Rally Nirvana - 2005 Bullrun
RALLY NIRVANA BULLRUN 2005
By Nicholas Frankl
Automobile rallies have been with us almost from the day Carl Benz and Gottleib Daimler created the ‘modern’ car. Rallies brought together like-minded individuals who enjoyed the sport of driving, congregating and generally messing with all things mechanical and automotive. Amateur rallying spawned organized racing and, then, the great street races like the Carrera Pan America, Mille Millia and Targa Florio in times less-policed, politically scorned upon and generally interfered with. Now, these classic rallies occur under different, restricted, conditions - more ceremonial gatherings for serious collectors and their multi-million dollar rolling historic art works than seriously-challenging competitions.
So, what of the rest of the world’s petrol-head enthusiasts? Brock Yates created the modern road race “rally” with the Cannonballs of the seventies, those illegal, all-out, sea-to-shining-sea events were nothing less than an affront to popular civilized society, which left the scrambling, outwitted police forces in their wake with no real deterrent except issuing orders to arrest on-sight and shoot to kill Cannonballers – all very appropriate for breaking a law which is wildly abused by the vast majority, introduced as a temporary solution to the oil crisis and eagerly embraced by every mainstream State as the best revenue generator since legalized gambling. With the success of the Cannonball Run movies the rally era ended, until in the late 90’s, a new bread of enthusiasts emerged in Europe to create the Gumball 3000, a legal rally, with no timing (at least no official timing) and a mixture of petrol heads in Caterham super sevens and hedge fund managers in McLaren F1 GTR’s and Porsche Turbos. The unifying elements? A love of cars and the driving of them over great terrain. Six years on and there is no shortage of stories, fines, jail sentences, impounded vehicles, videos, movies and DVD’s glorifying the altogether not terribly ‘PC’ activities of the varied participants.
Some readers might recall that my father ran in the last official Cannonball Run from Darien Connecticut to Redondo Beach CA in 1979, driving a custom truck which was not only the slowest vehicle but also ran out of brakes in New Mexico. He finished in 48 hours - “Last but not Least” said the huge Oscar-esque trophy which is still displayed proudly in his London home - the winning Jaguar XJS coming home in 32 hrs 51 minutes. Ever since 1994 my father and I have been doing rallies together; first was the European Express Trophy, a ‘race’ against the Orient Express train with Duran Duran’s Simon LeBon and Mark Stewart and about 30 cars from London to Milan for the Monza GP – we ran in our new magnolia rosso 348 TS and had a blast. I remember the finishing party in some incredible Italian castle; we filled up the inner quad with all the cars - Lambos, Aston’s, Ferrari’s TVRs you name it - to the great delight of the assembled wedding party which was being conducted. Problem was the kitchen couldn’t cope and so in an act of sheer boredom I went out and started the 348 to rev it – and hopefully the cooks - into action. Of course everyone followed suit once they heard the sonorous V8 at 7,000 revs echoing around the castle’s inner quad and soon you had a hell of a cacophony that essentially drowned out the wedding altogether – being Italy no one minded of course!
This year’s Bullrun, the second and now annual event, wasn’t based in Italy, but LA. Having driven in eight prior rallies, from Cannonball Classics to Gumball to the inaugural Bullrun from LA to Miami last year, I was just as excited as any rally virgin to start again and face the challenge of another 3,000 mile blast. I’d advised Bullrun organizer David Green that the thought of thrashing across the country on the monotonous highways held little in the way of either anticipation or excitement, as we’d done that three times before and how many ways can you drive along the I-10 and dodge the now-much-better-informed and equipped, but still, in parts, rather peculiarly dim highway patrol? Green, and his partner Andy Duncan, listened and this year most of the rally toured through all ‘B’ roads, mountain passes and deserted deserts taking us to Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Bolder, Aspen, Salt Lake, Reno, San Fran and back down famous Highway 1 to the finish party in Hollywood.
