Today we set off on the long trek to SOWO Southern Worthersee A Volkswagen Audi show in northern Georgia . While this will not be my first time attending SOWO it will be the first time my 1997 Golf GTI will make an appearance. My GTI and I go back to the beginning; 17 years ago is when I bought this little 150HP pocket rocket. Today, after a total rebuild we are hoping, reborn, the little monster can pull 400HP and maybe more. Every day I drive Witch One I smile knowing in my hands I have a special machine that has not only kept me dreaming but also launched the dreams of at least 7 other people, maybe more, who were lucky enough to race her through the streets of Minneapolis.
Shows like Overhauling, Gas Monkey, Wheeler Dealers or Top Gear at their core depicts the emotional connection we humans have with our cars. I too have this emotional connection with my GTI and Golf R for that matter, and like the people from the aforementioned shows I can tell you exactly who inspired this connection and when the connection with my GTI occurred.
I bought the GTI new and after several years the fun had left the car. I was a home owner with yard work and remodeling projects on the to do list. The little hot hatch became a defacto SUV, hauling everything from lawn mowers and yard mulch to soccer goals and snowblowers. Time was taking its toll on the little GTI. It was time to sell the her and buy something more practical, a real SUV.
At the time my friend Aaron Witchger would badger me to let him drive the GTI and since I had already bought the Tahoe I freely tossed him the keys. Every time he would bring the car back he would say “dude you can’t sell this car.” He would present me with ideas he had found on the internet on how to modify the GTI to improve her performance or alter her stance. Wheels, exhaust and a chip to give the VR6 engine a little more growl. The times I would ride along as a passenger with Aaron as he was driving I would marvel at his driving skills. The guy was so tuned into that car man and machine truly became one. Aaron not only was one of the best athletes I had ever met but he was also one of the best drivers I had ever met. Riding along with Aaron as he dipped through Minneapolis traffic was the point in time where the fun of driving the GTI was replaced by the magic of driving the GTI and the future build took root my soul. It was here I decided I would never sell this little car.
Aaron and I have long gone our separate ways, however when I look back at the story of the GTI I can point to Aaron Witchger as the person who influenced me the most in not only keeping the GTI but someday building her into something special.
Fast forward now 7 plus years. The GTI build remained a dream but I was not really committed to making that dream come true. The GTI was little more than a third vehicle taking up space in my garage. About four yeas ago now is when the GTI threw a rod bearing and life for the hot hatch changed. I had her towed to Further Performance. and while she sat pathetically up on the hoist it was clear; we could rebuild her bring her back to life bigger, stronger and more powerful than the day she left the plant in Wolfsburg Germany.
While building the car my friends would always ask me: “So you have three cars, Which one do you drive?” It was through countless conversations like this that the tag “Which One” took hold. It was also during the build that countless numbers of people, people I had never met started to tell me the stories of Aaron Witchger giving them their first ride in my GTI. They would tell me stories how they had so much fun riding or driving in my car with Aaron that they knew right there they had to buy a GTI of their own. One mutual friend told me a story of how Aaron scared the crap our of him as he dipped through Hennepin Ave traffic. The car and the drive was such a rush that with in a month he bought his very own 337 GTI. Another person whom I had never met saw the GTI up on the hoist at Further Performance. and said “I own my GTI today because of the ride Aaron Witchger gave me in this car.”
People, it seemed, had not just one story but may stories about the time Aaron gave them a ride in my GTI. Each story was told with a sparkle in the eye and a smile on their face. The craziest thing to me was I had no idea any of these people had ever ridden in my car. I had no idea when I tossed Aaron the keys to the GTI he was making his friends smile and dream. There were so many stories that it was obvious that “Which One” had to be changed to “Witch One” a tribute to a guy who had such a positive yet unknown influence on so many.
It is funny how life can bring people together and create friendships, even if they are for a short amount of time; friendships that become frozen in one moment in time before they go their separate ways. I have not spoken to Aaron in over ten years but his influence on me and my GTI will live on until the day I die. When that day comes and I head off to the big Volkswagen club in the sky and some lawyer hands Aaron the keys to my GTI I hope rather than sending her to the crusher he brings new smiles and creates new dreams for the next generation of Volkswagen enthusiasts.