Twenty-one-year-old James Dawson said he thinks about modifying cars all the time.
"It's an addiction, man," he said. "Once you get a cool car you start to grow fond of, you just can't not spend your paychecks on it. You can't help but think about it every night before you go to bed. You can't help but think about driving it the next day. You can't get your mind off it. It's a very bad addiction."
Local automotive enthusiasts have been able to quell the grips of their addiction to an extent in recent years by sharing their passion for modifying motor vehicles on a Juneau-based interactive Web site. The site, www.coldspeed.net, began with 10 club members from Juneau in 2003 and has since expanded to host more than 350 users from around the country, providing a forum for people to discuss all things automotive.
Jason Riederer, one of the 10 original members of the club, said the Web site was started by three guys early in the millennium as a way for young people interested in import cars to interact and take pride in their vehicles.
"The very first Web site was pretty much just a photo album of their cars," he said. "There was quite a bit of interest and quite a bit of traffic so they decided to build an interactive Web site out of it."
Coldspeed.net allows its members to post pictures of ongoing car modification projects, seek and provide automotive advice, network with car enthusiasts and learn about car meets and get-togethers with other gear heads. Kevin Dean, who says he is not much of a car guy, said he uses the site to network with people and has promoted his DJ shows on Coldspeed.net.
"We're trying to promote meets with members and their cars and trying to put another car show together," he said. "We're just out trying to bring something positive to our town."
While automotives have played an important cultural role in America for decades, the 2001 release of the major motion picture "The Fast and the Furious" about the underbelly of illegal street racing in Los Angeles helped highlight a new car subculture. There was a small contingency of street racers in Juneau during that time, some of which used the site, but Coldspeed has a completely different mission than promoting that kind of activity, Riederer said.
"Coldspeed has seen a lot of changes," he said. "Back when I first joined there was a lot of street racing and stuff like that before 'The Fast and the Furious' and all that came out. That has been toned down quite a bit. Ever since 'The Fast and the Furious,' Coldspeed has taken on the mindset of not promoting illegal street racing."
In fact, Coldspeed.net explicitly states that it does not tolerate the promotion of illegal street racing in Juneau on its site and says it will ban users for 30 days for a first offense and permanently for a second offense.
Riederer, who is presently enrolled in college in Washington, said the club has grown to be more inclusive since its early days when it was focused on import cars.
"As Coldspeed grows we kind of want to attract every crowd and not just be known as this thug gang of street racers because I know the cops in Juneau used to go on Coldspeed to figure out where these races were going to go down," he said.
Tim Backus, 36, said he began using Coldspeed.net several years ago as a way to connect with local people with the same hobby.
"It's not a bunch of ... young kids who are out there to just tear up the street," he said. "We're car enthusiasts who love what we build, whether it be a truck, motorcycle, car, import, domestic, it doesn't matter. We love what we do and that's the whole meaning for the club. We love working on cars and being around cars."
There are a lot of people interested in modifying cars in Juneau compared to the population of the city, Backus said.
"They want to have something to do with their time," he said, adding that he has been modifying a Harley Davidson motorcycle and a 1996 Ford F-150. "And modifying cars, even though we don't have a lot of roads, it's one of the things that people do around here."
Chris Howard, 22, said modifying a car is an enjoyable hobby but also can provide a sense of pride or a way to earn bragging rights with friends.
"Me and my friends are always trying to outdo each other," he said. "Always trying to one-up one another."
Howard said in 2001 he bought a 1998 Honda Prelude that he began fixing up and has been hooked ever since, claiming his present vehicle - a 2000 Lexus GS 400 - is the 22nd car he's modified. While his passion has not dwindled in recent years, Howard said his approach to modifying vehicles has evolved.
"I've kind of gotten a little less into the speed and more into the look, like the rims and things," he said. "Too many speeding tickets - I can't afford it anymore."
Jeremy LaPierre, 32, said the description of modifying a car has a wide-ranging definition, from simply upgrading the car stereo to going all out with a new engine, wheels and tires, paint job and more. While he has been modifying cars for many years, his latest project has been working on Chevy S-10 truck that he entered into last month's 8th Annual Classic, Custom and Antique Auto and Cycle Show hosted by the Juneau Dipsticks car club.
LaPierre said he has put hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars into his project, inspired by a picture of a modified S-10 he saw in a magazine.
"I had everything in my head that I wanted to do," he said, adding that he has nearly completed his vision. "It was a whole package deal - the rims, tires, suspension, interior work, stereo, engine - so I just slowly worked on each of those things a little bit at a time."
Dawson, whose main project right now is a 1994 Pontiac Trans Am, said modifying cars is a unique way to let your personality show.
"If you're a pretty interesting, colorful guy, you got a hint of flare and stuff, why not show it through your car as well? That's kind of what me and all my friends do," he said. "You put on a bigger set of wheels, you lower it a bit, you maybe get a nice stereo system, and make it faster or something, and then you've got something you can say that nobody else has. It's a totally personal thing."
And while driving fast can be exhilarating, modifying a car can be challenging, rewarding and fun, Dawson said.
"I probably have more fun working on my cars with my buddies in my garage on a Friday night with a six-pack than kids do at a theme park," he said.
Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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