With 75 cars and one rock band’s yellow school bus parked up outside the Kodak theatre, Hollywood Blvd turned into an impromptu motor show-come-dance party courtesy of DJ’s from Sunset’s famous Blowfish sushi. The rather bemused tourists were wondering what the hell kinda movie premiere was going on. Numerous ‘actors’ like Elvis, Superman, Batman and Big Bird flocked around the assorted exotica for pictures with the tourists whilst the media yelled out to get photos of the official drivers who included Dennis Rodman, driving an immaculately custom painted Gallardo complete with his face on each door, Hayden Christensen, better known as Darth Vader from Star Wars driving a newly-loaned Saleen Mustang, James Hewitt - better known as Princess Diana's forbidden lover - paired with Ryan Dunn, from MTV’s “Jackass”, in an Escalade, the Bikini Bandits and team Polizei - a New Yorker pretending to be German highway patrol officer in a lightly breathed upon 750 bhp Merc CL 600 - with the sole mission to generate as much media coverage as possible, an assortment of British actors and TV celebrities flown in to act in the 10-part reality TV show being filmed on-route plus one curvaceous blonde Maxim swimsuit cover girl whose name I don’t recall.
Noon, and time to start driving to Vegas. To prevent early departures and skipping of checkpoints, each participant is issued a new route card every morning and at each checkpoint. Bullrun route Card #2, start time 12 noon, destination Venetian Resort, Las Vegas, Mileage 273 EDT 5 hours!
Living in LA has some advantages, and knowing the shortcut to the 210 freeway whilst everyone else is stuck and overheating on the I-10 is certainly one of them. Armed with a brand new Jaguar XK8 convertible, which was sourced, goodness knows where or how at extremely short notice, by the brilliant James Thomas at Jaguar PR and arrived with 600 miles on the clock, my co-driver one Stefan Johansson, yes the ex-Ferrari F1 driver, Le Mans and Sebring champion, Champcar team owner and all round cool Swede who happened to also be sponsoring the rally as the official watch brand (www.stefanjohansson.se) and who had created a Bullrun version with ridgeback alligator straps and a $5,500 price tag, Rachael, a long legged slim blonde journalist from Cosmopolitan magazine London who ‘needed a lift’ and I sped off – destination The Venetian Hotel.
100 miles out and I noticed the ‘sexy9’ bright yellow Lambo Muricelago owned by a young and clearly successful San Diego doctor, Rodman and a red F40 coming up strongly in the mirrors and using what ever lane possible to pass the sedate Saturday afternoon traffic. We tagged along, cruising below a hundred most of the time, but requiring the creamy smooth 300bhp 4.2 V8 to work a little harder and stopping for gas with another friend in a rather unusual Lambo LM – the must-have 80’s SUV for oil Sheiks, Colonel Gadaffi and the Libyan army. The CHP were out, but running ahead of the crowd, we weren’t bothered as we arrived at the lowest common oasis for the world’s celebrity fixated least service orientated tourists. Enjoying a cold beer pool side (that took just 45 minutes to arrive) I learnt that the original Pirelli tires, from 1991, on the LM weren’t up to either the high speed or heat and had expired in unison, leaving the LM with one tire and on a flatbed home – the Bullrun had claimed had it’s first casualty; there would be others in the coming days.
Partying in Vegas is always amusing and if they happen to throw lingerie party in your honor then so much the better! The Palms hotel threw a truly ‘Vegas’ style event, centered around a large warm swimming pool. Problem was that security deemed it off limits – but of course with so many scantily clad guests, the Bullrunners decided to embark on a group bathing session and raided the pool en masse. Mayhem ensued and we all ended up at our penthouse suite for some dancing with the Blowfish DJ’s who had decided to set up a full nightclub sound system. The evening went late – but knowing the tasks that lay ahead I excused myself for the evening – tomorrow’s adventure was but a few short hours from beginning.
Day 2, 9am and the newly bonded Bullrun band of brothers (all 150) were up and ready to be greeted by a rainy Vegas morning. No time for the slot machines, grab a Red Bull and a banana and head for the north side of the Grand Canyon. Steve Green, brother of David, and the director of the reality TV show being filmed throughout the rally needed a lift, and as Stefan had needed to return to LA for Grand Am testing duties, and journo Rachel had joined Abi in a brand new $300,000 black on black Rolls Royce, purchased especially for the rally three days prior, and due to be sold upon finishing the 3200 mile dash with a
‘never raced or rallied’ advert – I decided I needed a new co-pilot for I knew it would be a long day. The highway north out of Vegas was as boring as expected, but some excitement was added by the carrying-on Escalade of Messrs Dunn and Hewitt, who were limited to 101 mph but drove as if the car would do no less either! The desert opened up to a bewildering array of foliage, giant rocks, beautiful mountains and forests. Reaching the Canyon was wonderful, and we were met by excited travelers, the Europeans slightly puzzled that half of Hollywood had arrived. After the obligatory pictures and video taking it was time for the next route card. Telluride would be our evening rest stop.
