Gumball 3000 Day 6: My Own Fear and Loathing
My hotel room overlooked the Staples Center, where our grid of cars was awaiting our arrival. I could just see the AnastasiaDate and AsianDate cars 20 stories below me. This morning I could peek out and see the swarm of Gumball personnel attempting to get everything ready for the final drive. I too readied myself for the day. We would be taking the long way to Las Vegas by traveling through Death Valley. The location had long been on my bucket list of locations to visit, and now I was to be given the chance. Sadly I was scheduled merely as a passenger this trip. Despite a deep and primeval desire to push that yellow Camaro through the empty valley, I was told I would merely have to ride along this time. But then I happened to be the beneficiary of fortuitous timing.
Continue reading to learn more about Day 6 of the 2015 Gumball 3000 Rally.
The morning started off fairly tranquil, with our party gathering quietly in the lobby. It was as if the weight of the trip had finally begun to weigh on our shoulders. But then, in typical Gumball fashion, everything quickly went to hell and our tranquility devolved into a dervishing mess of confusion and hustle. Hotel staff was demanding we move cars, we were missing several members of our party, and the arrival of Lewis Hamilton on the grid meant that the masses of the world were swarming the area to get a glimpse of the two-time and current Formula One World Champion.
In typical Gumball fashion, everything quickly went to hell and our tranquility devolved into a dervishing mess of confusion and hustle.
We headed out onto the road and began to make our way through the intended route to Death Valley. My team was following the yellow Camaro, which was being piloted by former Cheers star and current radio host Jay Thomas. Jay would be recording his show from the car on the Death Valley trip. Shortly after we left LA, things went awry, as usual. The grey Camaro that replaced the red car had taken off at speed and pulled most of the convoy with it. Our team was assigned to stay close to the yellow Camaro to provide support as needed. The grey car’s speed would be its downfall, as not too far into the trip we got notified that our route cards were wrong, and they directed us over a section of road that had been washed out, and was not repaired yet.
The resulting reroute meant that the grey Camaro, and most of our team, were heading the wrong way, while the yellow car and just two support cars were heading in the proper direction. It was this change of events that would grant me my wish to drive in Death Valley. Just outside the park we stopped for fuel, and Jay Thomas was ready to remove himself from the loud, hot and uncomfortable Camaro. As we sat at the gas station trying to shuffle seats and passengers to accommodate Jay, his sound engineer and his producer, I found myself standing in front of the Camaro. Thanks to the loss of the other follow cars, I was the only journalist in the current group that was insured to drive the damn thing.
Steve, the team mechanic, handed me the keys and flashed a devilish smile. He was well aware how much I wanted this, and he was more than happy to oblige. I climbed back into the Camaro for my second long and unplanned stint of this trip. The heat of the desert swarmed me in the cabin, but I didn’t care. I turned the engine over and waited for a second as it settled into its loping idle. It welcomed me back with snap and burble from the exhaust.
What followed was an unforgettable journey that I had always wanted to take. That bleak desert horizon was achingly beautiful in a haunting way, and here I charged forward with the Camaro piercing that death with the angry noise of a V8 ringing out at 8,000 rpm. And then the road opened up to a straight flat stretch of nothing, and I got a cue from the film car.
“Slow down and run just behind us.”
“Perfect. Just hold for a moment, Thanks.”
“That was great. Now, just ease back and then we want you to come past as quickly as you can.”
That was all I needed to hear. I looked over at Steve in the passenger seat and flashed my own smile of glee and mischief. He merely waved me on. I dropped the car to second gear and stabbed the throttle. The car lurched forward with all 550 horses doing their best to make the world spin backwards as the nose of the car lifted. Off we went, past the film car, and pointed straight at the horizon. I kept my foot buried until I saw the same speeds I managed on the Autobahn. Then I pushed a bit further.
Finally I eased out of the throttle and slowed for a stop sign that was approaching. We could wait for the film crew to catch us here. Sadly, as I rolled to a stop, the car sputtered for a moment and died. Nervously I looked over at Steve, and simultaneously we both started to unbuckle and crawl out. Everything looked good under the hood, and I tried to crank the car a few times. No luck. It seemed like we were having a fuel issue, and the fuel pump was making an odd noise. I had overworked it on my velocity run. Thankfully after a few seconds of sitting the car started back up, and we were able to continue our little romp through the desert.
I kept my foot buried until I saw the same speeds I managed on the Autobahn. Then I pushed a bit further.
As we made our way down the mountain into Death Valley, I just fell into a personal moment of Zen. The heat, the car, the scenery, the desolation. It was a bit like my own personal Fear and Loathing moment, just without all the drugs. We stopped at the lunch checkpoint, just a few miles from the lowest point. I pulled the car into the local fuel depot to get topped off, and I handed the keys off. Once again I had been given the chance to drive due to simple circumstance, and once again it had been an unforgettable experience.
With a small issue involving both Camaros getting pulled over for driving too slowly, the rest of the day was uneventful. I merely sat in the back of the follow cars and reflected on my experience of the day. I am sure there was lots of fun and interesting conversation, but I remember none of it. I was still lost in that moment.
It wasn’t until we pulled into Vegas and witnessed the wide-eyed amazement from our Swedish handlers that I snapped back into reality. Seeing grown men bewildered and speechless like children seeing their first magic trick was enough to pull me from my personal moment. It was a fun and interesting way to end the day.
A small cherry for the top of my muscle car Sunday.
As the rally was officially ending, the next two days in Vegas were spent in a collection of meetings, bar rendezvous, laughs, and recollections. Somehow, through the magic of shared discomfort, sleep deprivation and a liberal application of alcohol, this collection of random writers, photographers and PR specialists had morphed into a strange family.
In the end, that is what the Gumball 3000 is really about. It isn’t the supercars, the models, the parties, the obnoxious flaunting of wealth or any of the charity events. At its core, what makes Gumball a wonderful thing is its ability to create powerful bonds between completely disparate groups of people. In the last week I had shared a glass of scotch with a crown prince, made dick jokes with a movie star, traveled through six countries and partied with rock stars, and I formed life-long bonds with dozens of new friends.
The Gumball 3000 is the most unorganized, uncomfortable, exhausting and obnoxiously arrogant event I have ever been involved in. I loved every moment of it, and would happily subject myself to its trials every year for the rest of my silly existence.