Idea Men
Once in a while I get a great idea. Neurons fire, concepts unfold and bits of ragged memory congeal into a tangible, cohesive thought. One involved a running aid, a compression/rebound device fitted to the legs and feet. It was a bow-type thing that would compress at each step and then release that energy on the next stride. I built a prototype from old ski boots and a decommissioned crossbow. But work, children and life in general conspired against its completion. Later, several variations on this theme surfaced-mass-produced and marketed to the 'extreme sports' crowd. You can find them as Powerisers, PowerStilts or Powerjumperz; expect to pay about 300 bucks a pair.

I have a knack for nearly inventing stuff. If I had invented, say, the automatic transmission, variable cam timing or direct fuel injection, perhaps my fortunes would be different. Or would I still have been late to the party? Are ideas just floating about like cosmic moths? Turn on the porch light and there's a chance one may fly up your nose? What do you do: blast it out in a Kleenex or let it stay a while and take root? I'm certain everyone gets one or two grand notions in a lifetime. It's a rule or something.

A few weeks ago, I met an actual genius, a lightning rod for great ideas. We were just finishing up on The Road, our 14-mile-long test track in the San Bernardino foothills. In the calm, the tink-tink-tink from $200K-worth of cars sounded like silver spoons on champagne glasses. Then, in the distance, we heard an engine on the edge of madness, rev limiter popping. It had to be a stuck throttle-no one drives that hard that long and lives to tell about it.

Except for this dude. When he finally rounded the corner, his mostly black E36 M3 was on the verge of seizure. Smoke was coming from the brake rotors and the entire car appeared to be melting. The air was perfumed with all manner of burnt materials: oil, rubber, plastic and a hint of human hair.

"Oh man... I didn't think I'd catch you," the Dude said breathlessly. "I heard someone up here had a new 335i. I wanted to check it out before it split."

Dude had seen us at the bottom of the ridge; that meant he'd made it to our location in less than seven minutes. On my best day, in a new M3 with kick-ass tires and a tank of 100-octane, I feel good if I can do it in nine. How anyone could go that fast was impressive; how anyone could do it in such a shitbox was incomprehensible.

I let Dude fondle the 335i, play with all the doodads. I took a closer look at his car. De-badged and wearing spots of primer, its roundels had long since been pried off, probably for someone's jewelry. The lower lip of the front airdam was augmented with a piece of plywood. Cheesy-looking lengths of aluminum flex pipe poked through-to feed the brakes, I guess. The trunk wore what appeared to be a mini-blind slat affixed with silver duct tape. There were two tailpipes, one smaller than the other.

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