The deserted roads of Arizona, combined with what must be some of the most awesome rock formations and rich red colors, made for a fantastic afternoon drive. We ran mostly alone streaking up through the famous “4 points” state intersection on the 160 before joining the 145 that took us through the San Juan National Forest. As darkness fell we caught up with David and Andy driving their pre-production Bullrun sports car, a cool combination of Lotus Elise and Toyota MR2 equipped with a Nissan 240 motor and coming to the States in the next 12 months. They were all beaming smiles, how could they not be as we chased each other into the darkness of the Colorado mountains, climbing to 5,000 feet and dodging the occasional, but rather large and menacing moose.
Upon arrival at the Wyndham Peaks resort much excitement ensued as I was greeted and then recognized by Garbor, Tomi and Eric, the Hungarian Valets who had by co-incidence trained with some of my Hungarian Bobsled teammates in Budapest. The posing and photographs caused some perturbed looks from the assorted celebrities – used to getting all the attention and wondering what the hell was going on with this ‘English’ guy in the Jaguar. Downtown Telluride is a beautiful main street mining town affair with one good bar which we soon descended upon after taking the gondola from the hotel. The Num Chucks decommissioned school bus provided riotous party transport back to the hotel after the usual burnouts and high-speed bar passes by a couple of the participants who had driven their cars. Taking over the hotel bar – then ballroom – after the manager closed the bar, but not before we had pre-ordered and taken possession of their entire stock of beer, the party continued into the wee hours.
The morning mists greeted us at an ungodly early hour, a tip to the uninitiated – partying at high altitude takes it out of you - 205 miles separated us from lunch at the Sky Hotel in Aspen and most were keen to get on the road as fast as possible. With the camera helicopter buzzing overhead the yellow “Darth Vader” Muricelago sped off out of the hotel grounds and straight into the waiting arms of the local sheriff – who was not terribly amused by his 65 mph in a 25 mph zone and overtaking in a no overtaking area – Darth’s light saber was duly extinguished and as the rest of the convoy rolled by, Darth, who was wearing a Mountain Village Police cap that had been given to him by the Sheriff’s own enthusiastic wife the evening before, pleaded for mercy on the side of the road. It cost him valuable time, a fine, a gentle roughing up and some points on his license.
By now my new and final co-driver had arrived. Matt Hagen had flown in from Washington DC and was excited to taste the delights of Bullrun having just returned from Europe after completing the Gumball 3000 in a rented Aston Martin DB9 that had ended up costing him and his team mate, Alex Grimaldi, another great rallier from Miami, the large part of $30,000!!
The uneventful run into Aspen at 7500 ft gave me time to update Matt on the rally’s first few days and explain the different characters and backgrounds of entrants like my former team-mate Alex Roy in the Team Polizei 144 Mercedes – Matt having enquired upon seeing Alex if there was a fancy dress element to Bullrun and a prize for the best costume.
There are worse places to find oneself than Aspen on a Monday lunchtime. There is something very OK about Aspen. It’s tough to pinpoint but having skied there in winter I can understand the appeal to stay for summer too. We’d made strong progress in the Jaguar XK8 and arrived ahead of the field, able to bag a rock star parking position in front of the Sky hotel. After lunch and with route card #7 pointing us to Boulder some 171 miles off, we convoyed out of town and onto 82, one the most breathtaking roads I’ve ever driven, with Dennis Rodman leading the way in his Lamborghini, Peter and his red original F40 behind him, Matt and I driving the Jaguar and Michael Jackson (from Dallas) in an SL55. The four of us sprinted along route 82 taking us through the small mining towns of Independence and Twin Lakes, the V10, V8 twin turbo, V8 and supercharged V8 all working their hardest to create a truly sonorous cacophony bouncing off the rock faces and mountain passes – I wish you could hear the videos that we shot on that magical route for 75 tight and twisty miles of undulated switchbacks.
