the crazies are still out there

  1. 1,058 Posts.
    IBurning money and rubber in the fast lane
    From Chris Ayres in Los Angeles

    THE race was over before most Americans even knew it had begun. About 148 participants, driving everything from a custom-built 655hp car to a VW camper van, tore up 3,000 miles of highway between San Francisco and Miami, collecting 500 speeding tickets and countless police mugshots along the way.

    The Gumball 3000 is inspired by the 1981 film The Cannonball Run, the race — officially called a rally, for legal reasons — was organised by Maximillion Cooper, a raffish 30-year-old Briton, to entertain his wealthy friends.

    “The entrants are not timed, there are no final standings, no podiums and no points,” Mr Cooper insisted. “Sometimes Gumballers like to say they were first, but this normally means they were first to one venue, often achieved by getting up early.” After six days of champagne hangovers and high-speed cruising — one driver was allegedly clocked by the Texas police doing 210mph — the fastest participants began to arrive on Tuesday night at their destination: the five-star Mandarin Oriental on a 44-acre private island off Miami. The celebrations were expected to last well into the weekend; the hangovers even longer.

    The police were less amused. Two hours after participants left San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel at 8pm last Thursday, six had been arrested and several had been given speeding tickets. The police were alerted by calls from terrified motorists, one of whom reported seeing a Ferrari spin out of control in the snow on the Donner Pass, a notorious stretch of road in the Sierra Nevada.

    “There is absolutely no place for this kind of activity on our public roadways,” a furious California police spokesman said the next morning. This year’s participants included the usual collection of rock stars, supermodels and the plain rich, many of them clutching European driving licences and therefore immune to the US points system.

    Their vehicles included a £600,000 McClaren F1 and a £260,000 Koenigsegg, a custom-built Swedish car, capable of more than 200mph.

    Jodie Kidd, the British model, and the creators of the TV show Jackass were among those who allowed their identities to be revealed.

    The idea of an illegal coast-to-coast race has attracted chest-wigged drivers since the first exotic cars were made. In the 1960s, a cross-country event was started in honour of Robert “Cannonball” Baker, who got his nickname after driving a Cadillac from San Diego to New York in seven days, 11 hours and 52 minutes.

    Baker’s fastest cross-country time was 53 hours, 30 minutes, in a 1933 Graham. By the 1970s, when the race inspired its first film, The Gumball Rally (the prize was a chewing gum machine), the record was set at 33 hours, 12 minutes.

    For legal reasons, subsequent records have been kept quiet. The most memorable film about the event, albeit memorable for the absence of any plot, was The Cannonball Run, starring Burt Reynolds and co-starring his hairy chest.

    This year, the entrance fee for the Gumball 3000 was about £8,000, which included dinner, bed and breakfast at some of America’s finest hotels. Entrants were advised to bring a multiband radar detector, a CB radio (for communicating with lorry drivers, who act as lookouts for police) and, most importantly, a tuxedo, for evening events.

    The real cost of the race was much higher. Most Europeans paid more than £13,000 to ship over their exotic cars. Speeding tickets also mounted up. One driver managed to collect £6,500 in fines before he had reached Louisiana. Some drivers taped traffic citations and police mugshots on their windows, as badges of honour.

    “Being on the Gumball is not a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Mr Cooper told drivers before the race. “You should obey the laws of the road, and if you choose not to, you risk the penalty. You might get a cop who is happy to take a few pictures and tell you to carry on. Or you might get a cop who will throw you in jail.”

    But as soon as the event began, there were reports of exotic cars swerving in and out of traffic and using the hard shoulder and central reservation to get ahead. In Las Vegas, motorists complained to the police after seeing two Lamborghinis racing a Porsche down a stretch of desert road. In Arizona, the highway police were waiting for drivers as soon as they crossed the Hoover Dam into the state.

    In Alabama, the police were not so well organised. One trooper pulled over a Porsche, only to see several dozen other cars whizz past. On several occasions, the police had to use helicopters to catch up with motorists.

    Tales from the hard shoulder

    According to one unprovable anecdote, two young women speedsters in a Ferrari 575 were let go by the Texas police after posing for topless pictures. The Texas police declined to confirm the story. "It's not like we had an outbreak of nude driving," a spokeswoman said.

    One of the competitors drove a custom-built £260,000 Koenigsegg, capable of speeds of more than 200mph. According to one well-circulated story, when the car blew a gasket, he had to buy a new family saloon to get the right replacement part.

    “Here’s how it goes every night,” Bo Bridges, a 28-year-old photographer who took part in the race, told the Los Angeles Times. “They go to the bars until they close, then they clean out the mini-bars, and then they find the nudie bars. Whatever's open, they find it.”

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