AJ Dome with Pickup

Writer AJ Dome, in a photo from high school, stands next to his 1985 GMC pickup truck.

I love cars.

Since I can remember, I’ve had a healthy obsession with everything automotive. I get it from my parents; my dad is a mechanic by trade, and my mom used to reupholster vehicle interiors. My first real set of wheels after a bicycle was a homemade go-kart with a five horsepower engine. Following that first foray into gas-powered adventures, I had a long string of dirt bikes and ATVs. When I got my first pickup truck, a 1985 GMC with loud exhaust, I learned how addictive the smell of burnt rubber can be.

To paraphrase the movie “Top Gun,” I have a need for speed.

I inherited more of an appreciation for vehicular aesthetics than the mechanical side, but I learned how to perform my own maintenance. The biggest thing for me is the driving experience. I love driving, and even though I’ve gotten in trouble for it in the past, I do have a bit of a lead foot. Any car I own must meet three requirements: have a working radio, working air-conditioning, and enough power to move out of its own way. While I’m a fan of traditional internal combustion engines, I’m intrigued by some of the more modern powertrains vehicles are equipped with, including electric motors.

This weekend I’m getting my first experience with an electric car on a road trip. I’m taking a Tesla Model 3 with staff photographer Lucas Boland and the car’s owner to the geographic center of the contiguous United States. The small community of Lebanon, Kansas, happens to be located “in the middle;” the town’s chapel was featured in a Super Bowl commercial for Jeep starring Bruce Springsteen. It might be the first time a Tesla is driven to the exact center of the lower 48.

It’s an exciting trip for me. I have never driven an electric car, let alone the most popular one available in the U.S. right now. The newest car I’ve owned was a 2003 model, so my frame of reference for most vehicles is a bit outdated. While I relish the idea of someday owning and daily-driving a classic sports car, the more reliable and reasonable daydream involves a vehicle with more safety features and better mileage — something which takes on a different form with the Tesla.

According to the manufacturer, the standard range for a Model 3 on full battery charge is 315 miles. The full round-trip from Manhattan to Lebanon and back is more than 340 miles. The car’s owner said a visit to the Tesla charging station in Salina will be necessary on this trek, plus it offers a chance to stop for lunch and discuss the car’s capabilities.

Kansas is a great place to test vehicles, especially EVs or nontraditional power plants. Our wacky weather conditions and wide-open spaces provide a chance to run cars through several real-world challenges, and I think more automotive companies should test their prototypes here.

If a new car can withstand spring thunderstorms, bitter winter cold, and regular use on gravel roads, then it’s worthy of my consideration.

While we won’t be taking the Tesla down any unpaved paths, I will write an article for the May edition of 313 Magazine detailing the trip and how the electric car performs. It’s a chance for my inner gearhead to come out and to explore a new part of Kansas while thinking about the future of automobiles.

And boy, do I love cars.

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