And then the heavens opened …..and how. Even the locals were shocked at the severity of the storm that eased our progress as we joined the I70 eastbound to Denver. With so much horsepower and such huge rubber, our convoy created quite a rooster tail as Peter in the F40 fought to keep control of a car that even Stefan Johansson had described as a ‘total bitch in the wet’. Two hours later, the rains had passed and we were in Boulder at the rather new and impressive St Julien hotel. The university bars provided a welcome home for the tired Bullrunners and as the clock struck 12 and my 34th birthday rolled in; there was much cheering, singing and general celebration, the Numchucks rock bus once again providing refuge for the partying masses. Many local students caught up in the Bullrun fever joined the merriment, and with Salt Lake City on the horizon many were worried that the Mormon state simply didn’t serve alcohol at all, the bus duly got stocked for any eventuality.
Tuesday July 26th and some of the British TV celebrities had decided that driving a new Jaguar XK8 convertible was somewhat more appealing than their mundane rental Mustang. Being my birthday and as my good friend Jason from Blowfish had brought along his brand new black Viper, all 10 liters, 500 horsepower of it, I decided to make the celebrities’ day (don’t ask me what they were famous for) and allow them to take the Jaguar, whilst my co-pilot drove their car with Rachel (the journo from Cosmo magazine) and one of the volunteers. By now many new friendships had been established and there was much car and driver swapping as each ‘team’ became less formal and everyone relaxed and began to really enjoy the rally to it’s fullest, appreciating that in a world gone crazy, with no-one guaranteeing tomorrow, that a largely irrelevant but immensely fun event like Bullrun is really a special time to see spectacular scenery, meet and mingle with diverse and interesting individuals and share common experiences, which for many became a life changing event.
Strapped into the Viper we ran along the famous Colorado river as it intersected the I-70, cruising at between 50 and 95 mph in 5th gear, the Viper barely breaking a sweat – which unfortunately was not how Officer Fitch saw it, stopping me and the BMW 6 series for doing a paltry 81. My apologies and attempts at a ‘birthday warning’ strategy falling on deaf ears, he duly wrote me up for $137 and 6 points on my license – which being British was of no relevance whatsoever. With Fitch filling up the County piggy bank with generous Bullrunner donations, I expect he probably got an upgrade to a Ford Expedition!
After nine rallies around the world, it’s fair to say that ‘law enforcement’ on highways is clearly a State and County tax business and not too much to do with public safety. Of course the officers provide valuable assistance in emergency situations, but for the most part they are fairly lazy, hiding in specially designed secret locations with radar guns buzzing away to prey on any minor indiscretion, wasting folks time and bringing home the green. The best way to avoid tickets is of course to stay off the highways, so as soon as we could we turned off at Rifle onto the 13 – destination Dinosaur.
Dinosaur, Colorado may not have figured strongly in your tourist ‘must see’ destinations, but don’t tell that to the city of 319 avid dino hunters! The 13 and 64 are simply sensational roads, I hope the pictures tell some of the story, but I can assure you that I used every one of those 500 horses, spending most of my time in 3rd and 4th gears, allowing me to pull from 25 mph to 150mph like a thoroughbred pulls on the reins in the gates before the big race.
The Viper is a great rally companion. Although it does dart around under braking on its custom 13in wide Michelins, they do provide prestigious amounts of grip which combined with the power and torque allow you to attack corners with aplomb and at speeds that machinery costing twice as much could barely cope with. Up and over highway 40, through Dinosaur – you’d miss it if you blinked, if not the 40 foot tall bright pink Tyrannosaurus – and into Vernal, elevation 5300 ft, population 17,000 and situated between the Uinta Mountains, the largest single east-west trending mountain range in the western hemisphere and the Uinta basin, a petroleum-rich mountain valley featuring 600 million years of earth history and lots of fossils! Some of the fossils had thoughtfully been converted to that black stuff – which the Viper enjoyed filling up on.
Upon arrival at the Utah Field of natural History we sensed something was a little wrong with Rodman, he was standing – all 6ft 7ins of him - peering over his yellow and now a little scarred Gallardo.
