Team TACH Inside Scoop From Coast to Coast Gumball 3000 Rally
By Nicholas Frankl Senior Editor
and Rich Kaufman
Any mild mannered Tifosi would willingly pledge his left leg (an optional extra when driving modern masterpieces from Maranello these days) for the chance for a few miles in the famed automotive chariots. Imagine the forfeit if you were offered the chance to reenact a famous 80’s movie and drive your Ferrari with 150 other supercar diehards 3400 miles from sea to shining sea?
Now in its fifth year, the notorious Gumball 3000 rally arrived in the US in 2002. Having established a cult following amongst car fans in Europe and across the globe thanks to a potent mix of glamour, (previous participants have included royalty, pop stars, film and TV actors, playmates models and even MTV’s Jackass) extreme speeding (a pair of 355 spiders racing at 180mph down the runway of Bilbao airport, whilst a FedEx plane was on final approach) and expensive fines (imagine how naughty you have to be to get a $50,000 fine in GERMANY!). This notoriety was soon transplanted to the US as 130 cars blazed a trail of tickets (700 in all) from New York to LA in 2002, yours truly suffering the hard end of Oklahoma hospitality as ‘justice’ was dished out to “foreign ass autobahn maniacs” and an invitation to spend the night in a six by eight penthouse in a town where the lone horse had departed long ago likely ridden by John Wayne.
This year’s event kicked off on Easter weekend from the famous Fairmont hotel in San Francisco. 2000 fans from across California and beyond were there to see the Lamborghini’s, RUF Porsche’s, Viper’s, SL 55’s, Morgan’s, M3’s,M5’s, and an international collection of some 25 Ferrari’s plus a Kenworth truck – with mayor Willie Brown leading the procession in a red F50!
TACH joined the event in a new and rather conspicuous Mitsubishi EVO. OK it wasn’t from Italy, but at least it was Daytona yellow! So as to appear like a real team my co-driver and I were also equipped with new driving shoes from Piloti. The EVO had the distinct advantage of being unique in a crowd where at least one turbo and/or supercharger combined with eight or twelve cylinders was normal and anything less than 250 horse power deemed a poor show. For many of the Ferrari owners it was their first experience of driving their jewels over long distances. The Gumball being a celebration of automotive camaraderie Team TACH had decided to join friends from Beverly Hills whom we had met on last years event when Keith Previte and James ‘dirty’ del Pozzo (sales manager of Ferrari Beverley Hills) drove a 512TR. Finding the car “a little old and a little too cramped” Keith had swapped into a new 2003 360 shod with Harmon 8X19 front and 13X19 rears with 345/30 19 Michelins. “Last years event was so great I had to bring my dad with me this time”, he explained peering above his large martini at the evening penthouse party before the start. Dad Richard (who had planned to participate in his new Enzo that hadn’t arrived in time) and Michael Lyon from Santa Clara and Bel Air respectively brought along a red 575 with just 400 miles under its belts. “I never imagined how great all the cars would look and how seriously the entrants take preparing their vehicles, there is some very capable machinery here – but I think we’ll be able to handle ourselves” commented Richard understatedly at the start line. The rest of ‘our team’ consisted of Michael Warn and his wife Cindy (silver 575) from Oregon, Billy Richardson (black 575) manager of the Mandalay hotel and our host in Las Vegas, his girlfriend in a supercharged Escalade and sister in a Mercedes G-Wagan AMG, and new friends from Detroit Michael Kelter and his fiancée Lizzy who also happened to be a retired member of the Detroit city SWAT unit piloting a Porsche 993 RUF twin-turbo reportedly good for 217mph.
After some wheel spinning high jinks at the start various Gumballers, throwing caution to the wind, and driving four abreast at over 80 mph across the golden gate bridge, ended up shortly thereafter in Solona county jail where bail was set at $2500 a man. “Petty cash”, for Michael Ross a British Gumball veteran in a BMW Z8 who had stocked up with $10,000 for any such law enforcement eventuality. He was rallying with brother Simon who had shipped in his 1987 328 GTS. “I really didn’t think the car would make it”, exclaimed the tired Brit in Florida, “but we only lost the started motor (traced to a loose connection in Las Vegas), the rest of the time the car was faultless and we kept up with all but the wildest drivers.” Simon proudly displayed his three citations from Texas, the fourth one (in 100 miles) requiring him to visit the local judge outside San Antonio. “I was worried I wouldn’t have enough cash left after the previous fines – but the Judge only hit me for 180 bucks”
Each evening rest stop heralded another onslaught of wild adventures. Two Australian models driving a Jordanian billionaires 360 Spider (he was in a new Muricelago with Lady Victoria Hervey whilst his ex-SAS security detail attempted to keep up in a rented Cadillac) had been pulled over wearing pasties and little else. The troopers called for backup, brought over seven other officers, and duly posed for photos. The women were more than happy to play along if it meant avoiding a ticket (which they did). Supermodel Jodi Kidd wasn’t so fortunate, forced to wear a bikini in her new Dodge Viper “I thought I was going to fry, it was so hot in the car” she got pulled for doing 85 mph in a 60 mph Alabama zone, the trooper wrote her a big ticket. “It’s all part of the Gumball” she laughed.
