Big Audio Dynamite

Page 7 of 8

But what she would really love, she says, is for the Beast to "help mankind."

You see, explains Alma, every year, millions of dollars' worth of crops are destroyed by bugs in containment silos. So last summer, a company in Florida -- Analytical Research Systems Laboratory -- asked her to bring the Bronco to their labs. The scientists put plastic bags of bugs in the Bronco, blasted them with bass for 30 seconds at various frequencies, then ran tests to see whether the sound pressure killed or sterilized them. The hard-shell insects survived; the soft-tissue insects imploded.

The president of Analytical Research, Ara Manukian, says one shouldn't expect boomer cars cruising through cornfields anytime soon, but the tests did provide valuable information about the effects of sound pressure on pests.

Alma thinks this research is wonderful. Her truck, her Beast, is being used for a higher purpose.

Which finally gets to the real reasons she is doing all this.

Let's be clear: Alma Gates just turned 65, and she's traveling the country with a steroidal Bronco and a bunch of twentysomething bassheads. The whole story about how she wanted to improve her relationship with her son is all fine and good. It makes great press and sounds about right. But that was years ago. Her relationship with Patrick today is so solid they finish each other's sentences. Why is she really doing this; why is this her passion?

"It's difficult to answer what I get out of it, why I do it. . . . I do it because I want to," she says.

"I've always been a loner. Nobody at home knows what I do. My neighbors don't even know what I do. Most people who are 65 years old wouldn't do this, they wouldn't understand it. Most people my age are not interested in car audio. Most people my age are into playing golf, but it is not my thing."

She looks down at her glass of wine, rotates the glass.

"When you stop thinking, and stop doing, and stop being motivated, you might as well sit down and die. Doing this, I get to work with a group of wonderful young people.

"This keeps me young."

She says that last sentence quietly, a verbal sound wave with only a little bit of pressure, but plenty of meaning.

When asked if this is the case, Patrick says, "It's been a major shift in her personality over the past few years. She's healthier and happier. She does not look 65 right now -- but when she was 50, she looked 65."

So there is, at least, one good reason for worshiping car audio. And though she may be out of the competition for this round, Alma can still live vicariously through one of her friends: Her ace in the hole who has no sponsors, no teammates and the ugliest truck at the show.

Kyle Witherspoon scrambles over the jumbled wood-and-wire mess sitting in his truck bed. He has a voltage meter in his hands, and he tests every wire he can find. He tinkers here and there, trying to squeeze every last bit of current out of the system. He has maybe two minutes before his truck is due for the final dB Drag Racing run in his competition class.

His Toyota is a cut car, an ugly heap on which every alteration is solely to create a more effective pressure chamber. Back in high school, he had the loudest truck in school. Over the years he kept adding equipment, and today the Borg-like takeover of stereo components is complete. The Toyota is completely stripped, barely driveable. And, as far as he's concerned, it's paid off.

Witherspoon wasn't favored to make it to the last round. But here he is and, suddenly, Witherspoon finds the manufacturing reps a lot more friendly and the competitors a lot more wary. On his tailgate sit four unused amps, a loan from a manufacturer who hopes he will replace his employer's Rockford amps. Even though the reps at the Rockford booth have barely said a word to Witherspoon all weekend, he declines to use the other company's amps. Not so much out of company loyalty, not at this point, but just that the Rockfords are probably better.


Witherspoon hasn't slept for five days and hasn't eaten in the last 24 hours, so there is very little about which he is positive. "You worry about everything," he says, and because he's using only two woofers, he absolutely cannot afford for a single thing to go wrong.

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James Hibberd
Contact: James Hibberd