Back on Highway 40, the fast moving convoy had come across the Sheriff, parked beside the otherwise very deserted highway. The Lambo and others had hit the brakes, but Rodman’s friend driving the Bikini Bandits’ 1969 Ford Mustang convertible, hadn’t paid attention to prior warning that he was driving too fast in an old car to hang with this sort of exotica, and he ploughed into the rear of the Lambo, spun and hit the rock face.
It could have been so much worse, fortunately everyone was safe, if a little shaken up, the car was badly damaged, but not a write off and we all continued in the spirit of Bullrun. Rodman, however, was not amused by his friend’s stupidity and duly sent him home! Leaving Vernal, Rodman was too shaken up to drive and had another friend, Avi - his lawyer! - drive the rest of the stretch to Salt Lake, passing the Olympic venues of Park City, a place very dear to my heart as not only a great ski local but also the home of the bobsled track and my last Olympic effort driving the Hungarian 4-man bobsled team in 2002. As we passed the Olympic facilities, now bathed in summer sunshine, I couldn’t help but squeeze the throttle and unleash some of those pent up horses resting under the Viper hood.
Into SLC and the Grand America Hotel, built for the games by the richest man in Utah at a cost of $100m+ and with no hope of ever breaking even. It was my birthday, and it was time to party. Paul, the ever-professional concierge obliged with a beautiful suite over-looking downtown and we all went off for a steak dinner and then onto the local club to finally hear the Numchucks perform in all their black suit, white shirt, spiky-haired and thin black tie glory. I don’t think ACDC, Python, Def Leopard or any other rockers will sleep any the worse with the Numchucks out there, but what they lacked in god given ability- they made up in enthusiasm. The Blowfish after party back at the hotel was much more amusing with all the ralliers getting down on the dance floor, Richard Rawlins, his hair tied up like a Hollywood Pro, spraying champagne about and my team mate Matt, generously buying multiple bottles of Dom Perignon for all to enjoy – which I can safely say we did! The Bullrun organizers had such a good time that they delayed the start till 10am – a well-received sleep in.
Le Mans, Spa, Monza, Monaco, Indy, Goodwood, Silverstone, some of the world’s greatest motor sports venues I’ve be lucky enough to visit, but one of the most historic and certainly evocative had eluded me, until the morning of July 27, when the Viper and I headed off to Bonneville Salt Flats, 105 miles west of Salt Lake City and a salt desert so
flat and white that you swear it’s a movie set. Either that or you’ve been teleported onto the moon. Captain B.L.E Bonneville probably never imagined the 300, 400, 500 and 600 miles an hour records being broken on the flats, when he traversed across them in the 1830’s, but he was just the first of many pioneers, beginning in 1935 when Malcolm Campbell and his Rolls Royce-powered Bluebird broke the world speed record magic barrier of 300 mph (301.129). Many records fell at the hands of speed demons Craig Breedlove, Art Arfons and Gary Gabelich in Blue Flame, who set the fastest officially recorded time of 630.389, and of course the fastest man of them all, Andy Green, who took Thrust SSC to Mach 1.016 (760.343) on October 15th 1997 at the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, proving that cars could obtain unimaginable speeds with enough power, a smooth surface and a long enough straight.
It was unlikely that Bullrunners were to set any records today – except possibly some personal bests, and where safer? Filming for a reality TV show requires the de rigueur stunts, and so once we had all arrived, not as easy as it might sound given that there was no gas station for 100 miles and the ever-useless highway patrol, out to get their quota of supercars and failing, and equipped with all manner of bullets and radar speed detection devices, didn’t even carry a spare can of gas in his patrol car! The Viper takes a final sip as the ‘other’ Bikini Bandit looks on
Viper fuel vapors coasted us into the gas station on the periphery of the race strip and we all filled up. Two cars fueled and ready to commence battle were Darth Vader’s Muricelago and Dennis Rodman’s Gallardo.