Team TACH was keeping its head down and making great progress. Wisely deciding to avoid snow covered Reno, in our million dollar convoy, we had arrived first into Las Vegas. Manuel Smadga wasn’t so fortunate, smashing his 360 spider into the Las Vegas speedway at 5.30am. Far from creating havoc, Gumballers came to the rescue of a serious roll-over accident outside the Hoover Dam. Lizzie, from the RUF Porsche, using her police emergency medical training to help calm a blood covered family whilst the MediVac ambulance arrived to free their trapped husband and father who was pinned inside the car.
By the time we departed Tucson, every law enforcement officer in the country knew the Gumball was on and worst – they had received a detailed route map by fax from their brothers-in-arms from San Francisco! This was of little interest to Michael and his RUF Porsche which threw all its belts on Easter Sunday morning. The team went on without us as we searched anxiously for a qualified mechanic. After flagging down a few owners, local hero Butch came to the rescue and after six hours and $350 we set off for San Antonio (980miles down the I-10). With my co-driver Rich Kaufman driving the EVO and me in the Porsche, we averaged 90mph through Arizona and New Mexico and with 200 miles to go at 2am in deserted western Texas decided to see what a RUF could do. 198mph was as far as my guts would go, but the car was still accelerating strongly. In spite of a built-in Valentine radar and police scanner, James in the black 360 had run into a local sheriff, who confiscated his license and instructed them to follow him to the court house where the lady judge was summoned – at 2.30am! $200 later (for 10 mph over the limit) with their debt paid to smallville Texas, they were off to the Alamo. The rest of the team was cruising leisurely. With the rev counters nudging 2,300 revs at a steady 80mph, the 575 ‘elder statesmen’ didn’t need the attention and inconvenience of troopers.
Our passage was significantly delayed by the hundreds of deer on the side of the highway. Why Texas troopers don’t spend less time hiding in blushes with radar traps and more time protecting innocent motorists from the danger of hitting these dim-witted animals is a total mystery and frankly an outrage. We reached San Antonio at 4am and four hours later were on the road to New Orleans. The Gumball is meant to be a high octane mix of pleasure and endurance for both vehicle and occupants and the organizers weren’t skimping on the ingredients. Rich my co-driver had to leave in Houston for a prior commitment and this gave me the chance to give a lift to Maximillion, who didn’t actually have a set of his own wheels to drive and was relying instead upon others to lend him cars for each leg. “This is certainly the best organized event we have ever managed” he enthused. “You know we had over 3,000 people at the start and 10,000 in Reno plus all these hundred’s of fans along the way waving from overpasses and bringing their cars out to join in for a few miles, it’s incredible where we’ve come in five short years, especially if I think back and remember the eclectic mix of cars and characters. This year we have some of the richest enthusiasts in the world with briefcases full of cash and bodyguards in-tow and then we have the entrant I’m most proud of who is the guy in the green ’77 Corvette. He’s a plumber and has been sending in his entry fee $200 at a time”! New Orleans welcomed us with traditional Cajun festivities and Gumball HQ clearly knew how to work the system as we ended up at a party at the police chiefs bar on Bourbon street!
The final leg to Miami was long and fast. I-95 was the only way to go and the Florida troopers knew it. Armed with what appeared to be the entire force including two planes and a helicopter many of the Gumballers fell victim to their mobilization effort. Chasing a Porsche GT2 with a Union Jack on its roof proved a little too much even for them however. Congratulating the driver over the police radio, which they were sure the Porsche was monitoring, (he was!) that he was going so fast, (Rob the driver, claiming a GPS timed average speed of 135mph for the last leg,) that they were diverting their officers attention to “easier targets”. Unsurprisingly Rob was first across the finish at the Mandarin Oriental and celebrated with his signature donuts leaving the bellman and cameramen gasping for air like beached fish.
Not willing to break my duck, the Evo and I ran with the Ferrari 575 ‘elder statesmen’ for most of the way. As we neared downtown the highways got more and more aggressive and for the first time in 3,300 miles we were hounded by the locals for driving too slow! There are no prizes for coming first. The highest honor that can be bestowed upon an entrant is the “Spirit of Gumball” award. This went to Alex Roy and David Maher, both New York based travel executives. Their blue BMW M5 was converted into a full spec German police car with POLIZIE on the side, flashing lights and the pair wearing an array of uniforms each day. They were responsible for pulling over nearly as many Gumballers as the real cops as they sought to make headway and reach the check points first, no mean feat as the tally in Miami was reported to be over 500 speeding tickets collected mostly by the large European contingent – the Koenigsegg accounting for five in Texas alone where it reached a claimed 242mph! Roy was understandably excited after accepting his award “this is the greatest event I’ve ever done, I intend to do one every year until I die” he remarked. Special awards also went to two a pair of BMW M3 drivers. Wes Bruce, who drove half the way alone, navigating and firing off roman candles all with only one arm and one leg, and Steve Compton, paralyzed from the waist down and driving with special hand controls. The Evo, with its 280bhp turbo charged four cylinders was a perfect companion. Many of the Ferrari drivers commented that it would make an ideal daily sports car. Fast, comfortable and very stable even at its maximum. Having tested the Subaru Impreza, I would take the Evo every time for its sheer handling brilliance. All it needs badly is a 6th ratio for touring. The Ferrari’s ran faultlessly throughout. And contrary to popular belief it was in fact the cars from Stuttgart that proved most fragile, as many suffered both mechanical and electrical break downs. Next years Gumball 3000 will return to Europe “to give the US license holders a chance to have some fun”.