Newman back in the day.”
As for the driving, he likes to stick to the Two-Five Challenge group, a moniker for the vintage racing group for cars under 2.5 Liters in displacement. “I like taking two liters and seeing how much you can get out of it.”
Adam Carolla’s car collection, which includes a 1967 Lamborghini 400 GT 2+2, a Lamborghini Miura, a Bob Sharp built Datsun 280Z Camel GT Pace Car, a 1968 Datsun 2000 Roadster racing car, a Bobby Alison driven, Peter Brock built BRE Datsun 510, a Bob Sharp/Paul Newman 300Z IMSAcar among others, is continually growing. His Datsun racing effort continues with the help of the Classic Datsun Motorsports in Vista, California - a trusted shop that Carolla relies on for the restoration and race preparation of his cars.
Carolla has hosted The Man Show with pal Jimmy Kimmel, Lovelines on KROQ-FM with Dr. Drew Pinsky and The Adam Carolla Show - the most downloaded podcast on iTunes. Most recently, his second book, Not Taco Bell Material, has been flying off the shelves.
All of the day-job notoriety seems to shut down as he turns his focus to racing cars. Not unlike other celebrities like Paul Newman and Patrick Dempsey, the race track is a personal sanctuary away from show business, although it can be hard to separate the two. Fans still try to meet Carolla when he's at the track, despite his alternate focus.
On a recent HSR West race weekend, Carolla arrived at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana to race his Datsun 2000 Roadster. As friend and mechanic Les Cannaday puts it, “He really couldn’t get to focus, as on Saturday he was hounded quite a bit. People will just stand around staring, then when they get their courage up, they go up to him. It can be really distracting.”
Carolla got the bug to go racing when he participated in the first of three Toyota Pro Celebrity races at the Long Beach Grand Prix in 2003. “I always had a feel for it when I was younger, goofing around on go-karts,” Adam reminisces. “Then I got into the Toyota Celebrity Grand Prix and actually went to racing school.”
Celebrities who participate in the race do a multi-day race school at Willow Springs Raceway. He finished that race in third, while a 2010 attempt resulted in tenth and he won the race in 2012.
“I got a Bob Sharp Racing car on Ebay just because I thought it was cool,” Carolla continued. He then developed a relationship with Classic Datsun Motorsports owner, Les Cannaday. Cannaday, a Datsun tuner and parts retailer, urged Carolla to enter the Car in some races - he finally just signed him up for the Coronado Festival of Speed. “So then I went out there and did pretty well and decided, I can do this.”
However, racing can be intimidating. While vintage racing is more about the enjoyment of driving the cars fast, it is less competitive than other forms of motorsport just from the sheer risk of damaging or destroying these collectible works of rolling art.
“When you walk around the pits and see all these guys with all their equipment, it always seems like there is such a chasm between you and them. Everyone’s so dialed in - with their trailers and clocks, and tool boxes with wheels, they really got it down to a science,” comments Carolla. As he also describes in his book, “I grew up with poor people in apartments in The Valley so trailers and dualies and tool boxes and canopies are not The Carollas. But you start walking around, you eventually say, look, I can just do it. I can become one of them.”
The gear people have is just the tip of the iceberg for the comedian. “The biggest fear I have is not hurting myself or my car - it’s running into someone else who screams ‘Didn’t you see the flag, man?! You just totaled my Porsche!’ No one wants to be the rookie.”
While Carolla had mechanical problems at Auto Club Speedway, he actually did fairly well at Sonoma. He passed three cars during the race after starting dead last, due to a lack of track time and an abridged qualifying session. Les Cannaday was quite happy with his driver’s progress in Sonoma. Les explained, “(Adam) did really good, cause you can see he was driving a lot harder and seemed a lot more comfortable with the car.”
“There is an element that I don’t like,” comments Carolla on being a public figure and racing, “If I am having trouble with the car and I am running mid to back pack, no one is gonna care about the other five guys running with me; they will just be like, ‘Hey, that Carolla is going slow!’ But then at (Mazda Raceway) Laguna Seca last year, I ran really well, and people were like, ‘Hey, look at Adam!’ I LIKE that.”
- Tom Stahler