With both our TV chopper and local news teams on hand from the city to record this celebrity battle, a model from South Africa duly waved the flag and the burbling collective 1100 horsepower sprinted into the distance, the respective V10 and V12 sucking in as much of the hot salty air as could fill their lungs. Darth and the dark side came through – despite spinning at over 180mph on the soft but bumpy flats. For the rest of us the organizers arranged for a mass ‘orderly’ convoy which began with 40 cars all lined up proceeding at 40-50 mph and ended with a mass of salt spray as everyone tried to out do each other up to and beyond their redlines – the sight of so many cars doing such high speeds all in a line, will certainly go into the ‘unique done that’ archives. High speed convoys behind us, with every car having achieved at least 20 donuts each and now duly caked in salt, it was off to the car wash to get rid of the evidence and save the paint jobs, but not for the ‘Sexy 9’ Lambo which was stuck out in the desert, it’s lungs chocked with salt and it’s 12 cylinders silenced for the rest of the rally.
No time to lose, and now with a motoring hack (who had strangely been left to fend for himself at the gas station) from the British Independent newspaper squeezed into the rear of the 2+2 Jaguar, Matt and I headed for Circus Circus, Reno, Nevada, the officers waiting like rattle snakes in the bushes along the lonely and tedious I80 – all 501 miles of it. With salt residue still caked to the inside of the wheels and underneath of the car, the wheel balance was now off – but that didn’t dampen the Jaguar’s keen progress having taken the honor of the fastest convertible at Bonneville, cruising at 85-100 the rest of the way was easy, passing a few other Bullrunners and keeping our eyes wide open for the bandits- which we were getting reports of up ahead. But, without the radar detector, which the valet had kindly stolen in Vegas, we were easy prey for Officer #256, whose name I can’t be bothered to recall as he excitedly pulled me and an SL55 over for the terrible hanging offense on doing 85 in a 75! Worse was to come. Jason and the Viper were still on the Salt Flats assisting the stricken Lambo and with my wallet and driving license in the glove box! So Officer Plod, who refused to accept 4 different business cards, a credit card and the Jaguar’s car papers as proof of ID, insisted we follow him to Elko county jail to post bail of $200. How this proved my identity was never explained, but once I’d paid (getting the picture here) it was all smiles and I was free to go. The clerk even forgot to write up the speeding ticket!
Reno may not be Vegas, but they love to put on a show and 5,000 fans gathered to welcome the cars and celebrities into this pitiful and rather staid gambling town. To be fair, they did throw a good party, even the local Nevada deputies turned up to warn us that the CHP had already crossed the state line and paid the car park a visit and were waiting to welcome the ‘speeding maniacs’ into California with 40 patrol cars, 2 helicopters and 1 airplane – goodness knows how the Californian tax payers let them get away with such a misuse of resources.
Route Card #12; destination Infineon Raceway, in beautiful Sonoma wine country. Only 200 scenic miles through Lake Tahoe, Sacramento and the vineyards of Napa separating us from a fierce Karting challenge, where the talking stops and driving says it all. Oh, and of course, California’s finest highway patrol! Sure enough mile 1 over the county line and the assorted convoy’s radar detector had a collective meltdown and CHP threw 6 units onto either side of the highway. It was useless as firstly we had our own helicopter telling us where the Smokey bandits were and second we had polices scanners, laser jammers and radar detectors in many of the cars, the rest of us kept in the frame by CB radio and walkie-talkie. So off we jolly well went – an expensive and exotic snail-voy with a Rolls, a Vette, a Viper, a Jaguar, a couple of Ferrari’s, CLS 55 AMG and Dennis in his yellow Lambo. Soon we realized from the radio chatter that the CHP weren’t really that interested in catching us – of course that would be a bonus, no, what they really wanted was to suss out which car Rodman was in and pull him over. Ten miles outside Sacramento, and with the Police spotter buzzing us like a water plane on fire duty, four motorcycle outriders appeared and surrounded the Lambo, each took turns to peer into the tinted windows until finally with much hand waving and excitement they guided him over to the hard shoulder. Of course, Bullrunners are a loyal bunch, so we all pulled over too. As soon as we had, the officers rode over and threatened us with arrest unless we moved on – leaving Dennis to fend for himself – with no witnesses. I should add that we were all going under the speed limit.
At this point Matt, my co-pilot and I, decided the best thing to do was press on and break up the convoy – it was obviously just too tempting a target. Within an hour we were at the track and suiting up for the Karting challenge, wondering what type of abuse Dennis was getting. After thirty minutes the Gallardo rumbled into the car park, Dennis was fine, no tickets and lots of pictures and autographs – I suppose a celebrity is still a celebrity in California!
