A Tar Heel group combines a passion for automobileswith social intermingling.

Eba Hamid, Staff Writer
The News and Observer
Published: Jul 19, 2007

Ryan Holton's love of cars started as a teenager when his mom handed him the keys to her 1964 Mustang.

Holton, 32, is now president of the Tarheel Sports Car Club, a group for car guys and gals to share their love of automobiles, race against the clock and socialize.

The group was founded in Wilson in 1964 and has roughly 320 members, including about 30 women. It sponsors races and other events, mostly in Eastern and central North Carolina and southern Virginia. Events include autocross, or timed, precision driving; time trials, in which the goal is to complete laps in the shortest time; and rallycross, similar to autocross but on unpaved surfaces.

Holton, who lives in Greenville, said anywhere from 50 to 200 people attend each event, often held in parking lots or on airport runways. Though the club has never had an autocross accident, Holton said, each car must undergo an inspection before an event and drivers must wear helmets.

Still, members say the adrenaline rush is real. Carl Fisher said maneuvering a course is like solving a puzzle.

"You're looking ahead; you're planning, executing and reacting," said Fisher, one of the club's vice presidents. "It's very exciting."

You don't have to be a member to participate. Members recommend that people interested watch an event to see how everything works. Novices receive extra instruction. Each spring and fall, the group holds an all-day autocross school.

"We try to make it as novice-friendly as possible," Holton said, "because we were all novices at some point."

So what do you need to get started?

"A car in good working condition, air in your tires, gas in your tank and a good, open attitude," Holton said.

Although the love of cars unites club members, the social atmosphere helps keep them together. The group meets monthly and hosts an annual Christmas party, picnics or other events throughout the year. The interaction leads to friendships -- and at least one marriage. Fisher met his wife, Mary "Emmie" Fisher, at the Tarheel Sports Car Club.

Fisher said club members are friendly, laid-back and generous. The group's third-annual "Never Give Up" charity autocross in May raised $6,000 for the V Foundation, which works to find a cure for cancer.

"Our hearts are in a good place," he said. "We're sociable and helpful, and we're definitely united by our love of cars."