The Karting was a mixture of fun and frustration – mostly frustration actually, as it became clear that most of the drivers hadn’t a bloody clue what to do and had never been on any track. For those who had, it became an object lesson in ducking and diving and spinning on the apexes (yes, I did too) on gravel left behind by a hapless beginner’s prior off-road excursion. Many of the ‘cool dudes’ didn’t even bother trying, but the British TV celebrities made a race of it – the helicopter filming wildly around the track and blowing dirt into everyone’s lunch and Ryan Dunn actually demonstrating much prowess, ultimately setting the best celebrity time. At the end David Green, Dunn and I got to play for two & half laps and blow the cobwebs out, but no one got under the magic 58 second barrier. In the meantime, my co-driver curse had struck once again. One of the highlights for many on last year’s rally was when my then co-driver, Alex Roy (yes, the loud obnoxious German Police uniform-wearing New Yorker with the 800 BHP CL 600) took a certain well-endowed ‘Bullrun Babe’ for a final lap of the legendary Sebring racing circuit in Florida. Alex’s driving style combined with the highly delicate black marching boots he was wearing and a sudden downpour at Sebring resulted in a rather embarrassing (though only for him) barrier ‘incident’ and $30,000 worth of damage to a 5 day old yellow Muricelago, that wasn’t his…. It was all the more shameful for our team honor as yours truly beat the field and won the day driving a Ferrari 360 Stradale in 1:32 much to the annoyance of a couple of local hero Bullrun racers. This year, it was Matt’s turn. With a sudden gasp from the crowd (you know the one that spells BIG ACCIDENT), a driver and Kart were off the track and overturned in a cloud of dust – apparently a record for this circuit and when the helmet came off – it was Matt who appeared slightly dazed and holding his right arm ominously. Sure enough it was Sonoma County Hospital time and confirmation from the X-ray that when a Kart flips on top of you, you’re collar bone’s likely to get it in about 5 places.
As I consoled Matt and took him off to the Pharmacy for some horse pain killers, the rest of the ralliers convoyed out of Marin County and over the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset, what a sight that must have been, and no doubt shall be once we see the TV footage. Matt and I were soon reunited with the concerned brotherhood at the W Hotel and in spite of protestations and pleas about mixing prescriptions and alcohol, the vodka came thick and fast! Jason, the mad Russian DJ and owner of Blowfish sushi invited the whole rally to dinner at his famous south of market restaurant, the local news crews and media came too, having picked up the previous day’s exploits online and keen to interview Darth Vader, Ryan Dunn and Dennis, who it was now being reported had stolen a packet of chewing gum and a cowboy hat from some deadbeat gas station. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story! Many signature ‘Too Die For’ roles and much sake later, we amassed back at the hotel in taxi’s, as the Numchucks bus had taken a mechanical turn for the worst and would no longer be joining us for the rest of it’s life. The Numchucks didn’t seem to care much and duly set up their band impromptu in the W Hotel lobby. News of the F40 also reached us. Peter had decided to take Highway 50 and beat everyone to the racetrack. He assumed that as all the cops were out on the Interstate – he’d have a free road. Well he did, until he met a particularly unpleasant sheriff, who arrested him and impounded his car (OK he was doing 120mph), leaving his South African girlfriend to fend for herself on the side of the road with a UK mobile phone and $100 in cash. She managed to persuade a taxi to take her into San Francisco, whilst Peter spent six hours trying to release himself and his car – which they ridiculously claimed was illegal. Try telling that to all the US F40 owners!! Peter got bailed but the car didn’t, spending another week in the pound until the lawyers went to work on the Sheriff and his buddies. So California had claimed two valuable casualties, neither which would make it to the finish.
Day 7 already and nearly time for normalcy to return to all our lives, but not before a final tour of victory down the fabulous Highway 1. Route card #14 took us out of the city, through San Jose and Monterey before attaching to the Big One, rock face on your left shoulder, Cypress trees, sea lions and the ocean on the other, you’d swear you were on another planet. Certainly the truck drivers believed so as they peered through the open top of the Jaguar and saw my new and very final co-driver. Yes, Matt had departed early on a direct flight to Washington and ‘left me’. Fortunately, now with a few mechanical set backs and the field reduced, Tatyana from the Bikini Bandits was in need of a lift to LA, and agreed to join me for the 206 miles to the Hearst Castle BBQ lunch stop and onto LA for the final 236 miles and Roosevelt Hotel finish line. With the hard driving behind us, fatigue mixed with emotion, no one was in any speeding mood and about 15 cars convoyed down Highway 1 and the 101, running into the typical Santa Barbara traffic jam, Uncle Frank in the black Rolls Royce deciding that if you’re going to look like the Queen you may as well drive like you own the road too and leading us, hazards blinking down the hard shoulder, Lambo, Lambo, Infiniti, Jaguar, Viper, CLS 55, Vette. As we got closer I used my local Ventura county back roads to circumvent the hot and steamy 101 and even had time for a quick swim before arriving at the awards ceremony at the Famous Forty Deuce club on Melrose Avenue. I felt it appropriate that Paramount Studios, the only studio left in Hollywood, should be located across the street, founded by another crazy Hungarian Adolph Zucker around 1914 and home to some of the best car movies ever produced.
Was the final party good? Of course it was, like a big family reunion, but with so many great tales of daring, intertwined with a few exaggerations and much banter and laughter not to mention the odd bottle of champagne spraying. The final ticket tally was relatively slim in comparison to many of the other rallies I had entered, probably not more than half the entrants getting one or two tickets and only Peter and his F40 really taking a hit. Casualties were fewer still, with one self-contained accident on the road, Matt with his Karting collarbone and a few breakdowns. But this rally was special because the entrants were down-to-earth friendly types, not supercilious Eurotrash or Dot bombers and the roads were simply breathtaking. One can drive fast on the highway everyday but not on deserted Highway 160 to Cortez. In seven days, 60 odd cars had each driven 3200 miles a collective total of 192,000 miles without a single serious incident – I’d suggest that’s far better than the national average. As I’ve often heard it said – 55 is fast enough to kill you and slow enough to make you think you’re safe. My XK8 had performed faultlessly, the 4.2 not even requiring a sip of oil and returning a very respectable 25mpg average over the course of some fairly hard driving. The 2+2 configuration was perfect, allowing us to squeeze the odd journalist or photographer into the rear and the top-less motoring affording us far better enjoyment of the surrounding landscapes that had varied so much during the trip. It really was a perfect rally car and maybe next year I’ll take the new XKR, which promises to be a bit of a beast.
The modern rallies have no official ‘winners’ as the event and stages, unlike the Cannonball’s of the 70’s and US Express’s of the early 80’s are not timed. Of course this doesn’t discourage many of the entrants from making big efforts to depart early and get to the check points first. Since the inaugural Bullrun a friendly rivalry had developed between Richard Rawlings, a big hearted Texan so brash, full of bravado and, well AMERICAN, that you’d swear he was the offspring of JR Ewing and Hulk Hogan, and my good friend Alex “Team Polizei” Roy, who more than any other rallier in history has gone to the most extraordinary efforts to create and compete in various Swedish, German and Canadian police costumes with every conceivable name badge, label pin and car accessory available. Between them they represent the best ‘characters’ and are the source of much of the mischief. This wasn’t lost on the organisors at awards time, Roy winning a plastic manquin with police underwear and the prestigious best team award. Not to be outdone, Rawlings, who entered an extremely customizsed Model A Ford, that was straight out of Wacky Racers and which broke down in Salt Lake, forcing Rawlings to use his spare 7-series BMW and then, needing to make up time, purchased a helicopter and flew the rest of the stage to Reno. Appropriately he won the Bullrun 1st prize, a custom made and engraved Bullrun 2005 $6,000 watch from Stefan Johansson. Both Rodman and Christianson won awards, too, for the best car (custom painted Gallardo) and fastest speed (201mph) respectively.
But this being an LA event, I’ll leave it to Hollywood to summarize the collective feelings of the 2005 Bullrun entrants. When asked, in the 1979 Cannonball Run movie, how he felt after having ‘raped the American Highway’ Burt Reynolds simply answered ‘Beautiful’.